Picking a Docementary Subject at DVinfo.net

Go Back   DV Info Net > Special Interest Areas > Techniques for Independent Production

Techniques for Independent Production
The challenges of creating Digital Cinema and other narrative forms.


Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread
Old April 8th, 2005, 10:40 AM   #1
Major Player
 
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: Roanoke, VA
Posts: 796
Picking a Docementary Subject

Hello everyone. The town I live in has started a local film festival. This is its 3rd year. I plan to attend it this year but am thinking ahead to next year about entering it.

Most of the work I do is 30 sec TV spots, corporate videos, and a few documentaries here and there. In my spare time I freelance as a documentarian/music video producer. I'm relatively new to video production but spend most of my waking hours learning about it.

What I want to do is brainstorm some ideas for documentaries, 45-60 min in length. I have a list of topics but was wondering how some of you come up with subject matter. I want to do something interesting and a subject that has not been over done. I'm not much of a writer but I do understand that even a documentary has to have a compelling story line to it, even if it doesn't develop until you start cutting.

Any guidance would be greatly appreciated.
__________________
Dave Perry Cinematographer LLC
Director of Photography Editor Digital Film Production 540.915.2752 daveperry.net
Dave Perry is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 8th, 2005, 11:03 AM   #2
Air China Pilot
 
Join Date: May 2002
Location: Vancouver, B.C.
Posts: 2,389
Nothing in your newspaper catches your interest?

Interesting people who live in your community?

A social issue?

Little known history?

Older retired people who lived interesting lives?

Natural history?

Police files?
__________________
--
Visit http://www.KeithLoh.com | stuff about living in Vancouver | My Flickr photo gallery
Keith Loh is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 8th, 2005, 11:31 AM   #3
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: San Mateo, CA
Posts: 3,840
Dave,

I'm close to finishing up a documenatary I started shooting last year.

"American Jouster" examines the motivations and lifestyles of modern day "Knights" who live a life of pain and glory on the road.

Here's how I came to pick this topic.

In 2004, I was attending SXSW film festival in Austin, promoting a short my creative partner and I were working on. ("After Twilight" www.nu-classicfilms.com)

While I was there, I saw some docs. Some were good, some not so good. I thought to myself. "I can do this." On my way back home to Houston, I stopped at a small Renaissance Festival, where some friends of mine were jousting. (I used to own a jousting troupe, in an earlier lifetime). More than ten years after 'retiring' form that lifestyle, people still ask me what it was like.

It occured to me, that no one had done a documentary on this topic. This was a subject I understood completely. I had access to the companies who did it. (Many were still my friends, others were professional acquaintences). The idea began to form in my mind, that I could shoot three different companies at three different locations in Texas over the course of the year, and get some good footage. I could borrow my partners xl1, and sound and grip gear, and do it all by myself.

Easy peezy. Hardly any time or money needed.

Fast forward, exactly a year later. I have a 'rough cut' that runs about an hour and two minutes on my timeline right now. I need to cut another seven to eight minutes from it, to make it 'broadcast marketable'. In the course of that year, I relocated to Northern California, and had to fly back to Houston to shoot the footage I wanted. I also bought an XL2 to complete the task.

I am looking at buying some music rights, and doing an "online' edit to get everything up to broadcast levels. I am waiting on clearance rights to some still images, and some legacy footage to arrive to finish up a sequence.

Lessons learned in the last year?

PICK SOMETHING YOU CAN DO - Obviously, a topic you are interested in, or feel passionate about is going to be necessary to keep you motivated. Also, be realistic about what you can achieve. Pick a subject that you have access to without great difficulty

DON'T DO IT ALONE - I've worked professionally in Radio (Announcer, Newscaster, Production KODA FM) and Television, (Cameraman, Audio KHTV) and have optioned two of my feature scripts and won numerous awards, shot commerrcials and shorts... so I'm not a 'newbie'. I had the skill sets to do this, but NOBODY can do everything right all the time. It was foolish of me to think I could. When I was busy composing the shot, I had to be listening to the audio and thinking about the next question while paying attention to the answer the person was giving in the interview. Something had to suffer. I'm happy with what I got for the most part, but I know it could have been better with more help. More help means more money. Minimum, get someone on sound if you plan to shoot and direct. Better yet, YOU direct, someone else shoots, someone on sound, and a PA/Grip would be my minimum crew next time.

BUDGET MORE MONEY - Take whatever you think you might spend and triple it. Seriously. Don't forget travel, food , licensing fees for music or images... and if you want to go to broadcast, build in "online" time in a finishing suite.

BUDGET MORE TIME - I spent a total of... I think, ... sixteen days over the course of last year, actually shooting footage. I have thirty seven hours to cut from. And I wish I had more. Editing all of this is taking me MONTHS longer than I expected.

KEEP THE CAMERA ROLLING - This goes back to that 'do it all alone' problem. Sometimes, I just got tired of shooting, and wanted to set the camera down and go eat. I missed some stuff I wish I had shot. I missed stuff I was just too tired to get. Having a crew will help keep you fresh. Shoot EVERYTHING. When you're cutting, you'll wish you had it. As cheap as tape is, there's no excuse.

WRITE A SCRIPT FIRST - Okay, what this means is, have an idea where you want the doc to go. You have a 'shot list' of what you think you want to shoot, questions you want to ask, a 'story' you want to tell. Then, of course, you have to follow where it leads in the moment. When you are in the edit suite... you have to cut the doc that's on your hard drive, not what's on the paper. Be ready for surprises.

That's lessons learned in the last year for me... sorry for the long post.
Richard Alvarez is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 8th, 2005, 02:20 PM   #4
Major Player
 
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: Roanoke, VA
Posts: 796
Richard,

I still find it amazing that people will give a detailed response and then apoligize for going too long:) That's why I find this discussion board to be the first place I go for info.

Thanks Richard for sharing your experiences with me.
__________________
Dave Perry Cinematographer LLC
Director of Photography Editor Digital Film Production 540.915.2752 daveperry.net
Dave Perry is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 13th, 2005, 06:01 AM   #5
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Yeah, have to that second that. That was a great response and really helped me out a lot, too. Thanks Richard.
  Reply With Quote
Old April 13th, 2005, 09:14 AM   #6
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: San Mateo, CA
Posts: 3,840
Glad it was of help guys. In re-reading the post, I wanted to make sure it was understood that I DID have a script and list of questions going in to the project.

I also had an idea of how I wanted to structure it. And when it came time to edit, I changed that structure. I am also realizing that I have a one-hour doc (Considered a 'feature') and I intend to recut it with a different structure into a half-hour doc as well. (Broadens the marketability)

Aside from that, there is a tiny bit of the doc which focuses on one knight's training to do his first fall from a horse, that I have pulled out and cut into a five minute 'mini-doc', titled "First Fall".

Those of you who have ever written for magazines and such, will immediately understand how this footage has been 'repurposed' for different markets. I've already sent the mini-doc out to three different festivals, even as I move towards finishing the feature doc, and start a paper cut for the thirty minute version.
Richard Alvarez is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 22nd, 2005, 07:00 AM   #7
Major Player
 
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: New York, NY
Posts: 235
great posts Richard... i've been looking for info of this kind for myself also...

you said you made a 5 min mini doco, do you have anymore advice on doing shorts?
James Darren is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 22nd, 2005, 07:47 AM   #8
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: San Mateo, CA
Posts: 3,840
"Come in late, leave early"

That's the key to keeping it short and sweet. I just cut my five minute mini doc down to three minutes to enter it in an "Extreme Shorts" film festival.

In one sense, Docs are no different than Narratives. Each scene while building on the previous, and leading to the next, must have within it, a self contained arc., an objective, if you will.

One of the things I did to get the five minuted down to three, was go into the narration, and cut out all of the pauses, and breaths that were in there. All of the "uh... um... it's like, it's sorta like..." Since there was B-roll over these talking heads anyway, I wasn't concerned about jump cuts. The end result was a very fast paced delivery, very punchy. It wasnt better than the original, just different. Like picking up the tempo on a song. I cut into the shots as absolutely late as possible, and out as soon as I could. While the three minute and the five minute docs, are each cut out of the one hour doc... and use exactly the same material. They have a different pace and feel to them.

If possible, tell your story with an arc. Similar to a narrative arc. "Here's the ordinary world, here's the people in it, this is their challenge, here's how they meet the challenge, here's where the fail/almost fail, here's where they succeed/learn the lessons of their failure, here's what they take away with them.

The HERO'S JOURNEY is a metaphor for life. Watching a film, just like any other form of story telling, takes the listener/reader/viewer on a metaphorical journey through a condensed lifetime. You want them to come out on the other side with 'the reward' of experience, or knowledge. Try your beest to give it a pay-off.

Last edited by Richard Alvarez; April 22nd, 2005 at 07:49 AM. Reason: spelling
Richard Alvarez is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 25th, 2005, 06:49 AM   #9
Major Player
 
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: New York, NY
Posts: 235
come in late, leave early.... i really like that idea.

another question, what style does a voice-over give to a doco instead of using the voice of the people being interviewed? to me, it seems very difficult to have a voice-over (lets say my voice) along with voices of the interviewed people in such a short period of time.. although I have been considering doing a voice-over, just don't know if it'll work.

also Richard, any chance of seeing your extreme sports 5 min short?
James Darren is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 25th, 2005, 07:00 AM   #10
Regular Crew
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: Alexander, NC
Posts: 188
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Perry
Hello everyone. The town I live in has started a local film festival. This is its 3rd year. I plan to attend it this year but am thinking ahead to next year about entering it.
Hi Dave:

Roanoke puts on an EXCELLENT film festival, and I've been privileged to be a guest at all three so far (including the one two weeks ago).

Just a thought as to a documentary you could do, what about one on the historical and present growing reputation of Roanoke (lots of folk moving into the valley, that's for sure). And use the Star up on the mountain as a sort of unifying theme.

Feel free to run with it if you like it. ;-)

Best,

--Ralph
__________________
--Ralph Roberts, CEO
1VIDeo / aBOOKS / Creativity, Inc.
Ralph Roberts is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 25th, 2005, 07:22 AM   #11
Major Player
 
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: Roanoke, VA
Posts: 796
Thanks Ralph,

I've been toying with an idea similar to that, however it focuses on the growth of the ethnic population of the Valley.

I was not able to attend the film festival this year, however, my employer was on the judging committee this year and we intend to have a bigger prescence there next year.
__________________
Dave Perry Cinematographer LLC
Director of Photography Editor Digital Film Production 540.915.2752 daveperry.net
Dave Perry is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 25th, 2005, 09:12 AM   #12
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: San Mateo, CA
Posts: 3,840
James,
The choice of using a voice-over is a creative one. Some projects will require it, some won't, and some it might be optional on. For intstance, a "nature' documentary, with nothing but outdoor and wildlife footage, will probably require a voiceover to set up the story, comment on the footage and tie it all together, and perhaps end with a comment. The animals actions might speak for themselves, but the narrator would put them in context.

I find that for 'issue' pieces, and industrials and fundraising videos, a mix of voice-over and on-screen comments will be the balance. The narrator might set up what the video is about, the 'talking heads' will explain what's important' and the narrator comes in to perhaps smooth a transition... "Ten weeks later, the kids have finally mastered the techniqes..." and then into the interviews with the kids. The voiceover might tag the 'call to action'... "Donations can be made to help cure videoitis..." at the end, though here again, a specific plea from an on-creen face is much stronger.

For "American Jouster"... I went in planning on NO VOICEOVER. I wanted the voices of the Knights to speak for themselves. At this point, I am still cutting it like that. A test screening, indicated that no one thought it needed it. OF course, when I was doing the interviews, I explained that my questions were NOT going to be on the tape. So if I asked. "What is your favorite color" the answer shouldn't be "Blue"... but rather a restatment of the question in some form..."My favorite color used to be red, now it's blue." If I got a one word answer, or an unintelligible answer, I would re-ask the question. If they still gave an answer I couldn't use, then I would ask them specifically to restate their answer in the form that I could use.

Interviewing is a skill all in itself. And I can't stress enough how important it is going in to know what questions you want to ask. Even what answers you would LIKE to get... but remain flexible enough to follow up on surprise answers, and explore new areas. Also, in editing, sometimes it's enough to have ONE person restate the question, then the rest of the comments fall in line as understood by the viewer. For instance, I have the first Knight commenting... "In fifteen years of jousting, I've never had any serious injuries..." cut to the next one saying..." - a broken arm, a dislocated shoulder" cut to "Stiches in my face... collapsed lung..." etc.

"Talking heads" are really really boring, unless the comment is especially emotional - funny, serious or intense. So I try to use them just long enough to establish WHO is talking. Sometimes, its the beginning of the sequnece, sometimes the end, and very occasionally in the middle.

My mini-short "First Fall" that I cut from the doc, was for an "EXTREME SHORTS" film festival, not an "EXTREME SPORTS" film festival... though certainly it would qualify as that. The original extreme sport.
Richard Alvarez is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 25th, 2005, 10:46 AM   #13
Major Player
 
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: New York, NY
Posts: 235
Hi Richard,

The original extreme sport, some would say skydiving, some would say base & others say bullriding.. Was it any of those 3?
James Darren is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 25th, 2005, 12:26 PM   #14
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: San Mateo, CA
Posts: 3,840
No

The original extreme sport would be "jousting" as I mentioned in the thread. Long before people were skydiving or bullriding..

Well, come to think of it, in the original Greek olympiads, they did do "Bull tumbling' where guys would do a vault over a bulls back when he charged at them... now THATS extreme!
Richard Alvarez is offline   Reply With Quote
Old April 28th, 2005, 12:48 AM   #15
Regular Crew
 
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 29
Dave,

i've always wanted to film a documentry on Black Metal. if you do a bit of research, you will find it to be an interesting sub genre of Metal. the music is way more than just passion or feelings. its a lifestyle, huge in Norway. its actually the number one export in Norway. theres so much to talk about, so many people to interview, making this a really good topic. the only problem i could see with this documentry is trying to find the people that are or were a part of it, and all that traveling. me and a buddy are thinking of actually going through with this once we've graduated film school.
Steve Law is offline   Reply
Reply

DV Info Net refers all where-to-buy and where-to-rent questions exclusively to these trusted full line dealers and rental houses...

Professional Video
(800) 833-4801
Portland, OR

B&H Photo Video
(866) 521-7381
New York, NY

Z.G.C.
(973) 335-4460
Mountain Lakes, NJ

Abel Cine Tech
(888) 700-4416
N.Y. NY & L.A. CA

Precision Camera
(800) 677-1023
Austin, TX

DV Info Net also encourages you to support local businesses and buy from an authorized dealer in your neighborhood.
  You are here: DV Info Net > Special Interest Areas > Techniques for Independent Production

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search

 



Google
 

All times are GMT -6. The time now is 11:30 AM.


DV Info Net -- Real Names, Real People, Real Info!
1998-2017 The Digital Video Information Network