First, here's my personal checklist for just about any documentary shoot.
- A shot list. I discuss this with my B-camera operator and direct them to what I want, so I can maintain a consistent style that can be edited together. Even with cinema verite there has to be a vision. I realize that I won't get exactly what I want because I can't be there to babysit every single frame. Count on 20-30% of what you request being correct, unless you shoot it yourself, which is impossible a lot of the time. Even if you can shoot it, there's the strong possibility that you'll forget a shot or two and need one of those "bang head here" pin-up wall signs when you get to the edit bay.
- A list of interview questions. I like to think about the response I want from the questions. Is it an emotional response I'm after, or is this an authority I want to discuss factual information? It makes a difference on how you phrase questions and what type of questions you ask. When I first started out I just stuck to my list of questions because I didn't know how to interview someone. With more experience I realized that the list is an outline for discussion. Listen to your interviewee and follow what they WANT to tell you. You'll get a more compelling interview that way.
- A map with phone numbers. I always make up a map where I'm going and a list of people I may need to contact. No explanation needed here.
- An equipment list. Nothing is worse than being far away from home and needing just that one more doo-dad you left at home. Make sure anyone travelling with you has their stuff on a checklist too.
- A meal plan. An unfed crew is an unhappy crew. I made an assumption about this on my last shoot and it turned out to be false. We didn't eat until late. It sucked.