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Saturday, May 26, 2012

••◊ Planning a documentary, part 1

This weekend I thought it would be best to discuss planning a documentary shoot.  We shot part 2 of "Stronger" about a month ago now and I'm logging and transcribing nearly 400GB of footage.  It's a daunting task, but I'll discuss the value of that in the next blog post.

First, here's my personal checklist for just about any documentary shoot.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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. 

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