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Jun 2009

Documentary Filmmaking

Jason Boritz

So You Want to Make A Documentary Film?

by Jason Boritz

Jason Boritz is a filmmaker based in Los Angeles. He currently has two documentaries in post-production, and

So,  you want to make a documentary film? You lack funding and don’t have any equipment, but you have a great story and characters that you are dying to present to the world. What can you do now to turn your ideas into action? Don’t just wait around for money or for something external to happen; Get out there and make your film! Here are a few steps from my experience, to help you along the way.

STEP 1: Identify your story

Many people starting out have the misconception that they can start shooting and the story will come – which is somewhat true – but if you don’t know what you want to capture, by the end you are just going to have a big mess. You must prepare yourself for what’s ahead. The story may change and lead you in a different direction, but if you start with a rough roadmap, you will be more prepared to be flexible without chaos. Here are some things you can do before you begin shooting:

Formulate your story into a script or outline. This will help you identify your central themes and make you better prepared to determine what to watch for, as well as help guide you in your sit down interviews. It will also be a guide for your editor so that your post process isn’t indefinite.

Make a list of who and what you want to shoot. Make a list of the people you aim to contact and prioritize it. Also, write out what questions you would like to ask your subjects. This will help you really focus and make decisions to be efficient. Also, you should write down the kinds of shots you want for both interviews and b-roll and discuss it with your DP (if you have one).

STEP 2: Acquire Equipment

You have your story and outline, now what about the equipment? In a perfect situation, you have the money to buy what you want and hire a crew to man the camera, sound, etc. However, most of the time, particularly with your first documentary, that’s not the case. In all likelihood you will shoot and run sound yourself. Here’s some ideas on how to do it.

Get a camera. You need a high quality camera with good picture capabilities. You should look for a 3 chip camera or a camera that is 3CCD. Most films and documentaries, in this day and age, are shot in HD, but that shouldn’t be a make it or break it proposition. What’s most important is that you find the best camera YOU can afford and learn how to use it properly. Both Canon and Panasonic make great prosumer non HD cameras, the Panasonic DVX100 and the Canon XL2  shoot 24P, which is the same as film, and both output a great picture. Since these cameras have been on the market for some time, you can find great deals online for around $1,500 (usually including batteries, case and even lenses). Make sure to check out all equipment before buying.

Gather sound equipment. Great sound is so important, just as much as a high quality picture because your “ears don’t blink.” It’s extremely important to have solid audio equipment, recording high quality sound. I recommend buying a Sennheiser wireless microphone and a Sennheiser shotgun microphone with a windscreen. Sennheiser is a well known brand with a longstanding professional reputation, giving you both up close quality sound in action with the wireless microphone, and surround sound attached to the camera with the shotgun microphone. The total cost for both (I recommend buying new) is approximately $800.

Additional tools you may want. There are a few added equipment needs that will contribute to a high quality film: a steady fluid head tripod and a 3-light kit. When you need to grab that great sit down interview, a steady fluid head tripod is the way to go. Some tripods cost upwards of $2000, but you can find a good fluid head tripod for under $500. I suggest the brands Bogen and Sachtler. Also. a great light kit is important for doing your longer and more formal sit down interviews. You can find a high quality professional lighting kit to fit your needs for around $600.

STEP 3: You’ve got everything you need, now start shooting!

Step 3 is your favorite part, you’re ready to move forward for the fun stuff. Make a schedule, plan your days according to your budget and start piecing together your story. If you truly take the time to prepare your film, you can sh0ot a fantastic quality documentary for under $3,500 with a high quality picture and sound. Before you know it, you’ll have your baby in the can, and you can start the post-production and distribution/marketing process, but that’s a topic for future articles. The important thing to remember is that passion is the most important driving force. Filmmakers are resourceful creative individuals. Be your own McGuiver and use the tools you can. If your drive is there, you’ll be on your way – just go out there and shoot that story!

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Category : Film

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