Overcoming problems in documentary production: Troubleshooting tips! Part 2May 02, 2023
Troubleshooting for filmmaking continues!
Guess what movie makers? As much as we don’t like to admit it: Mistakes happen! And it’s not the mistake that counts, it’s the way you solve the problem that matters. And trust me, I’ve made plenty of mistakes and I’ve learned to solve a lot of problems! So that’s why this blog is going to cover even more of the trials and tribulations that I’ve worked through on production shoots.
If you missed part 1 of the troubleshooting blogs, check it out here!
Otherwise, let’s jump straight into it.
Have you tried turning it off and on again?
Filming technology has come a long way from when I first started out and it’s much easier to use but every now and then it does fail. And the only foolproof way around this: have spares! Carrying extra batteries, extra lapel microphones and backup options for anything critical to your shoot day.
Now of course, you will also need to be conscious of the weight (especially if travelling overseas!). But any time you can have a redundancy, have one. So before you travel, research if there are camera stores or video hire places in the location you’re heading to. That way you could potentially hire or purchase a backup option if your kit fails. This is not ideal but if you’re heading overseas then having a contingency is going to be better than an abandoned shoot because your camera won’t work or worse- your checked baggage has gone missing.
Plan for the best, prepare for the worst!
There are some things you simply can’t plan for and no contingency plan is going to save the day. Myself and the Moonshine team experienced this recently. It was on a shoot at a very busy Melbourne hospital. It had taken a long time to coordinate as the talent was the head of ER so you can imagine the tight time frame we had to set up and shoot the interview. It wasn’t until we were back at the studio that we discovered that the SD card was corrupt and that our footage was unsalvageable.
There was no way to know this happened during the shoot- the camera did not issue a card warning or do anything unexpected. It appeared to record as per usual.
As you can imagine, this was more than a palm slap to the head. It was a frustrating and very disappointing result from an otherwise successful shoot. But there was nothing that we could do. No amount of research on solutions, apps to try and recover the footage or efforts of any kind could recover the data. We had to reshoot.
Hindsight is a great thing! The card that failed was an older card that we’d used many times but it was also a cheaper version of the cards available now. So lesson learned. Invest in the best quality cards whenever you can to avoid this issue. And even then I’m not certain that a top-of-the-line card couldn’t fail but it’s less likely.
When you purchase any new gear, check checking ratings and reviews will help you choose good options!
Managing technology is one thing, managing people is a whole other game!
Sometimes, you don’t know how your talent is going to behave on shoot day until they’re sitting in front of the camera. Those people who oozed charisma during the pre-interview conversation and you thought would shine on camera can suddenly freeze up and stutter on every word. It happens more often than you think! So what do you do?
One solution I’ve found is that you need to distract them. (And I don’t mean with games and jokes). I mean talk to them, connect with them 1 on 1 and make them forget about the camera.
Usually, some conversation that’s not directly related to the interview can calm people down. I don’t mean small talk or mindless banter but rather questions to get them relaxed and feeling confident. Ask them how they got into their field. Have they been recognised for their work with awards or media articles that you could ask about? Even a simple discussion about whether they live locally and where they like to go for dinner can help settle people. If you’ve done some research on your talent ahead of time you should be able to ask them a few meaningful questions to relax them.
Or, you may have the opposite problem! And your talent won’t stop chatting when you start rolling the camera. At first, this may seem like a good problem to have - but it can become very difficult to navigate if what they’re saying isn’t relevant to the interview. So at some point, you will just have to cut in and interrupt them and steer them back on track. Provide a bit more detail on what you’re looking for in the answers to relate to the film you're making.
Trying to control the Livestock
There is talent, there is technology and then there is livestock… I’ve been on shoots that have been interrupted by horses and donkeys (surprisingly good actors). But I find the worst culprits are curious children!
Curious kids love getting their hands all over the cameras and pretending they are the director. They also do cheeky things like whistling into their lapel microphones when you’ve got the headphones on! Ouch!
It’s great to be shooting out in public places, but sometimes passersby can make it quite difficult! Naturally, some can get curious about what you’re doing, and if they’re camera or film enthusiasts they may inadvertently interrupt the shoot by wanting to speak about all the gear you use and telling you what they use. This interest is nice and all but when you’re in the middle of a shoot, you can’t stop to chew the fat. So you do have to politely move them on.
Aside from living creatures, you can never underestimate the effect that traffic may have on your production. I don’t know what it is but as soon as you go for a take, a garbage truck will roll down the street, or a helicopter will fly overhead. And who knew cars honk so much! The sounds of everyday life become so loud when you’re trying to capture clean audio.
So when tackling any of these issues, it’s key to have some contingency time set aside to ensure you remain on schedule and deal with any unexpected livestock or loud noises!
What to do when you’re told what to do!
Occasionally you have a plan (and a very good plan if you’ve followed along with this series!) to shoot at a certain place at a certain time and someone unexpectedly tells you “It’s not gonna happen.”
Think unexpected rain or a grumpy security guard, you may find yourself without a location to film at.
The first step here is to have written permission to access the location. But even then, that security guard might not be interested in reading it or hearing about it and you will have to find a new spot to film. So, just like your equipment, have a backup!
Go with the flow
Nobody wants to be handling disaster after disaster. But even with diligent planning, back-ups of back-ups and talented actors - things are still going to go wrong. It’s true! No way around it! But it’s all part of the learning. Learning to adapt to situations and overcome obstacles to get the shoot done.
And who knows, maybe your problem will make an interesting story one day. We certainly have plenty! So, in the next blog we’re to keep discussing production problems and more importantly: how to solve them!
Until then, be sure to jump on social media for more neat tips and tricks and send us a DM or e-mail if you’ve found yourself with a problem and are in dire need of a solution!
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