The 5 main types of shoots on a documentary productionFeb 28, 2023
“Scene 1, take 1… Action!”
Here we go filmmakers! We’re jumping straight into the next part of your documentary-making journey which is of course: production.
As you would expect, production is a huggggge topic and I wouldn’t dare anyone to try and cover it in one single blog post! So today, we’ll be looking at the basic ingredients that every production needs.
If you’ve gotten this far and you’ve suddenly realised ‘Eek! I still have some pre-production to get sorted!’ It’s all good! Head back over to the blog page and find the lesson you need (we’ll wait for you).
1. “So, uh… Question one… What is your name??” - Interviews
For many documentaries, interviews are the foundation of the film. They are what drives the story. So making sure you have captured enough footage in the interviews will be better for your film overall, as you’ll have a lot to work with in the edit! As the old saying goes: better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it!
But I also must caution you with this. You don’t want to take up a lot of time interviewing talent that will simply never make the cut or that you only need a few comments from. So do your research and screen talent in pre-production. If you missed that blog it was number 41 on how to use pre-interviews to make your film better.
Normally when I’m conducting interviews, it can take up to two hours including set up and pack down! An interview that goes over 45 minutes can be very exhausting for your interviewee, but the duration will depend on the topic you’re discussing and how important the interviewee is as a character in your film. So as long as you’ve done your pre-production, talent research, prepared your sets and have a great handle on your equipment - you’ll be cruising!
When it comes to breaking down interview techniques, I could use a whole new blog! However, one big tip: make your talent comfortable. Whether they’re camera-shy or media trained, it can take time to tear down their walls and make way for a genuine and insightful conversation.
So, be organised! Be prepared! and most importantly, be calm and kind!
2. “Could you pick up that cup again, but two inches to the left?” - B-roll and overlay
If you know who you’re interviewing and what the story is, chances are, you already have a good idea of what you want for your B-roll. Your B-roll is cutaway footage that shows your talent in action, generally doing something that is in relation to what they discussed in their interview or related to who they are and what they do.
Whether your B-roll is of your talent at work or getting coffee, it always helps as a way to keep the viewer’s attention as you often use it as overlay. And - let’s be honest - someone just talking at a camera for 90 minutes isn’t the most interesting film in the world!
3. “Just act like I’m not even here” - Observational footage
Observational footage is undeniably similar to B-roll. However, it stands apart from it, as it’s sometimes referred to as actuality and it’s a type of filming that isn’t fabricated and requires you to be very adaptable and to immerse yourself in what is happening right in front of you.
The example that Mike used in the YouTube version of this episode 54 on the Moonshine Communications Academy channel is filming in a classroom setting. To do this as observational, you would need multiple cameras and microphones set up, you would need the students and teachers to go about their day without acknowledging you, and you would probably need to film for quite a while. It’s almost like being a fly on the wall. You might also only have one camera following someone around. The point is you’re observing not staging a scene.
4. “Do you think we could attach a camera to that motorbike?” - Speciality footage
If you’ve ever seen a Tom Cruise film, 90% of the shots in them could be classified as specialty shots.
If you’re not a Cruise fan, then I’ll try to give you more details. A specialty shot could be using a small camera like a GoPro and hooking it up to a vehicle so the footage feels like you’re the one watching out of the car window. Or a drone shot, I’m sure you’re familiar with those and wow do they make setting up location shots a breeze these days. Underwater cameras - you get the gist. They take time, they take specialist gear and often a specialist filmer, like a water filmer or someone with a drone flight licence.
But they do look very cool.
5. “Do you have any more… appropriate photos?” - Archival Footage
The types of archival footage you might use really depend on the story you're trying to tell. For example, if we’re talking about an event that happened in your talent’s childhood. Chances are, you’ll want images or footage from that time in their life. So you’ll need to ask your interviewee if they can supply any photos or footage. A note on this, you’ll also need a footage release form from them giving you permission to use their personal photos and footage in your film.
Later down the line, you might find yourself looking into stock footage, broadcasters' footage libraries, or radio audio files but that’s more of a post-production task. That being said, the timeline and costs for these materials can be very expensive and vary a lot depending on where you source them from. It also depends greatly on what the material is, how long it is and what you’re planning on using it for. Meaning, is it just for YouTube or will it be on broadcast television, is it for local use or international screenings? All these factors can work into the cost.
So, If you’re thinking you’ll go down this route, I’d suggest going back to have a look at your budget planning as these things can get… Um, costly.
But while you’re in production, your main goal is to collect these archival materials from your talent to build up your story.
6. “I just feel like this scene could do with some aliens” - Animation
Last but not least, is animation. Of course, this isn’t going to apply to all your films but it is a great tool and one that requires a considerable amount of time if you do want to create it. So that’s why I’m raising it during the production phase.
If you leave it till post and you’re in a rush to hit a deadline, you might find yourself without time to get what you want to be created.
“Did you get all that?”
You would be forgiven if you didn’t get all that! That was a lot! But production is a massive part of the filmmaking journey.
Luckily, we plan to be here with you the whole way.
In the next lesson, we keep working through production and ask the big question: HOW are you going to tell your story?
Till then, be sure to follow us on social media and get involved in the conversation!
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