In 2008 I worked as Director of Photography for the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival’s TV commercial. Filament Artists, a local creative services agency, handled production and post-production. Todd Hornsby was the producer and Sam McDavid was the writer/director. This year, the decision-makers at Sidewalk asked Filament to do it once again, and I had another opportunity to work as Director of Photography for the project. The Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival is now in its 12th year, and will be held in downtown Birmingham September 24-26.
Posts Tagged ‘documentaries’
In a post last week I discussed how camera operators should always properly prep and label tapes in an effort to make post-production a more efficient process. In today’s discussion I want to mention how patient camera work is vital to an editor.
Ideally, any director of photographer would love to have control over the location – lighting, grip, camera movements, etc. but by nature, some projects are suited for a documentary approach. This means that you have to capture the action as it happens, and often you get no second chances. Some cinematographers thrive on this run-and-gun approach, but others feel stressed by the environment, worried that they will miss something vital. Those that feel a bit panicky will often shoot footage that never seems to settle. This is a nightmare for editors, because they never have a really nice steady shot to work with.
So, the word of the day for aspiring cinematographers and camera operators is “patience.” Once you frame up a shot and get your focus, let the shot linger. Give the editor plenty of pre-roll and post-roll that can be used in the final piece. Even if some loud commotion from behind startles you, don’t be too quick to whip the camera over to see what’s going on. Get your shot first, then pan over to capture the other scene. If you spend your day constantly whipping the camera around from shot to shot, you won’t capture anything meaningful for the editor. As a documentarian, there will be things you miss. It’s inevitable. But sometimes, choosing not to shoot something leads to capturing a truly remarkable moment in places you least expect.
SnagFilms is an excellent place to find documentary films, including the one I saw over the weekend - Swallow Your Pride, a story about the rising popularity of competitive eating. What I love about documentaries is their ability to expose viewers to subcultures that the general public doesn’t notice, like a group of people totally committed to eating as much as humanly possible.
The film follows five competitive eaters as they prepare for and compete in Philadelphia’s annual Wing Bowl, an event wherein contestants eat as many wings as possible within a certain amount of time. The winner receives a crown and a brand new car.
The important thing about this documentary is that it avoids becoming superficial. The upcoming Wing Bowl drives the movie forward, but directors Josh Camerote and Brian Dwyer do a nice job of rounding out the story with great character insights and solid subplots. The film resolves around issues such as the motivations driving each eater, the impact on their health long-term, the credibility of eating as a sport, and the organization and governance of competitive eating. And all of the above is portrayed in an entertaining, humorous, yet honest way.
Swallow Your Pride has all the right elements – a good pace, a strong story arc, firm direction, unique and off-beat subject matter, and interesting characters. Anyone else craving chicken wings?
7 out of 10
In a post last summer I mentioned SnagFilms as a great place to find free documentary film content on the web. Recently, Hulu has gained popularity among online video watchers. On the site you can watch movies, current TV shows, classic films, and a host of other clips — all for free. And the quality of the videos on Hulu looks great.
Now the two sites have teamed up. A press release on the SnagFilms website announces that SnagFilm documentaries will now be made available on Hulu. Here’s an excerpt:
I look forward to perusing the site for solid documentary content. Now it’s just finding the time to watch the films.
Everyone has a great idea for a movie. Whether it be the next blockbuster action-packed thriller, the next artistic love story, or the next great political documentary, everyone feels that he or she can make their story into silver screen reality. Dreams can be enormous. Practical application of those dreams can be a struggle.
I’ve met with some people over the last year who wanted to discuss their documentary ideas with me, and get my opinion on what it would take to make it happen. In every one of these meetings, there was one constant. These individuals had an idea, but they didn’t know what to do with it. I’ve met with some exicted individuals who talked endlessly for at least ten minutes before getting to the bottom line. So, if you have an idea for the next great documentary film, let me share with you a few tips that will help narrow your focus and get your proposal off the ground.
1. FIND THE CENTRAL STORY – Remember English class term papers? Remember how your teacher always reminded you to come up with a concise thesis statement? The same holds true with your documentary. You must find the central story on which your film will hinge. Documentary subjects can be incredibly broad, so you must find a way to simplify those subjects into a concise story.
2. FIND A COMPELLING REASON FOR US TO WATCH – The story you come up with for your film has to be one that will actively engage the viewer. As you write your ideas, always ask yourself, “Why should people watch this film?” Some documentaries call the viewer to action. Some simply want to make the viewer aware of certain issues. Others want to pay tribute to an individual’s life. Whatever your angle, it must be interesting. I remember screening a documentary for the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival last year about two middle-aged women who went on a cruise. That was it. These ladies simply took their home movie of an Alaskan cruise, added some music and titles, and submitted it as a documentary.
As you continue to brainstorm, write your thoughts down in a central location. I like to keep a notebook handy in which I write down all of my narrative and documentary ideas. That keeps everything organized and I am able to revisit my notes months and years later. Some may become scripts. Others may be revised, rewritten, and then assembled into a script. In the next post, I will talk about organizing your documentary proposal.