Photo Credit: Angela Kong
Waiting for my film to show up on the big screen was absolutely terrifying, and as I looked at the other students’ faces, I could tell they were doing a pretty awful job hiding their terror too.
I exported my film at about 6:00 for the 7:00 screening. That’t not okay. I told myself that I would finish the film at 4 pm, like we were supposed to do, but sure enough with titles and credits, I found myself sweating in my chair as my film became one of the last ones to export. I kept having flashbacks to my freshman experience of not being able to export my film in time for the screening because of technical errors. It’s an absolute nightmare to throw away weeks of work for no reward.
Instead of eating a nice dinner, showering, and dressing up hours before the screening, I left the editing room at about 6:40 to run back to my house, shower, throw on my jacket in a fury of sweat and run back to the editing room with my shaving cream and razor in pocket. With about 3 minutes until the screening, I ran into the bathroom, slapped some shaving cream on my face, and hurriedly cleaned myself up as I ran into the theater seeing a lot of the dancers there anxiously awaiting the screening. I couldn’t believe I made it, but the anxiety began to set in. The theater was packed, and worse, these were people I cared about who were seeing it. I said my hello’s and made my way to the front row to join the rest of the class.
So far, my diet that day consisted of two mini-powdered donuts, a cookie, and maybe some water. I didn’t sleep the night before, and napped for an hour outside the editing lab before beginning to edit again in the morning. I was surprised to be standing up, and my eyes were a little bit too wide open to seem normal. With each new film I cringed hoping it wasn’t mine, wondering where in the lineup I would fall. Multiple times I thought I was coming up only to see with relief it was my classmate’s.
When I saw my first dancer on screen it was actually okay. And even better, I liked my film. I should have been absolutely sick of it at that point, but hearing the audience laugh when they were supposed to, gasp when they were supposed to, and applaud at the end made me love it. Its a little ego trip, but I have been looking forward to that ego trip the whole class. It’s the little moment of glory that makes all the delusion worth it.
Having people approach me in congratulations at the end was exhilarating. I was having a little bit of a hard time focusing for sure; my eye-locking capability was sort of like I was staring into an indistinguishably deep black hole with no focus point. My composer and crew members all enjoyed it too, which was relieving; I felt such a responsibility to highlight their hard work. The food at the reception vanished by the time I finished talking, which was frustrating. I got in one brownie. But it was fantastic.
Each time I make a film, I start at square one. I know I will have moments where it is awful. Where it is amazing. Where it is mostly awful. But somehow I have fell in a strange love relationship with the pain of filmmaking, and thankfully have come out of each film with a new desire to make another one that’s better. There definitely is a necessary detox period due to lack of sleep and poor eating habits, but it’s all part of it. Soon I will be thinking of a new film, and I will have to forget how awful or how great my last film was and accept that this one will be totally different. At least I know that now.
Photo Credit: Chance Crail, who was on set with me as cinematographer. These are some pictures from my dance shoot in Cossitt that helped tie together all three of my film’s characters. Using the camera equipment we had was incredible.
We are finally finished with our blocks at this point, and get to enjoy a little bit of summer before we come back for the fall semester. Before I delve into what the final screening was like for us (that’s the next post), I just wanted to take a moment to share a little more of our assignments leading up to this screening.
Here is a link to one of the student’s projects for our interview assignment: Dan Levitt. The assignment was to interview somebody for about ten minutes prompting them for a story; beginning, middle, end. We then edited that ten minutes down to two minutes, including illustrative footage or pictures to help visually share their story. Here it is.
And now onto the final screening.
I was going to title this post something cute like “The 12 Days of Editing”, but I think this is a more deserving title.
The editing room resembles my room more so than my actual room. I think I have more food around the desktop computer than I do in my fridge, and I definitely have spent more time in the editing room than I have in my house or sleeping combined. My files are encoding now from some last minute shooting today, so I have a little time to catch up. It’s kind of like I’m Neo when he touches the sticky, mirror like material in The Matrix and can’t get undone. It’s consuming and relentless.
I don’t think there are many other ways to describe the editing process than to give you a Sports Center esque play by play of my psychological state over the past week.
Monday: I just finished shooting, and I am tired from finishing shooting, but need to sleep a little more than I did during shooting week so I can spend time editing. Encoding all of my files to just begin editing took 2 days, and my compressed video files ballooned to fill my 1 TB hard drive, so I needed to switch everything to a bigger drive before I could even begin to edit. We meet as a class to discuss our selects, or our best footage we shot. I go through hours of footage to find the best 20 minutes. And it’s garbage.
Tuesday: We try to put our best footage together into a timeline, basically an assembly of seemingly important things that may be in our final films. At this point I have my selects, but they are incoherent and redundant. I don’t even remember if I showed anything, but if I did, clearly it wasn’t memorable. I’m beginning to doubt if I can pull this off, but don’t want to start staying up late yet.
Wednesday: I have no film. At least that is what is going on in my head. Tuesday night I reached the beginning of my mild freak out stage. If you have ever seen Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, my freak out is similar to when Cameron goes catatonic in the back of his Dad’s convertible. We have rough cuts due today, and I have barely anything. I can’t even comprehend what this is. And one of my film’s main characters all of a sudden doesn’t fit into the film. It was so sudden, but I am beginning to understand it needs to happen.
Thursday: Re-shoot day. I realized I am missing the most obvious sound bytes in my film, like where are we? Who are these people? It’s amazing how quickly I jumped into the deep emotional stuff without giving anyone any reason to care. Through transcribing, note cards on the wall, sugar, and caffeine I think I leave the editing lab Thursday night slightly hopeful I have something worth watching. The screenings with the class really help to get some fresh eyes on my project.
Friday: Fine cuts are due, which means one step before the final cut of the film. For me, that means a rough cut. After staying up until like 2 the night before, I come into the lab giving myself about 2 hours to throw something together. The less time I give myself, the easier it is not to be a perfectionist. I have been watching my film for about a week and a half now, so I am not sick of it, but I don’t know what to watch for anymore. I forget that the more I watch it, the more I take out that the audience needs because it’s their first time watching it. Clay and Dylan really help me see the good things in it and to focus on bringing that out more.
Saturday: I realize I need to shoot more. I blew out the sound on half of one of my character’s interviews, so I have to tread carefully around the trouble spots. I am beginning to become overwhelmed because a crucial dance shoot that I need for my film is tomorrow, and I am beginning to stress about how to control light in the room when there is a massive window in the studio. I stay up until 3 trying to find music for my dancers to listen to as I shoot.
Sunday: Sometimes I wake up and forget I am making a film. It comes rushing back pretty quickly. I grab a 7/11 water coffee and donut and try to pull myself together as I incoherently ask for campus safety to open the studio space. Directing seems daunting. With a little sugar I am functioning enough to begin the shooting day. Chance Crail, a rising sophomore who co-directed the short film Elevator Crush, which was actually on the home page, handled a lot of the technical hard stuff that was freaking me out, and just having him in the room was fantastic. Don’t need to figure out cameras and people at the same time, which is hard. And my god we got some great footage. I think there is some potential after all.
Until I finish this film, it won’t seem that good. But that’s the process. We suck it up and hope that in the end we hear everyone clapping and it’s worth it. I cannot wait until I hear that relief from and audience, when all the time I put in to savor and build to the most emotional moments becomes worth it. A month for 8-10 minutes. Until then it’s just delirium and praying.
I feel that this quotation sums up shooting week very well. This post was actually from before this week began.
I really love having an audience, but I hate getting on stage.
This whole week we have been preparing and revising our pitches for Rocky Mountain PBS last Wednesday. I should have written last Wednesday, I apologize. I have been re-watching The Wolf of Wall Street for about two weeks, so with enough of watching Jordan Belfort, I think I gave myself the confidence to walk into my pitch knowing that if I sold the film, PBS would eat it up. I really wanted to put a picture of Lio Dicaprio screaming or something, but it didn’t seem to fit, and the DVD box is a bit inappropriate too. I am not saying I hustled PBS, I am not saying I bribed PBS, but a little performance went a long way. Ultimately, our pitches are not our final films. And, in order to make your film sound interesting, it helps to be a performer. I exaggerated a little bit, I made the film sound better than it ultimately will be, but the pitch should be the most perfect vision of the film. It’s what I hope to capture. It is odd that the film only gets less perfect; if I come close to the pitch, I have made an amazing film. My film is going to focus on a dancer’s recovery from a car accident that exiled her from dance for three years. PBS liked it. I really think it will be an emotional story, and it felt great having an audience affirm my film idea.
Now I actually have to do it. We all looked over each other’s production schedule, and Clay gave our group almost unanimous feedback; be more emotional in your interview questions. Documentary isn’t journalism. We aren’t “documenting” anything, we are crafting emotion. We met with a CC alum named Daniel Junge, who won an Academy Award for Saving Face, an HBO doc exploring acid attacks in Pakistan. He said he thinks it’s actually rather insulting to call a filmmaker a “documentarian” for exactly that reason. It’s art, not reality. So, when we interview our subjects, we aren;t looking for facts. We are, but second to emotion. Instead of saying, “tell me about your car accident,” I give the subject permission to express more emotion when I say, “You’re in your car, and you hit the barrier. You try to overcorrect, but you can’t control the car, and it begins to roll. What was that moment like for you?”
Angela said it pretty well that we have to forget perfection. Nothing ever happens when I wait to make the perfect choice. I sat on my couch today practically catatonic for an hour thinking about shooting and what might go wrong. It doesn’t help. I just have to get myself behind the camera and it should be okay. And hope.
One of our class projects involved using archival footage in order to create an engaging story about a subject. Some examples include using footage from Charlie Chaplin films in order to tell the story of a scandal he had with someone in the past, another one involved telling a family story with mining.
Here is one example of a film using archival footage that Dylan and Clay (our professors) found great:
My archival footage was about abortion and I used most of my media from stock footage from the site Pond5. Looking back on it, I wish that I had utilized more archival footage of people telling their experiences and stories involving abortion and of the movement itself. The serious subject matter should have been paired with some serious footage and the footage I used made me feel like I delegitimized the subject matter in a way that didn’t convey the story as well as it could have been remembered. Oh well, a good lesson to learn in filmmaking early on! That’s one of my favorite and dreaded aspects of the class – through your mistakes you learn how not to make them in the future or how to improve in such a way as to make your filmmaking better. It’s wonderful learning better ways to do things, but then it’s awful making the mistakes. I’ve especially been learning that this week through shooting for my film – “Oh shoot I forgot to film something!”, “Dang I forgot to ask that question!”, “Augh, I should have framed that better!” – are all statements that I am glad but frustrated to have learned the hard way.
Right now, I have the strangest feeling of carrying gold waiting to be edited but knowing that there’s so much more work to do in order to make it shine. It’s an angst-y stressful time, but I know that this process will be paid off far too soon, but far too away from this moment.
In terms of externship, Friday was my last day at InsideOut. UrbanPeak, a homeless shelter for youth in Colorado Springs from ages 15-20, and InsideOut recently collaborated and decided that the UrbanPeak kids would have drop in hours from 12:30-3pm at InsideOut. The most exciting activity of the day was from 5:30-7pm – Glitter Wars. Eric split the youth into two groups and they would compete for each of them to receive a kaleidoscope at the end. We played Charades and Musical Chairs and in order to make Charades more interesting, Eric printed out the list of the “Gayest Cartoons” that people voted on online (see the list here: http://www.newnownext.com/bracket/gayest_cartoon_tournament/). The list was very diverse – from Daria to Elsa from Frozen, it seemed as though anyone could be seen as a “gay” character. I felt quite disappointed with my younger self for not seeing many of the cartoons on the list, such as ”The Smurfs” or “Peanuts”. Oh well, at least I have more TV shows I can watch in the future!
After the 10 days working with the organization, I think that I’ve decided on my film being about LGBT homelessness. Eric pulled in some people that he thought would have good stories for the documentary and one of them felt unsure on whether they wanted to participate and mentioned how UrbanPeak was doing a similar project, in which they are also filming homeless youth and making a video out of it. Initially, I thought that my idea would be great since I thought that it would be different, but I guess not now. I decided that I still wanted to go with my original idea, and when I was finishing up my proposal earlier today, I came up with a better idea. I have tentatively called my film Identity, aiming to show how the homeless youth are more than just their sexuality or gender identity and status in life. However, why didn’t I just decide to make a film about identity? Maybe I can play with that idea more as I propose my idea, but I can still show their identities through this film and I don’t need to sacrifice one over the other.
It’s really strange to be at this stage for the documentary. When you have the vision of what your film will look like but you haven’t started filming and you don’t know what exactly to anticipate for the future of the shooting and editing process. Where everything seems like it’ll work out, and you have to trust the process. It’s scary, but exciting. I’m really excited to get the ball rolling and see what happens, but I know I have to let go of the perfection I have expected out of myself.
MICHAEL BRADLEY, US midfielder
”This will be a World Cup where teams that do well will suffer. We want to be the team that can suffer the most”
It is so seductively easy to fail in filmmaking. I mean, it’s practically like the process begs you to fail the entire time. I keep thinking about this book I read about the Navy Seal training process; not to put filmmaking next to Navy Seal training, but there is an image of trainees getting up to ring this bell to drop out of Seal training. That’s what it feels like. That bell is so close, and the entire time I am trying to make a film I have to tell myself to have faith that the egregious amount of worry and preparation will be worth it in the moments I get it right.
I began shooting today. In all of the films I have been a part of, beginning to shoot is both exciting and terrifying. More terrifying. I began today filming a group choreography class followed by an even larger group contemporary class. The number of little details I need to remember when making a film is insane. First, I need to get consent forms for each of the people in the class. Except, all of the dancers, minus the instructor, are under 18; that means I need the parents to give written consent before I begin filming. Class started at 12; at 11:30, with the help of the Ormao director, Jan, we began frantically calling all of the parents of the dancers to make sure they could come in to sign consent forms. Thankfully, this first class was only a group of four or five girls, and as long as their parents dropped them off, I was good. Not too bad.
Next came the larger class. Thankfully I had a sheet with names on it of people who had already committed to the class. I began going down the list making sure to call parents of kids who were under 18– it looked manageable. I got a lot of parents on the phone, and they were all very understanding and agreeable. It’s pretty strange to meet somebody, shake their hand, introduce myself, then tell them to sign a waiver so I can film their child. Ultimately, I am trying not to get sued, so it’s worth it. Everything seemed to be going well; as people began to trickle in for the evening class, I methodically went to individuals to makesure I signed them off. All was well until I realized that a lot more people would be coming that weren’t on the list I had. Assumptions… the worry began when one girl I had met previously arrived for class, and I knew she was under 18. Her mom had already left the parking lot and was on her way home– I had to suck it up and awkwardly ask the girl to call her mom so she could turn around and sign the consent form– thankfully she did.
It got worse. More and more people started to come in so close to the class time that I knew there was no way I could get to everyone unless I postponed class. I hate intervening in events like this, but filmmaking requires it– especially documentary. With fiction, as long as you have willing actors who are getting paid, they are willing to suffer a little bit for you. It’s harder when you are asking everyday people, who aren’t actors accustomed to following scripts, etc. My energy at that point was running on a meager salad. A girl approaches me with a concern: she’s 5 months from being 18. She wasn’t on the list. Worse, she drove herself to class, so her parents were at home. I had little choice but to cold call; there were barely 5 minutes until class started. Thankfully, her mother was kind enough to drive to the studio in order to sign off on her behalf. The worst thing is there was really no way I could have prepared for these things; I had no idea who was definitely going to show up or wasn’t. I could have put up a group disclaimer on the door on the way in, but that wouldn’t have mattered for people under 18. It is so incredibly painstaking making sure everyone has a release signed, but the worst thing would be to need to track somebody down I don’t know because they are in the background of a shot I need to use for my film.
All of this still doesn’t really cover the frustration of starting to shoot a story I haven’t thought of yet. Today it might as well have been my first day with a camera. I had a slight idea of what and who I wanted to film, and everything seemed decently clear the night before as I went to bed. It’s still consuming; I woke up three or four different times between like 6 and 8 in anticipation and sheer nerves. Often I have dreams of messing up certain shots, or missing something. When everything starts to happen in real time, all the planning sort of doesn’t apply. Things are changing which I can’t control, and despite having a few shots I know I want, it becomes overwhelming very quickly where to actually point the camera, let alone make sure I can edit it coherently later. On top of that, I can’t just be locked in to my camera because I may miss a moment that is about to happen, where I need to move the camera or take it off my tripod.
The best part is it’s early. I know now that the stampede of feet that ruined my sound won’t happen again. I know now that I probably should get release forms more than a day in advance if possible. I’m trying to thinkof the World Cup; despite all of the pains the US has endured, and lack of faith in the our chances, we are advancing to the Round of 16. Michael Bradley describes suffering well; it’s listed above, but its worth repeating, and I think it really explains filmmaking well.
“This will be a World Cup where teams that do well will suffer. We want to be the team that can suffer the most”
There is no good film without suffering. Some happens now, some mid-shooting, and a lot in the editing room. The hard part is learning to love the darkest parts of it enough to endure to reach the good parts. I’m actively waiting.
Yesterday was my longest day at InsideOut. I came in at 11am and Eric gave me a ton of random tasks to do. One of the tasks involved putting bills into envelopes and when I looked at the costs for running and managing InsideOut, it was interesting to see what most people don’t take into account – waste management, water bills, electricity bills, medical insurance, etc. It was good to get a better perspective about nonprofits that most people don’t take into account since I may want to work for one in the future.
Later, Eric and I went to Citadel Mall to meet someone at Imagination Celebration to help him with strategic planning for InsideOut’s future. When we arrived, one of my CC friends was there! He gave us a tour of the place and it was such an incredible place. There was an area to display traveling art, a station where art classes take place (art that people have made in the past was displayed on the outside), another area that was filled with a variety of art supplies that the public was free to use, an area where lost computer supplies go to be reinvented to be robots and metal sculptures, and a section where local artists could sell their handmade works (such as jewelry, stationary, etc.). Since he said it was for all ages to unleash their creativity, I would love to go there and have a day making art.
Around 5:15pm, some of the youth started coming in and I lead the game “Baby do you love me?” Basically, the goal of the game was to make another person smile or laugh. People will be arranged in a circle and there will be one person in the middle who has to say to someone in the circle “Baby I love you will you please smile for me?” and the person has to say back to the person in the middle “I’m sorry baby but I just can’t smile” in a straight face. It was fun playing the game with everyone because it was fun seeing how they made others laugh or smile. The point of playing the game was to show people how it’s important to keep a straight face and be professional when faced with difficult questions like “Why did you choose to be gay?” and to answer in a polite and poised manner. I think that the game was a useful exercise because it seemed that they were able to see the takeaway.
Filmmaking classes are the best opportunity to play lots of foosball. It’s funny– so many creative powerhouse studios provide game rooms to employees, because when you are involved in Film, you’re living there. In that, if you’re editing a film, you live in the editing room. Every day at break, whether I was tired, frustrated, or sleep-deprived and delusional, I would always look forward to foosball with my classmate Djake. Now that we are in the heat of our externships I haven’t played in what feels like years, but it’s really nice to have that foosball table as an outlet when some nights I feel like screaming at the monitor watching the same interview clip over and over until I never want to watch it again no matter how interesting I thought it was before. Sometimes the most strenuous, creative activity like filmmaking needs a ridiculous activity to match it.
After stressing more than I needed to deciding which organization to pick for my externship, I chose the Ormao Modern Dance Company in Colorado Springs. Check out their website here if you’re interested.
I didn’t really know what to expect; I have never danced, and some of my friends are dancers so I have a slight idea. My best idea of dance is Black Swan, which may be somewhat accurate for the cut-throat ballet world, but this is modern dance. It’s completely different. Also, my biggest fear is that somehow I impose Black Swan onto Ormao, making it a hyper-dramatic life and death environment. There is no way to make a good documentary if I impose a story where that story doesn’t exist, or worse, makes a really good, interesting story inaccurate. The biggest takeaway I had from our discussion preparing the class for our externships was “trust the process”. It’s so difficult. It’s not a screenplay, maybe in some ways it looks like one, ultimately, but I can’t force through coffee and creative willpower something good onto paper. I need to make sure it exists first, so I need to wait. With that in mind, I entered Ormao excited to get to know each dancer personally, hopeful that somehow I could find a dramatic, emotional story.
It’s a lot of observing, I don’t want to say fly on the wall but that sums up a lot of what I have been doing so far. Ormao just finished a performance called “Interplay” in the spring, hosted by CC, so now the Company dancers are in the offseason, meaning they aren’t meeting regularly. So far, I’ve met most of the dancers as they come into the office to teach various summer classes offered to the public. Ballet, Modern, Jazz, Hip-Hop, B-boy, it’s a lot of dance world terms for me to take in at once. It’s a bit strange too, the most regular class is a choreographer’s class for high-school aged girls, mostly girls about to enter high school, so it’s a bit awkward being the 6’3″ college male that I am asking this group of teenage girls as politely as I can to watch their rehearsal. I nonchalantly sit in the corner and observe as best I can, watching how they rehearse and learn to choreograph and direct each other. I just find it a bit comical being the “college guy” in the room, who they just met, and keeps randomly coming in to watch us rehearse, kind of like how I feel when my parents visit me in my college classes and sit next to me, watching intently as I feel like they expect me to say something ground-breaking at every opportunity. It’s a bit odd, but I try to be as fly on the wall as I can, despite knowing that just my being there has an influence on how the dancers act. It’s hard not to– and I don’t even have a camera yet. Thankfully, I have a couple weeks to make everyone around me as comfortable as possible, and I can avoid the “hi, my name is, can I film you?”. It’s hard to be genuine when lights are shining in your face, and some guy you don’t know begins asking strangely intimate questions about your life.
I don’t know what my documentary is going to be about. Maybe it will be about the Ormao director, maybe it will be about a Company dancer, maybe it will be about a choreographer in the workshop. That’s the fun (and the frustration) of it. Ultimately it is fun, because I know I am going to get something good. From what I have seen, the dancers in the Company have an uncanny intimacy to them. Today I realized I am on the verge of something good. After attending my first advanced Modern class, I learned that on Wednesdays and Saturdays there are regular Modern classes that I could watch. The class began with the dancers and instructor, including me, sitting in a circle to introduce ourselves again, especially to me, as I mentioned that I am part of the documentary class. I get to meet some more of the Company dancers, which is great, and I start to feel pretty comfortable as everyone gapes at the astonishingly blue, round eyes of the one of the dancer’s year-old daughter. I sit down excited to watch the warm-ups.
The teacher breaks everyone into pairs, and the first exercise involves staring at a part of your partner’s body. Yep. And it gets more comfortable. The warm-up progressed from walking across the room staring at a body part, to staring at each other’s mouth, to staring into each other’s eyes, to hugging and moving around the room as a follower, then a follower. The intimacy and improvisation, as well as comfort and trust, required to do these exercises genuinely, and without writing it off as a “haha we’re staring at each other middle school dance”, was incredible. Each pair moved very differently. Some moved forcefully, with pace, others moved slowly and methodically; yet, each group shared the same intensity for the exercise. I sat gaping as I watched each pair come into contact with each other, sliding, grazing, engaging each other’s bodies in such a unique way that public interaction doesn’t allow; I just cried. I didn’t really know what to do, or why I was crying, but it was just stunningly honest and beautiful. That emotion, that sense of intimacy I felt between the dancers is what I need to capture on film. That’s it, that discovery, that breaking of normal physical boundaries, that letting go to another person. I can’t imagine what its like to experience, and maybe sometime this week I can get a chance to do some of the exercises to know what I will need to convey to the audience. The dancers have asked me if I’m doing the classes, and so far I have been pretty nervous to say yes, but maybe that openness is just what I need to know more of in order to make the best documentary I can. The filmmaker’s nightmare is someone who is bad on camera, and that is certainly not the case with the Ormao dancers I have met– it’s a great feeling knowing I have that already.
Filmmaking is obsessive, and requires some obsessing. I need to gain as much knowledge of modern dance in a couple weeks as I can, so when we begin to pitch our movies to the class, and ultimately Rocky Mountain PBS, nobody says “oh, actually, that’s not how modern dance works”. So far I’ve learned that modern dance can be technical, improvised, people rolling on each other while keeping parts of their body in contact, moving around upside down in a box, jumping on a bed; it’s a wide-reaching discipline. I keep thinking about the movie The Artist is Present and the intimacy that film achieves through Abramovic’s Moma exhibit, where she stares into whatever person’s eyes sits across from her. It’s stunning. If I can even come close to that power in my film, I’ll be happy. With the level of intimacy I experienced today, I know something is definitely there.
Hello all CC blog readers, whether seasoned or new, thanks for tuning in. My name is Tom and I am a fellow student with Angela Kong in the Documentary Film Institute class. Angela already has told quite a bit alluding to our externship experiences, but I just want to extend a quick background about the class and what we covered before our externships began. I aim to provide genuine writing, which may mean it rambles a bit at times, but I enjoy that; I hope you do too. This shouldn’t feel like an essay. I really hope it doesn’t. If it does, don’t tell me.
The Documentary Film Institute is a pretty radical step in filmmaking at CC because generally we have only one block to make our films. My first film class I took was the Documentary FYE freshman year; we had two blocks to cover documentary study generally, but we had only one block to make our respective documentaries. Our first week and a half involved quick, one minute assignments, essentially leaving us two weeks to produce our 7-10 minute documentaries. It was nuts, and other filmmaking classes operate the same way– whenever I have a block like that I know I am signing myself up for 100% filmmaking at all times. This Documentary class we have a full two blocks to immerse ourselves in documentary study,giving us the opportunity to work on our final films for about 5 weeks. It’s a monumental amount of time. The first few weeks we spent watching some of the earliest documentaries such as Nanook of the North or Man with a Movie Camera, discussing formal aspects of interviews, composition, and editing style. From Nanook’s literal staging of eskimo life in the Arctic, documented as if it was the reality of contemporary of eskimo life, we began to talk about (and still do, and will always) what it means to think of documentary as the “creative treatment of actuality”. Moving through early documentary work through more contemporary documentaries, such as Nanking or The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, our class began to examine how filmmakers format stories in emotional, dramatic ways. Documentary isn’t real life, and it shouldn’t be– nobody wants to watch security camera footage without cuts or music. If you do, look up Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami; imagine the pacing of 2001: A Space Odyssey except in documentary, it’s incredible in its own right but I don’t find it thrilling.
From documentary study, we moved into shooting assignments. It’s amazing because our class is so diverse; as a Film major, I have experience behind a camera and watching movies intellectually, but for a lot of the class, these are the first movies people have made. It’s really great to hear science-minded people contribute in a generally humanities-centered discipline. Clay always says that Film is the absolute liberal arts discipline, which it absolutely is– you can make a movie about anything. With those diverse perspectives in mind, we went through a gauntlet of short video assignments. From shooting an action without intervening (I shot my friend moving her bed, and when she asked me to help I didn’t answer), to an interview, to even scouring archival footage to illustrate a story. My group member and I chose to tell the story of a defected MI6 spy in the Korean war using voice actors and war footage; it’s absurd what you can do with archival footage, and how it brings “dead” stories to life. We really got to know each other in the editing lab thru these assignments. Inevitably, in any film class the editing lab becomes the late night club, and soon we all got editing experience before heading on our retreat to BACA to focus on specific, technical exercises.
I had never been to BACA before, and god is it buggy. I didn’t really expect that for Colorado, but it was great to get away from campus and spend time together as a class. We dove right into technical assignments, our largest one focusing on lighting a subject for an interview. We placed our Para-Professor Demetria in a chair and took off. Our library/classroom became a giant studio, as we rearranged chairs and tables to set up our mock interview. Lights, sandbags, filters, it practically looked like a fiction film set; it’s great to see the potential we have to create amazing interview setups. Also the amount of time it takes– documentary is so much running and gunning, but for interviews, if you have a chance to set up something compositionally pleasing, do it. We may not have the time to set up every interview like we did for Demetria (we probably spent about an hour, maybe more), but if I can, I definitely will. Thankfully the whole class has experience now, so we can assist each other’s production crews. We did a couple more assignments, like changing white balance from an outside environment to an inside environment, shooting outside, and more cinema verite shooting (no intervening), while watching more documentaries, like Marwencol. We were all feeling a bit depressed after watching such emotional knockouts like Nanking or The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, so when Clay, Dylan, and Demetria came prepared for our screening with full movie candy I practically died. I’m such a sugar fiend, so it was heaven, and I felt like I was back at home watching a fun movie with my family.
Now everyone’s caught up, so let’s dive into externships. The real work begins.