Posts in: FS260
I think I speak for all (or at least most) of my classmates when I say that Documentary Filmmaking has challenged me more than I imagined and has taught me more than I could have anticipated.
For the week and a half, and particularly the last four days, we have gone into overdrive working on our 5-7 minute documentaries. I’ve personally (as a beginner at editing and filming) spent in the neighborhood of 6-7 hours in the editing lab per day since Friday. It’s amazing to see how much blood, sweat, and tears (maybe not all of those, but I’ll let my classmates speak for themselves) go into something that lasts so briefly.
Even those seven minute-ers don’t remotely convey how much squinting, re-winding, listening, panicking, trimming, and murdering (as per the expression “murder your darlings”) happened “behind the scenes.” Thankfully, we had amazing support from Doug and Demetria (our paraprof), who gently pushed us to really get to the crux of our films and make them the very best they could possibly be.
I have learned so much from this block, both artistically and practically. Filmmaking, if anything, has taught me that to do something to the best of my ability, passion is a key ingredient. And commitment to the potential of failing, or better phrased perhaps as learning, is crucial.
I’ve learned from the subject of my final film, who taught me that yes, everyone has a story, a life philosophy, and experiences that shape them. As filmmakers, we have the glorious opportunity to share these stories and, if only for 5-7 minutes, connect all of us in the vast web of human experience.
One of my favorite pieces of advice Doug gave us throughout this block is: take your job seriously, not yourself. It took going through this class to help me understand what that truly means: to respect your subject, your vision as an artist, and the ways film can move people. But we are fallible and we can always learn from each other. And filmmaking, and even editing, is fun. Don’t be so serious that you can’t enjoy the process.
So, TONIGHT, Tuesday, at 7pm in the Cornerstone Screening Room we are showing our short docs (*read: birthed babies). If you guys want to come, we have stories about sign spinners, old couples, art and PTSD, curly hair, undocumented workers, low-income housing, deployment to Afghanistan, and EVEN MORE.
And so I fondly bid adieu to Documentary Filmmaking – a class that took its subject matter seriously but not itself, and taught me an incredible amount about both art and life.
Mock in-class interview
So ends Week Two!
This week in documentary filmmaking, we focused on the delicate art of interviewing subjects: something we all need to master (to some degree) for our final project. Including the practical elements of how to light your subject most effectively and how to record sound using a few different microphone options, we also discussed the way to approach asking questions and probe the emotional part of a story or an answer.
Something that stuck out to me personally was the idea that as viewers, we seek to connect with emotion and descriptions that help us empathize with the person being interviewed. Additionally, Doug mentioned how, as the filmmaker, it is important to help shape the interview with your questions and your responses. After all, you’re ultimately telling their story through the structure of your film.
We set out on an assignment to interview someone with the goal of filming 15-20 minutes of footage total, and editing it down to 3-4 minutes. This exercise familiarized us with the art of editing, which Doug attests is often where most of energy in making a doc lies. We learned how to edit speech to succinctly tell a story without changing the original intent behind the words (an important approach if you want to be an ethical filmmaker).
Watching everyone’s interview pieces was fascinating and helped illuminate that as filmmakers we must be respectful and ethical but also be prepared to ask the hard questions and go deeper, searching for the story behind the heart of the characters. Exploring the psyche and motivation behind certain choices and events is a unique opportunity that documentary filmmakers have.
And again: everyone has a story to tell.
Next week we begin to dig deep into final project work and have the opportunity to hear from Daniel Junge, a CC alum who made the Academy Award winning short documentary Saving Face.
P.S. – we also watched the documentary Searching for Sugar Man, which I highly recommend to everyone for a fascinating story about an underrated musician!
I am taking Documentary Filmmaking, a block centered around the creative and technical approaches to making documentaries, taught by alum Doug Pray (a documentary filmmaker himself). After a packed week, I’m excited to share some of the many tips, ideas, and artistic lessons I have already absorbed.
My favorite assignment we did this week involved going through a local newspaper (Gazette or The Independent) and choosing two news stories: one that we would make a big budget doc about, and one that we would do on virtually no budget with a short time window. I learned, first of all, there’s more going on in the Springs than we may think. Secondly, it helped Doug make the point that stories are everywhere. And everyone has a story. Something that stuck out to me was the idea Doug shared that a documentary, an interesting one, no less, can be made about anybody. I love this idea and like the artistic, journalistic place this puts us in as story-seekers surrounded by people with treasured experiences we all can learn or benefit from seeing / hearing.
It’s also a somewhat humbling position to know good stories can come from anywhere and sometimes, just being a good listener can provide insightful and educating opportunities.
We also did a more technical exercise later in the week that familiarized us with the filming equipment and editing software. We each filmed an average activity taking place and then edited it in such a way that it relayed a mini story. I realized how many choices directors have to make as far as cuts and angles go, and the possibilities seem endless. There’s a lot of impressive talent in our class which is inspiring and helpful to see how a style can emerge from all the filming options.
Throughout this past week, we’ve also been brainstorming ideas for our final projects, which range from inside looks at quirky subcultures to education on social issues. I’m excited to continue speeding toward our goal of each producing a 5-7 minute documentary, knowing the block plan doesn’t allow for any feet dragging.
Looking forward to diving into week two!