Documentary Film

For some reason the Newbie link is not working for me, so I hope no one minds me posting here.

I'm trying to produce a 30-40minute documentary film right now and I've never made one. Does anyone have any tips or advice especially when it comes to pre-production stuff?
 
Make a outline. Research you subject. Explain your subject matter to the interviewee's, to help you interview process flow smoothly. Create a schedule. Search for good locations.
 
Start organising yr thoughts. Compartmentalise everything. I have tons and tons of notebooks. I write everything down. If you could give a rough idea of what your doc's about (if it's not too secret) than I could give more suggestions.
 
For some reason the Newbie link is not working for me, so I hope no one minds me posting here.

I'm trying to produce a 30-40minute documentary film right now and I've never made one. Does anyone have any tips or advice especially when it comes to pre-production stuff?
Are you going to be doing any location shooting? If so, plan out all your shots in that area and do them(I know it sounds obvious, amazing how many people don't do it).

As far as research and preperation, just make sure that you have all permissions for images, ect before you start putting it together. Legally have all your ducks in a row.

Be prepared to shoot a LOT more than you need-it's always easier to cut in post than try to add for shortcomings, so have the proper amount of media(Dv, SD, HDD) ahead of time.

Know what angle you want to take for the doc, and be sure of it. I knew someone who was starting to shoot a doc with a certain theme behind it, then encountered new information which changed/voided some of the information he had already done. He just went with it, but as a result it was something that had a confusing theme, you weren't sure what he was trying to say.

ANd of course, make sure your money situation is where you want it before you film the first stuff. Nothing like unexpected expenses to bite into a budget ;)
 
Thank you for all the advice so far.

The film is going to be about a key environmental issue where I live. We are looking at the arguments made in support for incineration and Waste to Energy facilities, and showing that these arguments are mere myths. We want to provide our target audience, citizens of where I live with a different look on incineration and an alternative solution to how to manage waste. Another part of the film is looking at how much the local university, who claims to be supportive of sustainability and going "green", is involved and the actions they have taken.

One reply mentioned something about legal issues, aside from photographs, are there any legal things I should take care of too during pre-production? For example, when I'm interviewing someone, are there things I must let them know or let them sign?
 
Thank you for all the advice so far.

The film is going to be about a key environmental issue where I live. We are looking at the arguments made in support for incineration and Waste to Energy facilities, and showing that these arguments are mere myths. We want to provide our target audience, citizens of where I live with a different look on incineration and an alternative solution to how to manage waste. Another part of the film is looking at how much the local university, who claims to be supportive of sustainability and going "green", is involved and the actions they have taken.

One reply mentioned something about legal issues, aside from photographs, are there any legal things I should take care of too during pre-production? For example, when I'm interviewing someone, are there things I must let them know or let them sign?
I would think for interviewers, get a release signed saying the allow you to use their image. Yes, it might seem obvious because they are doing it, but have a paper trail. Last thing you need is someone feeling pressure and coming out and saying "I didn't say you could use that"-the signed paper will prove otherwise.
 
Quick question, a few of you recommended making an outline. My question is how specific or detailed should the outline be especially if I'm planning to use a lot of interviews? Should I prepare the outline to the point where I'm expecting or anticipating the answers the interviewees will make?
 
with the outline, try to guess what your documentary's structure is going to be, what information do you think you will be getting out of each interview, and where do you think you will use that information? A lot of outlining will also be done after you have your interviews. But create an initial outline to help you come up with the questions you would like to ask that will build your documentary.

On the topic of interviews though, after you have more information, try to see if you can tag along with any of the more interesting subjects as they do whatever work they do in relation to the environmental issue. When you interview them, do they tell you about a certain landfill or place where waste is building up, for example? Ask if they can take you there at a later date. Documentaries do plenty of telling but they should do more showing so they viewer can have more to digest.
 
I'm trying to produce a 30-40minute documentary film right now and I've never made one.
Before I give you the rest of my advice, let me give you one piece of advice that you will probably ignore, but you shouldn't:

Forget it. The project you've chosen to do will be a massive failure. I'm sorry, but somebody needs to be blunt and honest with you. You simply cannot succesfully direct a 30-minute documentary your first time out. You have no idea how MASSIVE a workload you're giving yourself. You might be able to put a 30-minute piece together, but without the prior experience of knowing what works and what doesn't, it will be boring as shit, and most viewers will tune out after a couple minutes.

Nobody has ever succesfully done what you are trying to do. I challenge any reader of this thread to prove me wrong. Show me ONE instance of a first-time documentary-maker who produces and directs a compelling 30-minute movie their first time out.

I'd say 3-4 minutes is a more reasonable timeline for your first outting, and even that will be a challenge to you. The rest of my advice applies the same to a short piece or a long one.

You cannot over-plan. In fact, you should try to over-plan. Leave no stone left un-turned. Research the subject intensely. Before you even sit down for the first interview, you should already have a rough, but strong, idea of how the narrative is going to unfold. You should already know the focus of your story, and how you're going to tell it. Don't be afraid to frame questions in a manner that will likely produce the answers you're looking for. Yes, this is manipulative. So what? The entire process of making a documentary is manipulative.

I agree with all of the advice that's been given to you already. Except for one little tidbit from Ericksen, saying that you should avoid talking-heads. Well, he's right -- talking-heads are boring. But you still need them; that's just the most effective way to gather interviews. So you get lots of talking-heads, but you try not to make that your main aesthetic. You get TONS of footage that is relavent and pertaining to what your subjects are talking about. Pictures can work for this, too. You try your best to decide on these images in advance, brainstorm all the possible ideas for what imagery will help tell your story. Predictably, once you've collected the interviews, you'll see that there are many pick-up shots you didn't think of, but it definitely helps to try your best to anticipate.

You know -- you can say a lot in 4 minutes. You can deliver a powerful message that can call people to arms. Limiting yourself to a shorter timeline will force you to really focus on what's important, and to deliver the message in a consice, compelling manner. For the purpose you're intending (and considering your lack of experience), I think a 4-minute documentary will produce MUCH better results for what you're trying to accomplish.
 

Uranium City

Pro Member
indiePRO
The project you've chosen to do will be a massive failure.
Maybe, maybe not. There's no way of knowing unless you try. But rarely in film are failures merely failures alone because you can learn more from your mistakes than from your successes.
 
I think they are aiming to succeed, most people don't aim to fail, that's why they ask for advice. CrackerFunk's advice is good, if a little harsh, but maybe now the OP will reconsider their length. Or maybe the OP will try to make a solid 30 minute piece, fail, and cut it down to 3 minutes.
 
I think it is irresponsible to encourage someone to set forth on a task so monumental that they simply cannot acheive their goal. I'm a firm believer in setting goals high. But that goal should at least be attainable.

misterme, I think you've got a terrific idea for a documentary, and I hope you follow through with it. Take a little more time to ease yourself into this art with shorter pieces first, and you will find that it is extremely challenging, and equally fun.
 
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