Sunday, March 11, 2012

Three Things I've Learned in Making Documentaries

Three things I've learned in making three documentaries (Ten Dollars an Hour; The South Will Rise Again; SHOWTIME):

1) Follow your movie star.

When in doubt point the camera at your star. Who is your star? The one who "pops" on-camera.

2) There is the story you want to tell and there is the story you can actually tell.

In all three of my movies there has been a better story I wanted to tell but, for various reasons (people don't want to talk on-camera; I wasn't there to capture the footage; time considerations; lack of skill as a filmmaker), couldn't. I have the feeling this is true of all documentaries ever made. In "Ten Dollars an Hour" it was a) Leesa's life outside of the Sigma Nu house and b) a deeper understanding of Janice's life. In "The South Will Rise Again" it was the political maneuverings of the Athletic Department and the Chancellor's Office to end the chant. In "SHOWTIME" it was a) the personal conflicts among various teammates and b) the class differences among teammates.

3) Good sound is important.

Believe it or not, although film is a visual medium, sound is what casts the spell. Mess with the sound and you pull people out of their engagement of the film (or, in the best films, their entrancement). People will accept bad visuals as long as the sound is good and consistent. Sound (and music) reach a deeper part of our unconscious and, thus, it is more jarring when done poorly.

In addition, as a fan of documentaries, here are two things I often don't like:

1) Recreations

Almost always takes me out of the film.

2) Narration

Almost always sounds stilted.

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