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Documentary Filmmaking – Introduction

Documentary Filmmaking – Important Key Points

In this article, I will go through some very important key point of documentary filmmaking. I’m going to start with an important discussion that should be the beginning of every documentary filmmaking course and I’m also going to write some tips to get you started. I’m also going to talk about finding an original idea for your film and the types of documentary films out there. In the next lessons, I will talk about the basics of non-fiction storytelling, The art of the interview, The history of documentary filmmaking and much more.

So let’s¬†study documentary filmmaking¬

What is a documentary film?

The definition of documentary film is kind of a controversial one. Some say that the documentary filmmaking purpose is to document the reality and some would say that the role of the documentary is to interpret reality.
So who is right?
The truth is that there is no such thing as an objective film. The only responsibilities we can be fixed to a documentary filmmaker is to be fair to its object (some would argue even that). That is to let the subject that you document a chance to express itself and to be treated with respect.

Quick tip:
Many film schools will tell you that an honest documentary filmmaker
needs to show all the sides of the subjects.¬ That makes sense, but be careful!¬ Most subjects are not simple as black and white¬†and there is a lot of grey.¬ You need to find the grey area that¬†has the blackest colors and the most white colors,¬ but don’t attempt to give everyone sides. ¬ Sometimes there are just too many

The movie “Roger and Me” by Michael Moore is a good example for documentary filmmaking.¬†Michael Moore is a documentary filmmaker¬†that keeps challenging the objectivity of documentary film.
He himself claims that what he shows in his films is real, but admits that the voice overs are his personal interpretation of the facts.
Look:
The truth is that if he would just show the facts,¬†it wouldn’t be interesting.¬†The reality is not so interesting.¬†Not enough to¬†just copy it without making a commentary.

Now:
it’s important that you’ll understand that directors that are less provocative¬†than Michael Moore also gives interpretations from their perspective¬†to the facts that they’re taking about.¬†That’s why most of the documentaries are made with the director’s narration.

I don’t really believe that documentary¬†is objective reality¬ and fiction is all illusion. ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬
Mike Mills ¬† ¬†¬

What am I trying to tell you?
A¬†documentary film can not show an objective world.¬†When you frame a certain reality into the shot,¬†you’ve set your point of view on the object.¬†How is that different from staging a scene in fictions?¬†Once you’ve decided what goes into the frame¬†and what’s not,¬†this is your point of view.¬†How can you objectively decide when to turn on and off the camera?¬

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Be fair to your subject ‚Äď but also with your film

Some may say that if the photographed object is OK with you shooting him in certain situations, then the decisions about what’s getting in the film and what does not are yours alone. There are those who feel that the director should discuss with his object¬†about what can and can not enter the film. I don’t believe in that.
But here is the kicker:
You are not your object parent! What is important is that the film will turn out good.
Eventually, you’ll have to trust your instincts.¬†You shouldn’t be lying about your subject to make the movie more interesting,¬†but if your subject of the film wants to be part of the decision process of the film,¬†that might lead to trouble.

Find an original subject for your film

To find a good story for a documentary film, in my opinion, ¬†is more difficult¬†compared to finding one for a fiction film.¬†Of course, there are repeating¬†themes (especially if you are in film school):¬†your grandmother who raised you as if you were her child,¬†this guy that has to deal with cancer or other terminal illness,¬†In Israel we have lots of films about the Palestinian and Jewish problem.¬†The problem with those issues (important as they are) is that they all been done too many times. So if you’ve been going to film¬†about¬†those issues, you better find a way to make it breathtaking and original.¬†For example the film ‚ÄúFreeheld‚ÄĚ, that deals with cancer, but in an original and interesting way.¬†It¬†tells the story of a woman dying of cancer who wants to leave all she has to her spouse, Stacey. She encounters difficulties because they are not husband and wife¬†and together they fight for what’s right according to their point of view.

You know, the process of making a documentary¬†is one of discovery, and like writing a story,¬†you follow a lead and that leads you to something else and then by the time you finish,¬ the story is nothing like you expect ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†¬
William Shatner

Most documentaries are about the present or past, but there are no strict rules.¬†There are films like The War Games,¬†which is highly recommended documentary for fans of the genre,¬†from 1965, that describe a possible future:¬†The Film takes all the terrible facts of the second World War¬†and uses them to describe a nuclear war on London in the future.¬†Whatever time period you’ll choose to talk about,¬†it always has to revolve around something that happens in life.

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How to review a documentary film

Another important point to talk about it in the context of Documentary Films¬†is how do you criticize a documentary¬†It’s hard to say stuff like the subject is not interesting.
I think that when reviewing the documentary, you do not judge the issue but how the director introduced the topic. It is very important that the director will investigate and show the character he chose to shoot and even more important, why he chose them.

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So what can you learn from it about making a documentary?
When you write your documentary or treatment for one, ask yourself over and over, Why did I choose this project? What can I bring to this issue? And what I can do here that we have not seen yet?

I hope you enjoyed this post and let me know if you have anymore questions or ideas for lessons

 

 

Basic camera technique & movements in film

 

The camera angles in a film are one of the most important rules¬ you need to know about filmmaking.¬ Whatever field you’ll take on the film and television industry,¬ whether it’s producing, directing, acting, scriptwriting, etc.¬ It is important for every filmmaker to learn the technical terms of any type of shot.

Why is it so important?
First of all, it will help you to develop your camera techniques. ¬ But more importantly:
this is the way all the film casts communicate.¬ It will save you a lot of time (and embarrassments) to know them.

¬†“There is only you and your
camera.
The limitations in your
Photography in your self, for
what we see what we are.” ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†¬ ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬ ¬†Ernes Hass

The Important rules you must know:

180-degree rule

This is a rule you will hear lots of your crew member talk about in a film production.
Here’s the deal:
The rule helps you not to mess up the direction of characters in the film while they are relating to each other. For example, if you have a scene with two characters talking to each other, not following this rule, might make them look like they are talking to themselves.

So what’s is the 180 rule?

The 180-degree rule is an imaginary line that connects between the two (or more) characters in the scene. The camera has to stay on the same side of the line during the whole scene. Crossing the line will mess up the direction the characters are looking at.

Click here to watch illustrates of the 180 rule

30-degree rule

To make your video editor’s life easier,¬ your camera angle should move at least 30 degrees between¬ each shot of the same subject¬ being¬†shot.¬ For¬ example,¬†if you are shooting a car and you want to shoot it from a different angle,you should make sure your next camera angle will move for at least 30 degrees from the previous shot,
otherwise a “Jump Cut” will¬ appear
A jump cut is when two shots don’t attach together smoothly.

Click here to watch illustrates of the 30 rule

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Use Camera movements to built emotion¬

There are some camera movements that can make the atmosphere in the film a lot stronger. The camera movement is very important to set the emotion of the scene and it something you’ll have to practice a lot. A bad camera movement can really ruin the scene atmosphere. You have to be careful¬†not to use them too much as many beginner directors tend to do, as it might make the audience lose focus. Use them only when it’s necessary to the scene. Remember! a good camera work doesn’t call attention from the audience.

If you decide to go on camera movement, I would recommend shooting the same shot in static camera, just to be safe. Sometimes a movement shot will look great in your head, but in the editing room, it won’t feet and then you’ll be lucky to have the static take too.

As an exercise, I would advise you to shoot a scene with all the movements I’m going to introduce you now and then shoot the same scene again with static cameras and see what kind of scene you are getting each time.

Zooming In

It is a process in which the cameraman changes the lens length from long
(Wide Angle) to close-up. This movement tells the viewer that what is happening now is important. Usually, we use it when the character becomes emotional or to highlight what is being said.

 Zooming Out

Same as Zoom In but inverted

Pan Left \ Right

While the camera is sitting on a tripod,¬†we set in motion its lens to the left or right. It means that the camera is scanning the scene horizontally. If you’ll nod your he’d left and right, you will see how pan left and pan right looks like.¬†If the director wants to see more of the right,¬†he will ask the cameraman to Pan Right.¬†These movements often are done relatively slowly unless doing what is called:
“Swish Pan” which is a very fast pan that creates a blurred background. This camera movement also very good to immolate point of view

Tilt Up, Down

While the camera is stable on a tripod,¬†move the lens up or down, so the camera is scaring the scene vertically. ¬†If you’ll nod your head up and down, you will see how tilt up and down looks like. If the director wants to see more of below the frame,¬†he will tell the¬†cameraman to tilt down.
Usually, we use it to show the size and power of a person or an object in relation to the viewer, So the viewer feels as if he is looking up. The same thing when you want to emphasize the lack of power Tilt down will show the bottom part of a photographed object.This camera movement also very good to immolate point of view

Here is a scene from one of the funniest films I know- the movie Top Secret – from the masters of parody- Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker– to show you a small Til up

Click here for an  illustrate that describe it the best

Enhance your camera movements¬

The movement we saw up to now are very simple, but there is a way to make them look much more powerful. The Dolly is kind of a cart that you put on tracks and put the camera on it and it creates smooth motion. It makes the viewer less passive while watching and feel more active.

Dolly In/Out

Also known as” Dolly Zoom”. Dolly in means to get closer to the object¬†and Dolly Out means to get away from it.¬†It is quite similar to Zoom In and Out, but there is a big difference:
On a Dolly shot the ratio of the photographed object and its environment will remain similar, so the visual effect will be a lot stronger in the “Dolly shot”. The way to do this is by pulling
¬ the¬ camera backward or pushing it forward while pulling the zoom on the lens to the opposite direction. It will always look better then zoom in because¬†zoom in calls for more attention from the audience, while the dolly in is more subtle.¬

Track Left/Right

is byTry them both and see the difference. t

Move the camera on the dolly to the right or the left. This kind of movements is good to create at the viewer a feeling of more activeness.

 

Make your movement look professional

It is very important that your camera movements will be smooth¬†and substantial to the story,¬†otherwise, they will attract too much attention and it will interrupt the viewer to Be “sucked” into the atmosphere of the film.¬†The viewer might be too aware of the fact that he is watching a movie,¬†and once that happens, you lose him.

Therefore, it is very important to practice as much as possible on these camera movements.

Your home work for today is to start paying attention to the camera angels and movement in the films and tv shows you are watching. Try also to take it a step forward and understand what are the emotion the director is trying to set with these angels.

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