Organize, outline, and schedule the shooting.
I don’t necessarily need to know exactly how my documentary is going to come together before I start shooting – I may discover things during the process of filming that change the plans or offer new avenues of investigation. However, I should definitely have a plan before I start shooting, including an outline of specific footage I want to shoot. Having a plan ahead of time will give me extra time to schedule interviews, work around scheduling conflicts, etc. my plan for shooting should include:
- Specific people I want to interview – make contact with these people as early as possible to schedule interviews.
- Specific events I want to record as they occur – arrange travel to and from these events, and get permission from the event’s planners to be able to shoot at the event.
- Specific writings, pictures, drawings, music, and/or other documents I want to use. Get permission to use these from the creator(s) before I add them to the documentary.
- Any dramatic recreations I want to shoot. Search for actors, props, and shooting locations well ahead of time.
Interview relevant people.
Pick a selection of relevant people to interview and collect as much footage as I can from these interviews. I’ll be able to splice this footage throughout the documentary to help prove my point or convey the message. Interviews can be “news style” – in other words, simply sticking a microphone in someone’s face – but I’ll probably want want to rely more on one-on-one sit-down interviews, as these give us a chance to control the lighting, staging, and sound quality of your footage while also allowing your subject to relax, take his or her time, tell stories, etc.
- These people may be famous or important – many of these people may not be famous or important. They may be ordinary people whose work has given them a familiarity of my subject or people who simply witnessed an important event firsthand. They can, in certain situations, even be completely ignorant of my subject – it can even be enlightening (and entertaining) for the audience to hear the difference between a knowledgeable person’s opinion and an ignorant person’s opinion.
- Remember––a good interview should be more like a conversation. As the interviewer, I must be prepared, having done my research and informed myself to glean the most information from the interview subject.
- Grab B-roll whenever possible. Get shots of interview subject after the formal interview. This allows me to cutaway from the talking head shot.