Advanced Video Camera and Editing

Shooting the Documentary

Documentary storytelling depends on getting good visuals and audio. Don't rely on narration as the driving force behind your story. Instead, let the visuals get your message across. The point of shooting a documentary is not just to document an event. What you shoot and how you shoot it depends on how well you know the story. Granted, when covering certain events where the outcome is ambiguous at best, a documentarian should still ask what's important, what's compelling, what's the story and how should it be structured. It's a common tendency for first-time filmmakers to overshoot simply because they have yet to find the focus.  It's easy with video to shoot continuously, but this just adds up the piles of footage that have to be sorted through later by the editor. Rather, shoot with editing in mind, considering how shots will be edited together. 

When shooting, ultimately find images that will help drive the narrative. Some images may represent ideas or even metaphors that are related to the story or characters. But it's most important that you shoot footage in a way that is cuttable. Shoot a variety of shots to give you sufficient coverage for editing. Find images that establish time, place, and people doing what they do. Be attentive to details that reveal character. Cover scenes that leave your storytelling options open, including wide shots, proscenium shots, and close-ups of every person involved in the scene, whether they talk or not. 

Use foreground and background elements to achieve a sense of depth. Foreground objects also possess greater significance due to their relative size in the frame compared to objects in the background. Also, how does the lighting treat your subject? Does it convey atmosphere and tone? Is the light direct and harsh, or is it soft and warm? Does the character stand out in high relief, appearing mysterious or even sinister? In addition, are you shooting from above the person looking down (omniscient camera), making them appear small and diminished? Or are you looking up at the person, making them appear larger than life?


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The Proposal and Treatment

Developing the Story

Shooting the Documentary

Independent Filmmaking