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The Process —

From the mailbox:

Hello Jason,

In about a month and a half, I’ll be undertaking a video interview series of ultramarathon runners. Unfortunately, I have zero experience with both interviewing and video production. My frame of reference for beginning is your BBS Documentary. I imagine I’ll essentially film interviews in the same manner that you did, as I’ll be conducting the interviewing and filming solo.

So I’d like to ask if you can point me at anything you may have written up about your process. Or perhaps if you haven’t written anything up, can you offer any advice. I’m open to advice on any matter, such as interviewing, equipment, etc. etc.

Thanks

Bill

I’m asked variations of this a lot. I figured I’d take a shot at answering here.

You’re asking two very different questions here, not particularly overlapping, like asking how one learns to drive a truck and then asking what sort of things you would put in a truck and where to drive it.

Equipment-wise, sound is more important than video, and lighting is more important than resolution. But if you can, try to nail all these things as best you can. Currently, I tell people to buy something like a Canon Vixia, a solid-state (6 hours of recording capacity, no tape) and compact video recorder where you can record in high definition in locations you might not have been able to achieve even a few years ago. The resulting recordings can be pulled down via firewire or USB into your laptop or desktop on the road and you can move onto the next thing quickly. This has a lot of use in a lot of situations. And it’s $700 or so.

If $700 is too much money, then you are going to run into problems all along the line, so consider what sort of money advantage you have, and whether you maybe want to pair or group up with others who want to do camera stuff and buy the camera together. (Don’t make it more than 4 people or you will be miserable.)

Do a documentary before you do this documentary you’re talking about. Make it one about your house. Your house isn’t going anywhere and you know the subject well. You record the house, from all sorts of angles, and then try to put together a cohesive film from it. If you find you’re missing footage, then go back and record it (hence the advantage of doing it on your house). That’s something I recommend. If you don’t want to do that, are you prepared to drive all night to get to the homes of people you don’t know, and ask them all sorts of crazy questions, even if they’re not completely into the idea?

Here’s a little bit about my setup, which might show you some ideas. Again, my camera is much larger and nowhere near as good:

http://www.bbsdocumentary.com/production/lightscamera/

You can see the thoughts I put behind it, but bear in mind I did have a rough patch or two coming up with what worked for me.

Now, the second part: Interviewing.

If you go to archive.org and listen to my raw interviews, I think you’ll find I generally start out with a simple question, something the person can answer without thinking, and have them get used to being recorded and photographed and dredging out their memories. It sounds like your documentary is contemporary, but asking simple questions will end up bringing out more complicated thoughts. The real key is to listen to the interviewees, listen for things they’re hinting at (consciously or unconsciously) and not to be afraid to ask them what they want to talk about. People are people, and everything they say to you will be what you work from, in your final film. So treat them as people, and realize they’re people.

The other non-intuitive thing is that as you do a film where you’re basing things in reality, reality might present things you didn’t expect, and I think it’s pretty important to reflect that. If everyone in your film is into rock music, or if driving electric cars is something everyone you interview does, it probably should be mentioned, even if you didn’t think you’d go that way.

In the modern world, where places to host your work (or incomplete work) are legion, you have a lot of ways to get your stuff “out”. If you’re in it to make some quick bucks, documentary films are not the way to go, unless you’re doing wedding videos.

Also, please watch as many documentaries as you can.

That’s what I have off the top of my head. Good luck, Bill.


Categorised as: documentary

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2 Comments

  1. Drew Wallner says:

    Dude, thanks for taking the time to share stuff like this. Obviously, taking the the time to share lessons learned is sort of part of the whole open source / indie / DIY mentality evident in your work…but that doesn’t make it take any less effort to document, even in an informal sense. This sort of information can be invaluable to folks starting out on their own. Much appreciated!

  2. Bill says:

    Thanks Jason! This is exactly the type of information I was hoping for. I am very appreciative. I’ll be sure to let you know how everything goes and point you at the final product when it’s online.

    Cheers
    Bill