(Over-)Simplified Steps to Making a Film
What are you interested in? You will only have 5-10 minutes to explain something (and entertain) your audience. What are the main ideas? Who is your target audience? What do they already know? What would make them want to know more? What is your objective? Do you want to inform, stir things up, increase awareness of a problem, change people's behavior, have people think differently, look at things differently, or feel differently?
Do the Research
Do you have a relevant personal experience? Are there relevant newspaper, magazine, or journal articles? Books, dissertations, grant proposals? Are there photographs available? Is there archival footage, or relevant TV shows/videos? Who can you interview on the subject? Can you visit an associated place or event? Who can be an effective presenter/host/narrator? Is there an expert who can give you advice about researching the subject? Do you want to do pre-interviews?
Write a Treatment
A treatment is a written description of what your finished film should look like. It should explain the central idea outline the main points you want to make. What moods do you want to convey: excitement, humour, anger...? What will the sequence of ideas and scenes be? How will you transition between them. It should describe how you will present these points visually. Will you use photographs, re-enactments, old footage etc.? What kind of music and sound effects will be used. What are the copyright issues. Will you distribute the film beyond the classroom?
Write a Shooting Script
Any kind of film needs to tell a story of some kind. The things that you learned in literature class are useful here: plot, character, mood, theme. There should be some kind of conflict or tension, something is discovered, something must happen. You should outline specific interviews, scenes and narration. For interviews describe the type of shots, sounds, and images you will use and list the questions you want to ask. For other material you should describe the sequence shots. A real professional might make a storyboard with a sketch of each shot with a description of the camera framing, the action in the shot, and the audio track.
Find Locations and Set a Shooting Schedule
You need written permission to film in some places such as private property of state/national parks. Will you need extra lights? What type of microphone will work best in the space. You need to coordinate with your crew and whoever you are filming to find an acceptable time.
Treat your crew with respect. Tape down cables that people might trip on. Get a signed release from any one who appears on tape. Most directors shoot at least 10 times as much footage as the length of the final film (ie. a shooting ratio of 10:1). For some documentaries this ratio can be as high as 40:1.
Shoot to edit:
- record 10 seconds before action starts and at least 5 seconds after it ends
- get at least one establishing shot for each scene
- after scene is finished get cutaways to use in editing
- get transition shots to use between scenes
- avoid too many slow zooms
- shoot more footage than you think you will need
- record audio even if you don't plan to use it, you might change your mind
- record several minutes of ambient sound for each location
Write an Editing Script
Log your tapes (write a short description of the audio and video each shot with its location on the tape). Mark on the log the shots that you would like to use. Select the order of the shots you will use. Write a script or storyboard that describes the action in shot and the accompanying audio. Be ethical: don't try to change the meaning of what inteviewees actually said. Respect copyrights.
Edit a Rough Cut
This is your second chance at directing. Import shots to iMovie. Put in order. Add stills. Start to add transitions and extra audio.
Edit a Final Cut
Fine tune, add titles and credits.
- The SCAT Handbook (Somerville, 1999)
- The Filmmaker's Handbook, S. Ascher and E. Pincus (New York, 1999, revised 2008)
- Directing the Documentary, M. Rabiger (Burlington, 2004)
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