Create a Short Documentary Video Portrait | Elaine McMillion Sheldon | Skillshare

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Create a Short Documentary Video Portrait

teacher avatar Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Documentary Storyteller

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Preview the Film: Coyote & Crow


    • 3.



    • 4.



    • 5.

      Subject Prep


    • 6.



    • 7.



    • 8.

      Watch the Film: Coyote & Crow (with Director Narration)


    • 9.

      Watch the Film: Coyote & Crow


    • 10.

      Pro Tips: Pitching Your Work


    • 11.



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About This Class

How can you structure, shoot, and share your best story? Join filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon for a tactical, inspiring class on balancing artistry and authenticity in documentary video portraits and short films.

Covering every stage of her creative process, you'll go behind-the-scenes as she films a video portrait of Brooklyn-based musicians Coyote & Crow. Bite-sized lessons cover:

  • storytelling: discovering and researching your subject
  • single-camera shooting: tips for capturing visuals and audio when it's just you
  • polish: editing tricks for rhythm, pace, and style
  • pitching: advice on reaching out to commissioning outlets and brands

You'll learn how to create the kind of character-driven video portraits that distinguish great filmmakers — the films that turn into Vimeo Staff Picks, New York Times Op-Docs, film festival shorts, and more.

This 55-minute class is perfect for filmmakers, documentarians, journalists, and all creative storytellers eager to craft compelling narratives about the stories all around us.


We recommend that students have a basic technical knowledge of their camera and equipment, but all levels are welcome!

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Elaine McMillion Sheldon

Documentary Storyteller


Elaine McMillion Sheldon is a Peabody award-winning documentary maker, visual journalist and media artist who explores themes of identity, roots and change. Sheldon's film and interactive work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, from the New York Film Festal to International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam.

In 2013, she released HOLLOW an interactive documentary that examines the future of rural America through the eyes and voices of Appalachians. Hollow received a 2013 Peabody, 2014 Emmy nomination and 3rd Prize in the World Press Photo Multimedia Awards.

In January 2016, Sheldon received Chicken & Egg's inaugural Breakthrough Filmmaker Award. She was a 2013 Future of Storytelling Fellow, and named one of the "25 New Faces of Independent Film" in 2013 ... See full profile

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1. Introduction: Hi. I'm Elaine McMillian Sheldon, and I'm a documentary filmmaker. I tell stories across platforms and mediums. Sometimes that's audio storytelling, text, photo. I'm drawn to stories about people, about individuals, doing interesting things. I got into film actually through journalism. I started writing and doing photography, and then I picked up a video camera and that was sort of the end of writing photography for me. I loved the moving image. I think that it's one of the most beautiful ways to tell stories. I self taught myself how to shoot video and how to edit, and I think that that's one of the reasons why I'm excited in teaching this class. Today, I'm going to be making a film about Coyote and Crow. They're a Brooklyn-based band and it's a husband and wife team, Jamie and Thomas. They're originally from the Adirondack Mountains, and they have a really unique style that I was drawn to. We're going to be following them in their apartment in the morning as they eat breakfast and get ready to go out. Then we'll actually film them going out and playing at Washington Square Park. When a lot of people think about film making, they think about the actual act of filming. But about 80% of the job is doing work before and after. So, in this lesson, we're going to be talking about how to find a subject, what makes a good subject, how to view a pre-interview. Then, going out in the field, what to look for, what to do, and coming back with all that material, how to edit. Then, once you're done editing, thinking about who could be the audience for this, who potentially would want to publish this work and get your work out there. I hope this class will teach you how to tell a personal and intimate story about one or two people. Maybe you know them, maybe you don't. But a story that will resonate, a story that will teach people something, a story that will represent bigger themes through one person's story and break through all the noise of those cat videos. 2. Preview the Film: Coyote & Crow: Everybody's like, oh, you can't spend all your time with the person you're with. You'll get sick of each other and I don't think that's for sure. We're just literally best friends, so it always works. We're always on the same page. It's so easy and that I think really helps with the music too. We are just somewhere- People are always commenting on our- they can see our connection when we're performing. I always feel the connection, so it's nice when people can pick up on it. I'm Jamie. I'm Thomas and we're Coyote & Crow. A little out of tune, have you checked the weather out here? Not since earlier, it says it's supposed to be 48 and sunny, so it should be decent. I've struggled in the past with crowds and interacting with people and with him from the get-go it was always just, almost like I knew him 100 years before. Yeah. So, I can't really describe it but he makes me feel safe, he makes me feel comfortable, he makes me feel confident. It's a lot easier to 100% put yourself out there and really get into it when you're with someone that you're so comfortable with. This is my travel kit, bought everything for busking, my paddle, my tambourine, collection box, CD display, the whole nine. Kind of fits in here so, the drum doubles as storage. Being a street musician, it's pretty important to like I said before, how we can drop and play, it's also pretty important to be able to pack up and get out of the way if need be. They just get more and more irritated if somebody wants you gone and you're not supposed to play there. They say leave and it's going to take you 20 minutes to break down. They're like that's when the tickets start to fly out. One of my worst busking days, I'll never forget it. We were having a bad day regardless, we weren't really doing too well. This big gust of wind came, just blew my tip box over and donated a bunch of money to the park. You can't really get hubs and pops to somebody beat you to a spot because technically you're trying to beat them to the spot. So, it turns into. Who gets there earlier. Yeah who gets there earlier and this game we've also learned most of the time you get the respect you give. Being a jug band I guess we play a little bit of homemade stuff. We came across a Gibson banjo base that I think she had found a picture of. It was a little black and white picture from a newspaper article. We were just like this is it. This thing is amazing. We made I think 16-inch first. Sixteen inch first, yeah. We were really happy with it but we wanted a big, we want the real. The real deal. Yeah. The 22 inch, like the original. So, we found out the original was a 22 inch. We were like let's just go for it and make it. Once we made it, I think it defined our sound. That's when we started getting a lot of attention of people saying like I've never heard anything like this before. "Some old time blues, some Rock and Roll" we call old-time Rock and Soul. Old time Rock and Soul. Lot of comments on how pure and natural our sound is. In all honesty, we don't really try for. A certain sound. A certain style. We don't really care about being technical. It sounds corny to say "Just go out there and have fun," but. The feeling and having fun. That's what music's about. That's really where it comes from. Yeah. When you're working for yourself there's nothing that compares. You make your own schedule, everything is just more free. So, it was scary at first to push away from our steady paycheck, but the peace of mind that gave us just in the beginning was enough to say this is what I wanna do with my life. "We'll be gone, so let's save one more cup of coffee, and sing one more song. We can sing it all night long, until the morning ain't never going to come. Won't you sing along with me, it's dark outside but our song is light and sweet. The night is long, so baby do it strong and if you know the words then wont you stay and sing a long, won't you stay and sing along." Thanks everybody, we're Coyote & Crow from the outer rondex region of Northern New York. Hope you all enjoyed the show $10 donation will get you a CD. All your donations are greatly appreciated. Thanks. Thank you so much. 3. Approach: So, a documentary should be true. It should be nonfiction. But that doesn't mean it can't be creative. Documentaries are often making sense of the world around them, telling truths, but also showing scenes, being observational, trying to better paint pictures of the world. I think it's important as a documentary maker that you experiment with storytelling, that you don't just set the camera up on the tripod and hit record. That you actually treat it like a form of cinema, and try to find new angles, and try to find new ways to capture the story, and I think that's what makes your documentaries get better with each one. I think the best documentary stories are up-close and not far away. Some of the best documentary films out there take you into the world you've never seen before. They allow you to have access to characters that maybe you've never heard from before. So, if you have a personal connection or a close relationship to a certain subject or topic, that's the one that you should be documenting. Because you can get into the finer details, you can sort of go beneath the surface and your documentary can have nuance and it can provide an interesting voice and perspective that maybe other filmmakers can't. When I reached out to my friends to help find a subject, I gave them a couple of examples. So, maybe it could be a barber that's been in that neighborhood for 60 years, or maybe it's a runner who's getting ready to run a marathon. Someone that's doing something active. Someone that is showing up at the same place everyday, that's something that I know I can document. Something that's not fully interview-based. I want to see things unfold in front of the camera. So, when my friends suggested this musician, it was pretty perfect because performing is one of the best things to be able to show in terms of an act of documentation. You don't have to be in New York City. Most of the stories I tell are in West Virginia and Kentucky, and those stories often go untold. So, ask a friend, look towards family, look around you. Be curious. Subjects are everywhere. So, oftentimes, when I'm starting a documentary, I look to my sources, I see what is available to me, and other times I ask people to recommend a potential subject. This time around I reached out to some friends who live in New York and I said, who is interesting? Who do you see on a regular basis that you're curious about? Who do you have questions for? One of my friends recommended Coyote and Crow. They also recommended at another band, that was a three-person band. So, I checked both of them online and I was strong with Coyote and Crow because they are husband and wife, so there's an interesting dynamic there. With a three-person band, it would have been a bit difficult to do an interview with three people and to have one camera cover the actions of three people. It would've been very difficult. But, Coyote and Crow, they're sort of visually lush and their music is super intimate and unique, and I knew it would make a great soundtrack. I went through their Instagram. I went through their YouTube. I went to their website and just web checked out all the visuals that were done about them. I noticed that Jamie had really long hair, and it was gorgeous long hair, and I just was looking forward to imagining shots of her hair blowing in the wind while she was playing, which is something I plan on capturing today. All those pictures and all those videos through research help you start to make a shot list in your head, that you start to imagine the scenes that could unfold even though you really don't know what's going to happen, which is the great part about documentary. 4. Equipment: So, this is my typical camera and lens selection when I'm shooting a very running gun type of documentary like we're going to be doing with Coyote and Crow. This is a Sony FS5. She's a brand new baby I got. I got this back in December and January. I love this camera because of it's size. It's very lightweight. It has variable indie filters, which allows you to darken the image without changing your aperture. It also shoots 4K. It has two XLR inputs for great audio. It's just an awesome camera all around. I take the Canon 5D with me for stills and for a second camera if I need to put a camera on a tripod. It's not just like a performance or something like that. It's just a really great camera to have for both video and stills. Because I was shooting on the Canon before the Sony, I mostly have Canon lenses, but Metabones makes it an adapter and so I have an adapter for my Canon lenses. I have a Canon 35 millimeter, 24 to 70. Then, this is an old Zeiss lens. It's a 50 millimeter 1.4. If you're looking for some lenses and you don't want to spend a ton of money, I would look into some old ones as you can get them on eBay for pretty good price. So, this is my camera and lens choice for the Coyote and Crow shoot. Sometimes when some people start making films, they forget that it's audio visual and audio is a super important part of making documentaries. So, what we have here are two shotgun mics, one Audio-Technica and one Sennheiser. So, for the shoot, we're going to have two different types of windscreens for the shotgun mics. The foam ones are going to be great for indoor where you don't have to worry about wind. These two are definitely going to be used when I'm filming outdoor with the performance and following them on the train because it will help prevent any wind distortion that could potentially damage the audio. When you're shooting by yourself, you often don't have a sound person, so these mics are great for on top of your camera for getting clean sound. I also have a separate recorder. This is a Tascam 60d. I like this recorder because it has two XLR inputs and it allows me to record audio outside of the actual film that I'm recording. So, this will allow me to record Coyote and Crow's performance in the park, and use that music to put underneath the entire video. Lavalier mics are great for interviews. They're also great to put on your subjects as they're walking around and doing things. I probably won't use this on the shoot because we're going super minimalist. I think one of the most important rules when capturing audio is to wear a headphones. You could also wear earbuds, but you need to monitoring the sound. Also, I don't recommend using auto for your audio controls. Use the levels to control the sound on your camera, on your recording device and make sure you're not peaking, make sure it's not too low, but always monitor it. Always wear headphones and react to audio the same way you're reacting to visuals. If it's overexposed, you're going to change your exposure. If it's peaking, change your audio. You still have to use both parts of your brain for that. 5. Subject Prep: I tend to be drawn to people that I don't know to document, and there's a number of reasons for that. Sometimes, a bit of distance is good with your subject. So, if you're interviewing someone that you know really well, you may actually miss important things about them because you take them for granted, potentially. But that doesn't mean I go in ignorant. I'm doing a ton of research beforehand to understand what it is I'm getting myself into. I'm reading everything, consuming everything online that's been written about this person. If they're a person that's never been filmed before, then you have to understand the context of maybe their job or where they lived, so that you have talking points with them. A big part of warming up your subject is being personable. It's a personality thing, it's not something that can really be taught, but it's something that can be practiced. If you can have small talk and talk with people outside of the camera, then that just builds trust in a different way and makes them more comfortable when you do pull the camera off. Once you've done all this research and the person has agreed to let you follow them, it's good to do a pre-interview because it breaks the ice even more and you get to know them a little bit better, you get to hear their voice, you get to understand how they communicate, and it allows you to learn the more nitty-gritty details of what you potentially could be shooting. You should be asking questions like, "What is your average day like?" Questions of, in terms of Coyote & Crow, "How long have you been playing music? Why did you get started? " So, that you have the base knowledge of why they do what they do before you go into this. I don't recommend doing a pre-interview over email because texts and non-verbal communication could sometimes be cold and you're not really letting them know what type of person you are, it can be a little impersonal. For short documentary like we're making in this class, doing your research and pre-interview should really not take more than a couple of weeks. I emailed some friends. I got some answers. I made some calls, shut out some emails, and within a week I had a pretty good idea of who I was going to document. Before a documentary feature, you could spend up to three months doing pre-interviews and research and finding your subjects. I think you could spend a lot of time preparing for a documentary, and I think that's probably what keeps a lot of people away from making documentaries. So, yes, you could prepare for months, but after a pre-interview and after you've done your research online, I recommend just getting out there, getting into the field and taking the risk and starting to film. I think that there's a level of too much research. You can be over-prepared, and sometimes you lack that curiosity and you lack the element of surprise when you're actually in the field. So, my biggest suggestion would be to just get out there and make the film, once you've earned the trust of the subject and once you have a good idea of what you're going to film. 6. Shooting: On the day of the shoot I showed up with full batteries charged, all my memory cards wiped clean and ready to capture footage. I got there about a half hour early in their neighborhood because I wanted to capture the environment that they live in, also the sun had a really nice angle at that time. You got the train going by, because I knew we would ride on the train later, and so I thought shot I could use that shot later. I got this little man putting out flowers in front of his shop, had no clue if I was going to be using the stuff but I wanted to capture the environment. I always show up early or on time. I got there right on time, maybe a couple minutes early. Thomas let me end and their apartment was amazing. I figured they would have interesting style based on the research I had done, but their apartment was full of awesome knick-knacks and just really colorful, so it was a great place to shoot. When I got there, I didn't immediately pull the camera out, sort of gave them a sense of what we'd be doing that day, which they had already known pretty much for my pre-interview and our emails have been sent previously. Never show up to someone's house or to the place where you're shooting rolling with your camera, don't show up with the camera on their face. Get to know them a little bit, they offer you tea, have tea with them. Just build that trust and build the respect there. Okay, and as close as you can get would be amazing. Then we decided to do a short 15-20 minute interview, where I talked to them about what they do, why they do it, their passion, those types of thing. In the middle of the first audio clip, I heard the refrigerator. That's crazy, yeah. Can I unplug your fridge? Sorry, I just realized it kicked on. Which goes back to your tip of always listen to the audio when you're recording, because I wouldn't have known that refrigerator kicked on if I had headphones on. So, we attempted to unplug the fridge, didn't work, we moved to another room. But it's really about being flexible and not being rude if something like that happens. It's just not the end of the world if you can't get clean audio and a perfect shot, it's really about the connection you're making with your subjects, and respecting them and their time and their privacy and the fact that they let you into their home. I think one of the most uninteresting shots in a documentary is an interview shot many times, and so I tend to avoid them. It doesn't mean you need to, but in this case, I just wanted to get the mikes really close to Jamie and Thomas and be able to get really clear audio. I knew that this piece would be short and I knew there'd be a lot of other visuals to cover them playing them in their apartment, and I just didn't think an interview shot would make it in the final cut. So, I sacrificed not shooting video and just captured audio to get that clean audio. We tend to go early for the lunch crowd and then until 4:00 o'clock. After then, all the little kids come out and it's like a dance party. So, we try and get out of that for a little bit. It's fun. It's fun for a little while but we usually don't make any money when that starts. So, it's like we go early, get the tourists. Those toddlers wallets don't run too deep. The nice weather and then once it starts cooling down, day's over. Hate to look at it that way too, you have to revolve around when you're going to make your money, but our music is an art form. It's our job, so we have to schedule it that way. We do live off of it, so there's a fine line between just being 100 percent artistic and then you've got to throw that in a little bit of business side too. I always like to do the interview first, because what could happen is you learn a bit about them upfront, so that if you're trying to shoot very take footage, they're not constantly talking to you, trying to tell you what they're doing, because they've already had this conversation with you. So, in the very take footage after you do the interview, they're a little bit more natural and they're used to being around, so I recommend doing the interview first and keeping it short. When you're filming try to think in scenes, so Jamie putting her makeup on. Jamie making toast and pouring orange juice. Jamie and Thomas actually sitting down and having breakfast. Thomas playing his banjo in a living room. Thomas playing with the dog. Thomas showing off his drum. So, think try to think of these as miniature scenes. Don't try to do coverage of everything, because you could lose your focus. Be very intentional about what you're shooting and make sure it serves the larger purpose of that story. I think holding the camera is probably one of the most challenging things, holding it steady and it comes with a lot of practice over time. Using your body as stability and holding your shoulders back and using the camera against your body is often a good way to stabilize yourself. I'm also pretty short, so a lot of my shots tend to come from a lower angle. So, I just take advantage of that and shoot upwards because I know that's the way a lot of my visuals are going to come off. If you're taller, maybe you could take advantage of more bird's eye look and get taller in some situations, jump on top of things and sometimes different camera angles. If you're shooting up towards someone, can make them look more powerful more prestigious. Other times if you're getting above them, makes them look smaller and part of a bigger world. So, it depends on what you're wanting to convey. Then we were leaving the apartment, things became more challenging, because your job is to follow the action. Your job is to make sure you're not just getting the same shot over and over just in different places, thinking about different angles and different ways that you can document the same thing. It's lazy documentary filmmaking to ask a person to redo what they just did. It's your responsibility to anticipate the action that they're about to do and get ahead of them or ask them maybe to wait. I asked Thomas and Jamie, I said, "I want to get a shot of you from across the street at wide angle." I was imagining that Abbey Road Beatles as them walking with their instruments, and so I ran across the street and got in the middle of the road, got what I wanted and they went. So, it's okay to direct in that way, but I would really discourage you to alter the scenes too much, ask them to say something again, ask them to repeat an action. Because that just makes it feel a little fabricated and less documentary. It was a comedy to watch them go in and out of so many elevators. So, I hope to use that content to edit into a funny little montage of showing them get to the train and what a challenge that was. As part of following action you need to understand how continuity works. So, oftentimes I would wait for them to come through a scene until they exited the frame and then I would quickly run ahead of them and wait for them to enter the new frame, wait for the elevator door to shut before I've cut away and ran to the other spots get ready to catch them. So, it was just a matter of letting each scene close and maybe I won't use that in the final edit, maybe I'll cut it differently. But in terms of continuity, it makes sense to allow things to play out, have a beginning, middle and end and move on to the next frame. I changed my settings from 24 frames per second to 60 frames per second when we got on the platform to ride the train. I just was imagining this back again more dreamy effect on the train people. It's interesting when you're riding a train, you're looking at the platform and people are passing by you. I wanted to capture that in slow motion, and not super slow motion but 60 frames per second. I had just filmed this comical in elevators, out of elevators and out. It was very quick paced type of thing and then the train was a slow scene. So, I thought we could slow it down even more it was 60 frames per second and sort of create this mood and atmosphere around it. Interesting moments happened beyond your control and one of those was when Thomas and Jamie sat down in the two seats on the subway and right above them was a sign that said work fearlessly. I think that's a pretty great slogan of what they do every single day and we had a good laugh about that. It was fun to shoot Thompson Jamie on the train because, as opposed to their apartment where they're very relaxed and eating their toast. It was cool to see them working towards going towards that passion. So, they were just like furiously going through the motions of taking these huge instruments to the park. It was also cool to see them have conversations on the train and that dynamic was a little bit different of them being in public. But I made sure not to shoot the entire time and had a conversation with them. We talked about their wedding and different things just because, I'm still trying to make a personal connection with them. I'm not just trying to document their life and so, I need to get to know them a little bit better and plus I enjoyed talking to them, they're interesting people. When we got to the park, there was this amazing moment when all these pigeons decided to just fly at us. Thomas and Jamie are ducking and I decided not to duck and just hold out forward and get the shot that I wanted. I was regretting at that moment that I had already changed my camera back from 60 frames per second to 24 frames per second because I would have really like to have in a little bit of slow motion, but it was still a great scene. It was interesting to see them set up and how a crowd was already starting to gather before they even started to play. Because this is a one camera shoot and it's a performance, it's a pretty big challenge to edit that. So, I set up my audio recorder to record audio for the 40 minutes that we were recording there. So, I had a clean track of music that I could use throughout the edit. That was important because I'm starting and stopping a lot on my camera so I'm not going to have a clear audio track from the film. So, I recommend if you don't have two cameras that you do have audio going the full time, so you could use it throughout. So, you may often if you're shooting in a public place feel a little self-conscious of people looking at you doing what you're doing. You may get nervous that people are watching you film, but you really just need to own it. As a filmmaker you need to know your job is there to document whatever you've chosen to document, and you need to block out all things around you safely. Don't don't do anything dumb. But there were moments where I was filming on the train where I was getting some weird looks from people about what I was doing. But you just have to not worry about that and stay at the task at hand. The biggest challenge of shooting in the park was there was just some messy things around them. I really imagined the shots to be more refined and to just be them in that beautiful arch, but there would be some random person in the shot. So, I had to be patient, wait for people to move. But also had to be observant, so while I'm looking at them, I also need to be looking to the left and there's little kids dancing to their music. So, there was all these great little scenes happening. It was a challenge to really stay focused on what I wanted and to not get the clutter of the park which can be distracting in a personal and intimate story. I decided to change from 24 frames per second to 240 frames per second for the last song. Because I wanted to capture those texture moments that I was seeing. Jamie's hair while she was playing that was blowing in the wind, the vibration of the drum. I just really thought it would bring another level of intimacy to the piece that I didn't think the 24 frames per second was. While we were on the train, I got a sense from Jamie and Thomas of how long they wanted to perform and how much I would need. I got a feeling that I probably need about five songs. The reason I think that is because, it is a one camera shoot, you're moving around quite a bit, you want some variety in the types of shots, you want some variety in the music you're capturing. I knew that I was finished once I was starting to repeat the shots that I had already got. So, I wasn't really getting anything new. I wasn't really thinking of anything new, it was the same scenario over and over. You could shoot them all day, it was awesome to watch. But for a short film you need to know when to stop, because it'll be easier to edit if you limit what you've shot. I think it's interesting if you look at a documentary. You could give five different people the same subject and they would make something totally different, it's all about your perspective. Somebody else who shot this may have focused on the audience more or the different things happening around the park, there's a lot of weird things happening. But I really wanted this film to be tightly focused on them, their relationship, their connection. So, I've pretty much focused on them the whole time. But I do think going into the film knowing what you want out of it is a really important thing. What I really wanted out of it was a portrait of these two people in this larger place. So, getting B-roll of the park wasn't really that necessary as as much as it was focusing on them, focusing on their interaction, focusing on their performance and their behavior in this larger space. 7. Editing: So, we had a great two at Coyote and Crow. We shot for around four, four and a half hours, starting in the morning and then going through around 12:30 at the park. I like to look at the footage soon after shooting because you will remember moments that you could potentially forget a couple of days after shooting. So, what I would first do to make this easy on myself is I will drop and drag all the files onto my external hard drive, and then I will use Automator to rename the files, so each file has its own name Coyote-Crow-001, 002 and so on and so forth. I'll do that for all the video, I'll do that for all the audio, and then I will take the audio I recorded for the performance and sync it with the video I recorded, and I'll sync it using a program called Pluralize. After that, I have created a project called Coyote-Crow in Adobe Premiere. So, here's all the clips that I've gathered that I think are interesting and then I put all the slow motion clips in one category as well. Then, I have the synced file here, which this is going to be the original audio and this the separate audio. Then, I went through their interview, a 20 minute interview and I pulled the quotes that I thought I would use. So, I made this Pulls sequence, and then I actually duplicate that sequence and start assembling number one. That's what I call it. In that one, that's the one when the story starts to take shape. I had looked at my slow motion stuff on the most, I really liked the atmospheric quality of it, I thought it would be an interesting way to start the film because it's hard to pair the slow motion shots with the audio. So, I wanted it to be out of sync in the beginning, be a little mysterious. So, we're starting with shots of their drums, starting with their backs, their fingers, and their faces aren't revealed until that last shot, and then they introduce themselves. So, trying to create a little bit of mystery in the beginning. It's sometimes tempting to want to put wall to wall music. Meaning that your piece opens with music, ends with music and has music in between. But that's not really what a documentary should do. The documentary should tell a story through the audio as well. I think that if you use music in the opening, maybe in the middle to pick things up, and then at the end, you can create a rhythm that's really nice for the viewer but doesn't bog them down with a very repetitive music piece throughout. I would say avoid that, and I would say instead use natural sound to create rhythm, use natural sound and ambiance to create the atmosphere. Places where I use natural sound in this video was moments where she was buttering the toast and you could really hear the scrape of the knife from the butter on the toast, and that made a nice transition. I use that as an L cut. So, I used L cut through out when I wanted to bring the audience, the viewer into a scene first with audio. So, the actual cut looks like that. It's the audio that's coming before the video in this case It just sets the scene, allows for a nice transition. It also creates this naturalistic soundtrack to your film, and allows the space to breathe, and allows you to then put in voiceover sections right here where I brought in the interview, and you'll see I don't have music at all until two minutes and 15 seconds into it. So, I have music in the intro and two minutes,15 seconds into it. I think it's important to set atmosphere space, there wasn't music in their apartment. So, really try to be stringent about how are you using music, and don't be lazy. Use natural sound with its own soundtrack. You should be able when you have this edited to watch it without sound and it tells a story visually, and watch it without video and it tells a story with just audio. That's important because the two worked together to make this piece richer. So, you should expect to spend an equal amount of time choosing visuals and making those visuals work as you are at the audio. You can see I put some audio fades here and some sort of putting the music going in and out with people were talking. Then, once you have that down, sort of the polishing part of this is color, color correction, and color correction is a science in and of itself. I'm not an expert in it but luckily there are programs like Film Convert that I use, which actually allows me to download the settings for the Sony FS5, and I choose the profile that I was shooting on, and then I have choices of different filters. I have black and white choices, I have choices for very saturated low saturation, and then I can choose the curb which will be the amount that's on there, the grain, if you really want the film look, you can up the grain, I didn't want the grain. Just be a bit more selective about the mood and the color. Jamie and Thomas were super colorful people, like their apartment was really colorful and so I didn't want any of this to be desaturated, I wanted to feel pretty colorful. This first assembly I did, it's all chronological and it's all based around the travel of going to, it's a journey, it's a short journey film. It's all based around them traveling to go and perform. This final piece I did was around nine minutes and 30 seconds serve, writer on nine minutes, I guess, and I send to a friend for feedback. Because I don't like making work in a vacuum, I don't like to put work out there unless I've gotten feedback from someone because the fact is, I know this works so well because I just spent all day shooting it, and so sometimes you can get tunnel vision. The questions I had asked for is like, "Do you understand who these people are? It's important to understand who they are and what they do and she said, she did but she felt that we spent too much time in the apartment, that she actually wanted to see them out and playing sooner. So, in the original nine minute cut, it took us almost five minutes to get outside the apartment, and she fell, as a viewer, that felt too long to want to see these musicians in action. So, we shortened and compressed that time in the apartment, chose specific scenes, chose only a couple of scenes rather than four or five like I had in the beginning, and then move them along to the subway, into the performance faster. Some stories can be told in one minute and others can be told in five minutes. But the length of your story should be based on the story. What's the best way to tell the story in a certain amount of time? So, I think the six minute, five, six minute mark is a good sweet spot for this. I don't think it would lose the attention of people. I think that they would be interested in, and what we're teasing all along is this performance. So, people are going to stick around to the end to see the performance. That's one of the things you want to do is create a reason for people to stick around and watch your video. Creates a mystery. What's going to happen? Where are they going? I want to see them perform. Then, you give them the satisfaction of actually seeing them perform for the viewer. So, now that I have the second assembly. I'm going to go through and refine the sound a bit more. I need to do a bit more sound designing, making sure all the transitions are smooth. I also need to refine the color a bit more, but I feel pretty good about the story structure and that's the most important thing. You need to make sure your documentary makes sense. For someone that wasn't there, that doesn't know everything like you do, can they watch this and understand what's happening? What unfolded over time? 8. Watch the Film: Coyote & Crow (with Director Narration): So, I decided to start the film with this opening shot. You see Coyote and Crow. You don't see their faces. You just see him in action in slow motion, 240 frames per second and you're hearing them talk about each other and their connection which I thought was a very personal way to start it, rather than talking about music generically. We're hearing about them and we haven't seen their faces yet, until we get a beat of music and then we see Jemmy and this is beautiful texture of the wind blowing her hair, that rolls going forward, that dream like effect. With the beat, we cut to black, and we hear them introduce themselves. I'm Jemmy. I'm Thomas and we're Coyote and Crow. Then I'm trying to set the scene here of getting ready in the morning. Jemmy's putting on her eyeliner in the room next to her. He's playing the banjo. Inner cut a couple shots of the decorations and the cat in the house and cut back to him playing with the dog, just sort of compressing time and compressing the space and trying to set the mood. She's putting toast in. This scene was one of our favorite because the light coming through the window it so amazing, and I wanted to let it play out as long as possible. With the natural sound, hear the transition, the buttering of the toast and they're talking about the weather here. Thomas is asking Jemmy, "What's the weather going to be like?" That's a really good in scene documentary moment where they're having a conversation. The pace has slowed down, we bring Jemmy back in to say more on what she said at the beginning of the film and Thomas as well comments. Different angles of them eating. Different angles of the same scene. A sort of comical moment when I panned down to the dog always looking for some comical moments in documentary. Really get into it when you with someone that you so comfortable with. This is my travel kit. Then I used another L cut there to have him come and say, "This is my travel kit," when they're sitting at the breakfast table so you hear him first and then you see him opening his travel kit. In this scene, I liked this scene because not only are you seeing his travel kit, he's actually telling you stories about how he needs to break down his kit very quickly or they could get tickets for basking in the wrong places so it sort of sets up a little bit of potential conflict that might happen at the end of the film. Potentially, they could get a ticket which they don't but it provides context and mix things, feels like there's something at stake. In this scene, I love because he's getting ready to go out for a supposedly good day of busking but he tells you about his worst day. I love the American flag in the background. Just this whole shot, I really love the Americana-ness of it and he's telling you about how his living got blown away by the wind one day. Then I told them to walk past me to get that shot of the door because there was this beautiful silhouette of them walking out the door. Then I prompted him on the street to say, "Do you guys know where you're going to get a spot?" He talks about this getting a spot on the street type of thing. It's just a great in scene moment too. In this game. We've also. As you can tell they are walking really fast and so this is where the video sort of picks up its pace. When we go into the subway, I start cutting more quickly. So, in the beginning there were less cuts. Scenes were playing out but now what I'm doing is cutting and more of a jarring way to create a montage of this sort of comical event of them going in and out of elevators, up and down stairways to get onto the train. Then the train comes up, we're hearing them talk about building the banjo bass which is really a unique instrument and things slowed down because the train was this calm moment actually use this train shot I took before I interviewed them I used it at that part of the film to pretend as if it was their train going by. It allowed me to sort of transition into the slow motion footage that I really liked. I think it defined our sound. That's when we started getting a lot of attention. Then using the slow motion shot of them playing you sort of teasing what the viewer is about to see and I love that moment where they look at each other and smile like finding little moments where they themselves are having something happen that you're not a part of and the fact that work fearlessly is above their head is awesome. This is the part where I use natural sound to ramp a ramped up the train sound. That's what music is all about. And then jarringly cut into the park. Pigeons flying, one of my favorite shots. Teasing one of their songs, her hair in the wind, this is one of the shots that I was thinking about before I even met them, was her awesome long hair and everything else is out of focus. I chose the first song to feature that didn't have lyrics because it was easier to come to. So, waited to feature a song where Thomas is singing until the end because it was quite hard to cut lyrics. So, it was scary at first to kind of push away from our steady paycheck, but the peace of mind that gave us just in the beginning was enough.To say this is what I want to do with my life. So, we end the film with a portion of the song and we hear Thomas singing for the first time. We see kids dancing. It just feels more celebratory and it felt like a nice way to wrap up the film. It felt like rewarding to see them performing especially with the in shot when we actually see a big crowd watching them. So, its pretty exciting to see him go from just talking about busking to actually successfully doing it. 9. Watch the Film: Coyote & Crow: Everybody is like, "Oh, you can't spend all your time with the person you're with. You'll get sick of each other", and I don't [inaudible] We're just like literally best friends, so like always were. So we're always on the same page. It's so easy, and that I think it really helps with the music too. Yes, people are always commenting on our, they can see our connection when we're performing. I always feel the connection. So, it's nice when people can pick up on that. I'm Jamie. I'm Thomas and we're Coyote & Crow. [inaudible]. Little out of tune. Have you check the weather out there? Not, since we're all here. It feels like I'm supposed like 48 and sunny, so it should be decent. I've struggled in the past with crowds and interacting with people. With him, from the get go, it was always like just, like almost like I knew him a hundred years before. That's just like- Yeah. -so, I can't really describe that but just, he makes me feel safe he makes me feel comfortable, he makes me feel confident. It's a lot easier to 100% put yourself out there, and really get into it when you're with someone that you're so comfortable with. This is my travel kit but everything for busking, my peddle, my tambourine collection box, CD display, the whole nine kind of fits in here, so the drum doubles as storage. Being a street musician, it's pretty important too. Like I said before, how we can drop and play. It's also very important to be able to pack up, get out of the way if need be, they just get more and more irritated if somebody wants you gone. You're not supposed to play there. They say "leave" and it's going to take you 20 minutes to break down. They're kind of like, that's when the tickets start to fly out. One of my worse busking days, and I'll never forget it. We're having a bad day regardless for weren't doing too well. This big gust of wind came, just boom my tip box over and donated a bunch of money to the park. Can't really get huff's pops if somebody's beats you to a spot. Because technically, you're trying to beat them to the spot. So, it turns into, you got to- Earlier. Yeah, who gets there earlier. In this game, we've also learned. Most of the time, you get the respect you give. Being a kind of joke band, I guess we play a little bit of homemade stuff. We came across a Gibson banjo bass, that I think she had found a picture of. It was like a little black and white picture from like a newspaper article. We're just like this is it, this thing is amazing. We made a 16 inch first? 16 inch first, yes. We're really happy with it, but we wanted a big, we wanted like a real deal. The real deal. Like 22 inch like the original. So, we find out the original was a 22 inch, we're like let's just go for and make it. Once we made it, I think it defined our sound. Yeah. That's when we started getting a lot of attention of people saying like I've never heard anything like this before. We call it Old Time Rock and Soul. A lot of comments on how pure and natural our sound is. In all honesty, we don't really try for- A certain style. -a certain style. We don't really care about being technical. It sounds corny to say like just go out and have fun, but that's- Feeling it and having fun is really where it comes from. That's what music's about, yeah. When you're working for yourself there's nothing that compares. You make your own schedule, everything's just more free. So, it was scary at first to kind of push away from our steady paycheck. But the peace of mind that gave us just in the beginning was enough to say this is what I want to do with my life. Thank you. Thanks everybody, we're Coyote and Crow from Adirondack region of Northern New York. Hope you all enjoy the show, $10 donation, will get your CD. All your donations are greatly appreciated. 10. Pro Tips: Pitching Your Work: So, you've made this great short film, and it may be online, or maybe you're waiting, or maybe you're looking for a publisher to actually work with to get it out there. In the past, short shot and edited and short films in a day like we did this one. In many cases, what I've done is I've gone out into the field wanting to do something with a publication in mind. I'm aware of their work, I know what they've published, I'm familiar with the things that they like, what they're looking for, and so maybe I'll tailor what I'm shooting to actually be attractive to them, so that maybe they'll purchase it for me. So first, you have to know the publication and you have to know your story. You have to be very smart about how you pitch your story. Craft a very nice email that says what the film's about, who it's about, your access, what it entails, and pitch it to a specific vertical. When it comes to negotiating price, you really have to consider how much time you put into it. So, how many hours you spent shooting and editing, you should be compensated for that amount of time. In the past, I've done work for lower costs because it meant exposure, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's good to get your work out there, but it's also good to not undersell yourself as well. Some great places to pitch to could be the New York Times Op-Docks, theguardian, or Bitter Southerner, which focuses on Southern films, as well as Field_of_Vision. Those are all open submissions and are highly curated. So, make sure you do your research on what they'd like to publish. I think it depends on where you are in your career as a documentary maker. Certainly, I put stuff up on Vimeo and it's gotten a lot of hits, and that's really great exposure. Other times, I want to be compensated for the time that I put into making that, and so selling it to a publication has more reach than I personally do, is a great advantage. But it really depends on what your goals are for the short film. Certainly, there are plenty of New York and Brooklyn based publications that would be interested in this documentary and I'm going to be doing my research on who publishes music, portraits, and things about people that live in Brooklyn so that I can formulate a pitch that will hopefully be successful. But it's really up to you. What are your goals for the short film? How many people do you want to see it? Some of these things can be submitted to film festivals. I did a film in one day last year it was called Forager. I sold it to the Bitter Southerner within 24 hours of making it. Then, we submitted to film festivals, and it premiered. So, it can have a completely different life based on what your goals are for it. 11. Closing: Thanks for joining me in this class. I hope that you learned some tenets on making a short documentary film. I hope that you're inspired to go out there and shoot your own. I look forward to seeing your short films whether you make them right after seeing this class, or something you've already made before. I think that we all can learn from each other, and I hope that you'll share your short films here. The projects that will stand out are the people that took risks, that got really close to their subjects, that really tried to reveal parts of people that maybe we don't always see, that showed us process, that showed us action unfolding over time, that showed us these scenes, that used audio and video to tell a story. The best way to become familiar with documentary film, is to watch documentaries. There are plenty of books out there, but I recommend getting on Fandor, Netflix, New York Times Op- Docs, Field of Vision, all these different platforms to see how many different ways you can tell a documentary story. The way that we told the Coyote and Crow story is a certain type of documentary, but you can also take a very poetic approach. You can also take a very experimental approach. So, the best way to get familiar is to watch a lot, and there's plenty of stuff online to watch. The most important thing is that you get out there and make work. You'll never become a better documentary filmmaker until you go out and take risks, and start to play around with your footage. Remember, it's nonfiction, it's truth, but you can be creative, and you can have fun with it, and you can earn the trust of people, and you can tell small stories to represent big themes.