Shooting a Character Documentary | Danya Abt & Zac Halberd | Skillshare

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Shooting a Character Documentary

teacher avatar Danya Abt & Zac Halberd, Documentary Filmmakers

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.

      Shooting the Character Documentary


    • 3.

      Finding your Character


    • 4.

      The Logline


    • 5.

      The Treatment


    • 6.

      The Interview


    • 7.

      Intro to Camera and Sound


    • 8.

      Prepping Your Equipment


    • 9.

      Setting up the Camera


    • 10.

      Setting up Sound


    • 11.

      Fundamentals of the Image


    • 12.

      Fundamentals of Sound


    • 13.

      Shooting the Interview


    • 14.

      After the Interview


    • 15.

      Establishing Shots, B-roll, and Verite


    • 16.

      Closing Thoughts


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About This Class

Everybody has at least one exceptional character in their life: your eccentric Aunt Tilly or the mailman that hasn’t stopped whistling for 20 years. “Somebody should make a documentary about her,” you think to yourself. That somebody is you.

In this 45-minute class, you’ll learn the step-by-step process for producing and shooting a short character documentary that educates, inspires or makes your audience smile. Award-winning documentary filmmaker Danya Abt and cinematographer Zac Halberd will share their process for developing and shooting a impactful documentary.

A video camera and basic editing software is required for this class and an external microphone is highly recommended. By the end, you’ll have your short documentary in-the-can and ready to edit.

Meet Your Teacher

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Danya Abt & Zac Halberd

Documentary Filmmakers


Danya Abt & Zac Halberd are filmmakers living in Brooklyn, NY. Danya is an editor and director of documentaries and Zac is a documentary and narrative cinematographer. The two have been collaborating for many years.

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1. Introduction: My name is Donny Apt, and I'm a documentary filmmaker and editor living in Brooklyn, New York I finished my for a short documentary close to 15 years ago, and it was such a rewarding experience that it catapulted me into a lifetime of documentary filmmaking. There we go. That's the tune I'm looking for friendly. Yet I'm here to share my knowledge and passion for the craft with you so that your first films could be as good of an experience as my waas share with you. Some fail safes tips for great storytelling and you'll get some technical and visual coaching from cinematographer Zach Halbert, My partner in Crime, who's been shooting feature documentaries and television for many years, for this class will focus on the short character documentary featuring a character from your own life. This can be a wonderful point of entry into a different worlds. The world of your character, and can be a good starting point for a longer from you'd like to make 5 to 7 minutes is a great running time for a short film, so we're actually waiting to record right now, and we can hear my neighbor yelling at the Handyman 5 to 7 minutes is a great running time for a short film. It's long enough to set up the situation and introduce you to a new world, but short enough that you can finish it in just a few weeks. Some of my favorite projects that I've worked on have been character documentaries. The style of these films is very different, but they both contain something. I'm always looking for characters that surprise me and subvert my expectations. A tough guy with an introspective side or an elderly woman who did time behind bars. They remind me that the world is a strange and complicated place, but I've only just begun exploring. I love watching documentaries and I love making them. Shooting documentaries has allowed me to travel around the world, but it's also compelled me to look more closely at my immediate surroundings and consider them in a new light. This class is designed for the aspiring documentary film maker who has experimented with shooting and editing before and is ready to take their storytelling to the next level. Together will make a great short documentary that shows the world as you see it 2. Shooting the Character Documentary: in this class will take you through the steps to make a short 5 to 7 minute, character based documentary. Together, we will plan and then shoot your short film, introducing you to some of the principal elements of doc filmmaking. Note that this class will not delve deeply into editing, which will be addressed in greater detail in a future class. Instead, it will focus primarily on pre production and production of your project. We'll start with the conceptual phase of your film, determining what your film will be about and creating a logline for the project. You'll create a plan for conducting your interview and you'll assemble your equipment for the shoot. As we move into the shoot or production of your project, we'll talk about aesthetic and technical choices. You'll make your role is the director and how to get the most out of your shoot. By the end of this class, you will have the material in hand to cut a short character documentary would you can submit to festivals used to build your own riel or just share with friends and family You. Only the use of a video camera to participate in this class or a camera that shoots videos such as your iPhone. You also need a tripod. We highly recommend you use lava lier and shotgun Mike. For this project, you confined relatively cheap, serviceable ones at the link below. 3. Finding your Character: you don't have to look far and wide to find a great subject for your film. Chances are, you already know several in my own life. I've documented my next door neighbor, a local barber, my own grandparent's. Some of the things that I look for in a great character, our number one. They can articulate themselves, number two there accessible to you, and number three there reveals something about themselves through what they dio. Let's talk about each one of these points in greater detail. A character who can put their thoughts and feelings into words can be a great gift to a filmmaker. They can narrate their own experiences, and they're able to think out loud. The character who was articulate can give you lots of audio to work with, and this is a great place to start. But don't stop there. Take what your character has to offer and try to get beyond it. Listen to their stories but probe to get past the parts of the story that they may tell over and over again. Their talking points. If they're fond of saying that getting old is not for the faint of heart, that's a great sound bite, and I want to record that. But I also want to get into it. What makes it hard to grow old? What did they learn about themselves in their older years and so on? I'll talk more about this when we discussed the interview in a few minutes. What do I mean by a character that's accessible to you? This is, quite simply, somebody who agrees to do a shoot, and that will make time for your project. Don't take for granted the people you may already know from your own life. This is a great place to start your project because you have unique access to characters that others don't consider your a unique position in the world's where you live, what you know about and who you know because you're interested in birds, you may know an avid bird watcher who lives down the street from you. Your mother may be learning to ballroom dance at the ripe age of 80 and it turns out she's great at it. These are people whose stories you can tell trust your instincts. If you find somebody interesting, then all probably be interested in them, too. Your job is to tell their story in a way that conveys what's special about them and why you're interested in them. Lastly, look for people that reveals something about themselves by what they dio. This is the best way for you to visualize your character, capture them in their element. Maybe they like to go to church on Sunday or they walk their dogs in a junk yard. They might lead protests or paint murals. Whatever your character does that's important to them will reveal a tremendous amount about who they are. 4. The Logline: you've already done some of the mental work that goes into conceptualizing a project. The next thing we're going to work on is creating a logline for your film. A logline is a term that you will encounter often as you continue to make films. It's a very brief, one or two line description of your project you can look at. It is having this structure. Somebody does something. Since we're making short films, let's keep them short and sweet. A Mexican American mother prepares an old family recipe for her new American family. The somebody is usually not assigned to name but a description. A Mexican American mother says a lot, whereas Carmen prepares an old family recipe doesn't tell us what we need to know. Plus, we don't even know who Carmen is. Yet somebody does something. A mother prepares an old family recipe for her family. Easy, right, Let's look at another example. Ah, young father reflects on the birth of his triplet daughters. Who's the somebody? Ah young father again, we probably don't need to include his name unless you've got a celebrity and their name means something to our audience. Mick Jagger reflects on the birth of his triplet daughters. Now you got my attention. Reflects on the birth of his triplet daughters reflects, well, not the most active logline in the world's. But I think it works to give us a sense of what will happen in the film. In addition to being a helpful exercise, a logline is something you will need it each step in the process. Funders want to see it. Grant making organizations will always ask for it, and it's valuable to be able to give people in line of the grocery store a very concise version of what your film is about. You can always go back and revise your logline. In fact, I think it's wise to revisit it after you finish your project and see if you like to modify it based off the film you actually have in the end to complete the first assignment, upload your logline to the site and share it with the rest of the class. Just follow the structure. Somebody does something you don't have to stick with their logline all the way through your film, but it's important to have a description of it. Even at this early stage 5. The Treatment: The last thing we're going to do is sketch out in words how you see your project. Put on some music, kick up your feet, do whatever you do to get in the creative zone. And right. We looked through the window of a car to see Jackson Heights Queens, a diverse working class neighborhood and a culinary mecca of New York. Ecuadorian bakeries and Indians by shop stop the street. A woman's voice begins to list all the ingredients that go into a dish. This is the beginning of a treatment I wrote have started to put down in words a lot of things that I imagined traveling to Jackson Heights by car with Carmen, her voice listing the ingredients she's shopping for and some specific B roll shots I'd like to get. This isn't exactly a script, which follows specific formatting and structure. It uses a looser form that you can use to communicate with other crew members or the film supporters. What your film is trying to achieve, you already know a lot about your character and why you want to tell their story. Now it's time to figure out how to transmit your vision to the audience. Use the action in your film to motivate the story. I asked you to find a character that will do something in your film, and you can use that activity to create a beginning, middle and end to your film. In my film, Carmen is making so Pez for her family. The film is actually about something more than making so bays. It's about family, and the way food connects people for preparing the meal gives my film a beginning, middle and end. By the time the first minute of your film has passed, you should have already established her character and their context. In my short film with Carmen, we find out immediately that she is preparing a family recipe. At the end of the film, a meal is served. Along the way, we discover the significance of cooking to Carmen and the way that food connects her to her family in Mexico. In the last beat of the film, we come to understand that Carmen has a new branch of family now her American family. When everyone sits down at the table, everything comes together. It works well to have a thought at the end of a short film that gives new meaning to what we saw earlier and leaves us with something to think about. My film about Miriam Moskowitz also follows the structure, and the 1st 30 seconds we find out that this seemingly sweet old lady living a quiet suburban life, is actually an ex con from the McCarthy era. This sets us on a journey into her past to discover how and why this happened. In the last beat of the film, Miriam connects what happened to her with what's happening to some Americans today. It's a poignant moment that makes her life experience particularly relevant to us. Let's try to put your film into the structure. Let's say your films about a dog walker in the first minute of your film. Your character collects her dogs and sets out fast wards. The last bit of the film. She'll put her key in the door to return the dogs home in the middle, we go on a small journey with her through the city streets. The action of the film is the dog walker doing her daily walk. Now again, the film is about more than just walking dogs. It's about a neighborhood in transition, but we used the action of walking the dogs to motivate this story. In the last bit of the film, we finally understand that in a newly affluent neighborhood there are dogs where people used to be. The treatment also helps me to make a shot list, a list of must have shots and others that it would be nice to get. I know I can for sure get a shot through the windshield of Carmen's car, but I haven't yet seen the Ecuadorian bakery and picturing if necessary, I can swap this up for another shot that has the same effect. You can include photographs and drawings in your treatment, if you'd like to. This can be helpful, especially if you've had a chance to visit the shooting location prior to your shoot. 6. The Interview: asking great questions is an important part of interviewing people, and I always like to think about this before I go win and jot down my ideas. To start with. There are things you already know about your character, some of the things that your audience also needs to know that you must get coverage off. You can get this coverage and more by asking open ended questions. An open ended question might start with Tell me about or how. How did being a parent change? You tell me about the years you spent in Vietnam. How would you describe your friendship when you ask open ended questions You promise subject to join the conversation and offer you new information that you may not have known to ask about. Listen to your interview subject and follow up with what they say. Let's say a subject offhandedly mentions that was the worst year of my life. It's okay to step in and ask, Why was it so bad? Remember, you're the interviewer, even of you know why. It was the worst year you're playing the part of a curious and naive person you're standing in for the audience. Lastly, don't be afraid to ask the same question more than once. If you're subject gives you a great answer that was a little long winded. You can ask them to respond again, but in a more concise way. If I'm pretty sure I'm gonna use a response, I might even ask the subject to repeat their answer in a slightly different way so that I have options in the edit. I've added a link below to the StoryCorps website where you can find a great list of questions that you want to check out for inspiration. 7. Intro to Camera and Sound: operating camera and sound equipment live in the field, often under time Constraints is a challenge for the most experienced filmmaker. Time flies, as we say, and there's certainly no exception when it comes to documentary. One of the greatest challenges that I face on Set is having to maintain consistent, laser like focus on the characters and events that are playing out in front of my lens. I have to be ready to catch her story at all times, understand it, interpret character dynamics and relationships, maintain equipment operation all the while staying within the confines of a predetermined aesthetic. It's often not to tell him changing the batteries in my camera or swapping a lens that something amazing happens, and I'm not there to record it. Those are the moments that are most crucial to the editor and can sometimes make or break a scene. So I've distilled some of these methods into a very simple checklist that you can use to best prepare yourself for your project 8. Prepping Your Equipment: So here I bleed out some pretty basic ah, items that you might need for your first documentary, starting with our cannon 70. This is a pretty standard DSLR that you condone get doesn't necessarily have to be a 70. There are other SLR is on the market that air fantastic and probably more affordable. Um, I've also put on here a pretty standard Canon Zoom lens, which has a range of 28 235 millimeters, which is great for documentary because I'm able to pull out and get a night's wide shot. But I'm also able to zoom in quite quickly to get a tight character shot to sort of pick someone out of a crowd or reach the character from across the room. Zoom lenses air crucial to character documentary on top here. I've also got the shotgun microphone, one of the great benefits of a shotgun microphone that is that it's very directional, so you're able to pick character out of wherever your camera is pointed. That's where the sound is gonna be most focused, so it's great for character documentary. It's got a little cable off the back here that runs right into the microphone port of your SLR, So do ensure that your SLR has a microphone input. This microphone also comes with a little windjammer when this helps when you're outside in the wind. Um, something else that was provided with the microphone is this extra extra windy windjammer, which is really handy because you can put your smaller windjammer inside of this. And although it looks ridiculous, it really does a great job of eliminating those annoying wind sounds that can ruin your audio when you're outside. So any time you're shooting outside, I highly recommend that you use a windjammer. One thing to remember, especially if you're shooting with a DSLR, is that handheld tends to be a little shaky in very amateur looking, almost like a YouTube video. So one way to ensure that you're getting a professional images to use a tripod. This tripod is especially handy because it has a fluid head, and what a fluid head means is that it's essentially very smooth when it pans and tilts. That gives your image very cinematic quality. Looks like a movie. Something else that I purchased with my camera was a couple of extra battery chargers and at least four batteries. And the reason I bought so many batteries is because I really don't wanna have to worry about power while I'm shooting. I just don't want to think about it. I just want to shoot, shoot, shoot S o. I keep these in my pouch with me on set so that one of my camera dies or is getting close to dying. I just reach in my pocket, swap a battery, pop, pop the dead one on the charger and keep shooting. You don't want to interrupt your production simply because of battery reasons. Speaking of items, I really don't like to have two little love. Um, and something else that can easily interrupt your production is memory cards. I have, ah, memory card case here, filled with different types of media for my different recording devices. I like to have at least three memory cards if I'm shooting in HD I, generally by 64 gigabytes because in documentary or rolling and rolling and rolling. Um, and that's important. So I would say by the highest capacity SD cards or CF course whatever your whatever your camera requires by the highest capacity that you can afford and ensure that you check the manufacturer's website for your camera to make sure that your SD card of your media is fast enough for your camera format. Um, here have a lens cloth. Micro fiber standard comes with lens or a new camera, Um, just to keep the smudges and dirt off of your lens. You know a lot of times if you have flair of your outside around the sun, you can sometimes see dirt specks or finger smudges just degrades the quality of your shooting in HD Wanna have in HD image? So this as well as the pocket rocket. This is a little a little air puffer here that just kind of blows the dust off over the lens. It's very lightweight, very cheap. It's a lot cheaper than compressed canned air. So one of the challenges I face and documentaries Sometimes I go into a location with a character, and there's no light shooting at night time or I'm shooting inside of a dark vehicle. Um, one of the items that I added to my kit list is this small little led panel runs off of Double A batteries, fits onto the hot shoe in the top of your camera and locks down so you can turn it on and change your intensity based on the situation. It's just lifts the exposure on your character or provides you with any sort of light. If you're shooting at nighttime, um, it's also handy. You can take this off the camera and hide it places and light up the background. Use it for creative purposes. One of the most important items in your equipment list should be your headphones. You don't need to have large, expensive headphones like this. You can use something as simple as iPhone earbuds, scull, candy earbuds. It doesn't matter as long as you're listening. I have had this happen to me several times where I've been rolling for an hour on the most wonderful scene, and I've been getting great story of the character. Then I realized that my battery had run out on my shotgun microphone and nothing was usable . Audio Audio Audio is the most important tool that you can use and documentary, so listening and making sure that you're getting audio is absolutely crucial. Another very handy tool that you can add to your equipment is a pocket recorder these air relatively affordable. You can hide them places. You can pop them in your characters pocket, and sometimes you don't have access to a location with your camera. So it's a good way toe capture story without having to take all of your equipment into a certain location, whether it's a car or restricted access. So this is a really sneaky tool to get some really good story. Something important that I've learned over the years doing interviews is that the shotgun microphone on your camera is never going to be good enough quality for the audio for the voice of your character. So what I use is a lot earlier. Microphone. You can use a wired, or you can use a wireless microphone. It doesn't really matter. But in this case, I'm gonna show you the wired law because I'm actually wearing my wireless one. At the moment, it's a tiny microphone that you can clip onto your characters, shirt or dress, and it's much closer to the mouth in the chest. You get a deep, rich, resonating voice. It's very intimate. It's great for interviews. One very common problem with the interview set up with a lob earlier microphone is the sound of clothing rustling up against them like so. These are great. It's a little trick I learned a couple years ago from a sound recorders. They're called undercovers, the little stickies that wrap around the mic with a little piece, soft piece of soft material that keep that rustling sound from ruining your audio. Inevitably, there's always going to be a technical issue that comes up on a documentary set, and usually you're running around and you don't have a lot of time to repair things. So I keep a few handy tools in my tool bag. This was a multi tool. It's just a small set of pliers with a couple of screwdrivers and tools. Scissors. I also have a set of Alan Keyes and a flashlight for when I'm working at night. So something you're gonna be finding yourself doing constantly during your documentary is white balancing your camera. So that's a couple different ways of doing that. But the way I prefer to do it is using a manual white balance, and I I ordered these great cards from being H. I think they're five bucks for a packet, too, and they're perfect. They're no different than using a white piece of paper except that in highlight when you're outside and directs online. Sometimes this helps you get a better white balance. Now, in some point throughout the day, you're gonna have to back up your media. And I recommend having a laptop because that allows you to back up your media in the field in case you need spare cards throughout the day. If you're rolling and rolling and you're getting a lot of good material, another thing to consider is the speed at which you're backing up your data. I recommend USB three minimum, my card reader and my external hard drives that I back up my media two or USB three. So that way it's quite snappy. It's quick, and I can get back to work. This is, Ah, multi card card Reader reads CF cards, SD cards, multiple cards. So regardless of the camera format, you confined these multi card readers online for quite cheap. Now, when you are baking it, backing up your data, I recommend backing it up twice because one of your drives may fail and then you'll lose everything. Some people use their cards as a backup, and then they put their second back up on their external hard drive and then dump the cards when they get home on their big computer. But I recommend backing up twice in the field because you never know what's gonna happen, And you may need just your spare cards if you want to continue shooting the rest of the day . Now all of this stuff fits into a video backpack. And the reason why I recommend a video backpack is it provide you with a very concise and central point for all of your gear that you can store all of your coven in one place, slinging over your shoulder. Get toe work. You've always got your gear close by. If you need something at least 24 hours prior to when the shoot starts, I like to gather all of my equipment, light out on a workbench er table and assemble everything for a full run through and test. This helps me wrap my head around a large number of items, as well as to ensure that everything assembles correctly and works as planned. It also helps to make a checklist on paper that you can use as a reference. It's a lot like packing for a trip overseas, actually, so keep the camera and sound years built as possible so that you're ready to rock and roll the next day. 9. Setting up the Camera: one of the first things I do is to go through the camera menus and prepare the settings to match the projects needs. Ensure the cameras set to record of the highest quality setting in full HD 1920 by 10 80. If your project's gonna be shot and seen in an NTSC country, ensure the cameras set for this region the same. Of course, If you're in a power see cam region, familiarize yourself with the cameras manual and ensure you know its operation well in advance. Simply going through the menus a few times will help you remember where to find simple operations like formatting, the memory card, changing the audio settings or choosing a picture profile. Another important option to be aware of in the camera menu is the frame rate. I personally prefer 24 frames per second. This could be a source of confusion for folks because some cameras labeled this frame rate is 23.976 or 23.98 or simply 24 frames per second. For the sake of this lesson, I would say that given the type of camera that you're most likely gonna be using for this course. Any of these three options are basically one and the same. 24 frames per second has a more cinematic quality, versus the older standard of 30 frames per second. If you're in a pal region like the United Kingdom, your camera might have the option to shoot a 25 francs per second. 25 frames per second is a terrific option for documentaries, so either choice is totally fine. Now. If you're shooting at 24 frames per second, your shutter speed should always be set toe 1 48 of a second or 1/50 of a second and some cameras, which is close enough. If you're shooting in Powell or 25 frames per second, your shutter should be set toe 1/50. There should always remain this way unless you're wanting to add a particular shutter effect of the image. The beauty of shooting with the DSLR is that you can switch to stills mode and take high resolution and raw images of your documentary subject. This is useful for the archive and promotional materials. Also, you can share these pictures with your friends. For all the latest technology that's revolutionizing the film industry that still photograph remains one of the most powerful storytelling tools in your arsenal. So leave a few moments in your shooting day free for taking a few stills of your subject. You will regret having these shots. 10. Setting up Sound: it might surprise you to hear cinematographers say this, but when it comes to documentary sound is king. If you're gonna sit down and make a budget for your gear and sure that you're getting the highest quality sound here that you can afford by its very nature. Camera equipment is usually more expensive at the per sumer level. So I'm not saying you have to spend more on sound and camera gear. But do spend a fair amount of time doing some research on the best bang for your buck. One of the great things about sound. It keeps working without you having to manage it. From the moment I put my microphone on my subject, I start recording simply for the sound. Just let it record all day because you never know when someone's going to say something amazing. Chances are your camera isn't going to be pointed at your subject the entire day. So recording sound is essentially an easy way to keep your gear working in the background, getting free stuff, even when you aren't even thinking about it. If you've seen the HBO series The Jinx, you'll remember when Fred Durst gives the sound bite of the decade, even when the cameras weren't even in the same room. You want to make sure that you have the ability to control the sound input within the menus of your camera, even if it's a simple is a manual input level. You also want to make sure that the camera has a headphone jack so that you can also monitor the sound lives you recorded. If the camera has the ability to increase the headphone volume, all the better. Here we have a small and relatively inexpensive shotgun mike that runs on doubly battery power. It also has a mini jack cable that will plug right into your DSLR. The mike fits into the hot shoe, the camera in the middle cable plugs right into the mic port on the side. This type of microphone is perfect for when you're following your subject and want to capture specific sound. Since it's a narrowly directional microphone, this directionality is good, it eliminating the ambiance of the location and just focusing on where it's pointed. And in this case, that's right in front of the lens. The internal microphones on most cameras or not of a quality standard for documentary filmmaking, a relatively inexpensive shotgun Mike like this could make the difference between an intelligible dialogue and muffled static. Also, remember that as you handle the camera, whether it's on a tripod or being handheld for verity shooting, touching the camera can transfer sounds toe the shotgun microphone. This microphone also comes with a foam and for Windjammer, which helps drastically reduce the horrible noise you hear when working outside in the wind . So it's good practice to always use a windjammer when working outside. Another important tool in your kit should be the Laval ear microphone. This is especially important for your interviews the Lava Lear gives them or rich and intimate quality to the human voice. It's picking up the sound from close proximity to the interviewees mouth, as well as lower resonating notes from their chest. Later in the course, I'll show you a few good ways to attach the Lava Lear to give you the best quality sound possible. Another very handy item that you can add to your kid is the external audio recorder. This pocket sized device is very simple to use and records high quality sound on the fly. You could set it somewhere and let it roll independent of your camera and sound set up. If you don't have the budget for a wireless lav system, you can use the wired lob in your subject and stick both the lob and the recorder in their pocket so that you have a wireless recording set up. 11. Fundamentals of the Image: I personally take a while to set up for my interviews. I don't like to be rushed because that's when I make mistakes and start to forget crucial steps in an already somewhat complex process. Getting there well beforehand. Usually at least an hour or more will allow you to take your time and set up an interview that you'll be proud of. Also, remember to tell your subject, not toe wear, checkered patterns or heavy stitch material is this tends to cause issues with cameras, solid colors or best and nothing too loud or distracting. Remember no logos or brand names. You might want to ask him to bring a couple different shirts or jackets so that you have options on the day. There's nothing wrong with art directing interviews so that everything looks nice. Turn off any electron, ICS, fans, motors or anything else. It's likely to make noise and end up on top of your audio. If you have to turn a refrigerator off for the duration of the interview, place your car keys in the frets that you don't forget to turn it back on and remember to put your phones on airplane mode when it comes to choosing interview location. I go for authenticity above all else. Beauty is nice, but I'd also like it to feel real. If I'm shooting a character documentary, I'd most like to capture a person in their environment at their house. Work, etcetera. Oftentimes, it's best to have the camera built before you even arrive so that you can shoot elements of your arrival like your character coming to the door and hushing up their little dog. When you arrive, you may have a quick decision to make about the best place to shoot an interview in the house. I often like a spot with depth in the background. Placing your subject in front of a wall makes for a very flat and un interesting image. Make sure that your background isn't too bright or distracting, also ensured that the lighting conditions will be consistent for the duration of the interview. Although the sunlight coming through a south facing window might be gorgeous, it will undoubtedly change as time progresses. Use your tripod and level the camera so that the horizon is even. Use the rule of thirds to make for strong composition, and if your interviewees going to keep their eye line off camera, have them look towards the same direction as your light source is coming from. I personally like to leave a bit of extra room on whichever side of the frame that interview is looking so as to reinforce a specific screen direction. I generally like to remove headroom so that there isn't too much empty space between the top of the frame and the top of the interviewees head. Also, try not to give them a haircut with too tight of a frame. Try to keep your interviewees far enough away that the images and distorted and awkward, but close enough to see their expressions and feel. The interview. Now Once you found the spot for your interview, set your subject in a comfortable chair with a straight back to help them say sitting up. Check to make sure their eyes are in sharp Focus and make sure that you have good exposure . The interviewees skin should look natural and not to brighter dark. Now it's important to establish your eyes or gain before going any further. Eso is essentially the sensitivity of your camera, the higher the S O. R. Gain and the more it can see in the dark. However, the trade off is that the higher I S o R gain that you use, the more noise will be in the image. Noise is the enemy of a professional image. So in order to maximize the clarity and quality of your camera, shoot with lowest I e isso setting as possible in the given lighting situation, you may need to adjust the iris a bit to dial in the perfect exposure. Different skin color tones, bone structure and various quality of light will always keep you on your toes and the irises. A simple method of making small adjustments. The white balance of the cameras, one of the most important tools to ensuring a natural color balance to the scene without a proper white balance, your image might appear to blue or to orange skin tones or something that us humans are very sensitive to is we spend our entire lives looking at each other to read or to blue, and we immediately know someone is ill. It's an evolutionary skill that has done us well, but unfortunately this means that it makes it that much more critical to ensuring natural healthy skin tones on camera simply used the great car to take your white balance. Be sure the card is facing the light source and that there are no other light sources of a different color temperature shining on it. And once you've taken your white balance, then you can return the camera towards interview position and start to set up your sound. 12. Fundamentals of Sound: Once you have your camera set up, it's time to get the Lava Lear ready. I like to plug everything in and have a friend where the lob on their lapel to do a quick test before inviting the subject in to begin. Have her friend talked to you in a normal voice, facing slightly off camera to whichever island you've established for the interview. I also like to place the lava leer on whichever side favors their eye line. You'd be amazed at the difference in sound quality between someone talking away from the mic and someone talking towards it. Have them run the plug into the lava, leered down their shirt or on the inside of a jacket or sweater and back around their waist so that the wire is hidden from the camera. It's generally bad form to see the mic and clip on camera, so the trick is to hide but not muffle the sound. You can use a mike clip or a vampire clipped by attaching it to their clothing, but I've had better luck with these little stickies called undercovers. The reason being is that one of the biggest challenges to a lava Lear set up is the sound of Mike makes when it rubs up against clothing and or a hairy chest. While still keeping the mic hidden, I placed the Lonmin, the upper chest here it just inside the shirt. For women, the cleavage area often works well, and for men just behind a tire lapel of the shirt, make sure the mic is pointing upwards and towards their mouth and is obstructed by as little as possible. Once the subject is seeded, have them speak for a minute. Why you check their natural volume. You may need to turn down the gain a bit, or vice versa. Be aware that sometimes people can project when they're excited. So if you expect moments of raised volume, it's better to lower the levels a bit. To be on the safe side. You can always amplify later in the editing software, but if their voice over powers and distorts the audio and set that information is lost forever, 13. Shooting the Interview: Once the interview starts, try not to adjust the frame while the subject is speaking. Find a frame and settle on it. Every few questions. Take a moment and reframe a bit with a tighter, whiter shot. Using your zoom lens, make sure your subject keeps their eyes on you and does not keep looking into the lens. If you do have to make adjustments to the camera while the subject was speaking, makes slow, methodical movements with your tripod. So is not to distract the viewer. There are many times when actual reality intrudes on the somewhat staged reality of the documentary. For example, I'm shooting Carmen, preparing so Pez in her kitchen and the phone rings encourage her to answer and keep rolling. These moments can be great gifts to your film, and you may want to use them in the editing room. We've given you a lot to think about, and you're probably excited to sit down and start interviewing your subject when you sit down to talk to them. The most important thing might be this. Relax. Your subject will mirror the kind of behavior that you exhibit, So remember to be calm, confident, be yourself. Have fun and take your time 14. After the Interview: I like to have my laptop close by with a card reader and an external hard driver is start downloading cards immediately. You never know how long an interview will go, so it's nice to have your system nearby and set up so you can start rotating memory cards as you shoot. It's also good practice to back up. You go because you never know what can happen. I always make two copies of everything before the end of the day. At least I then hand the second copy over to a friend or partner to take two separate location as a backup. Once you finish the main interview, have your subject sit absolutely still and quiet for 30 seconds and roll sound. This is called room tone. You're essentially recording the natural empty acoustics of the location so that when you want to plug the gaps between edited audio segments, the transition is smooth. As soon as you hit the record, Button described the date in the name of the interview nice and loud so that you have a reference of which file it is in the edit. Once you finish asking your interview questions, get some tighter shots of their face and their hands. Or maybe their eyes roll the camera for a bit, getting them smiling and not speaking or simply listening to you. These types of shots work well to support our emotional connection with your subject and help to shape and otherwise standard interview set up into more dynamic experience. If you happen to be shooting in the subject home or business, it's crucial to get as many shots as you can of interesting items in the home that share something with the subject or have to do with the story. When you begin to edit your doc, you'll need other shots to cut, too, so that you can cut in and out of the interview lines and paste different parts of the interview together. Cutaways can sometimes be taken for granted, but it's important to look for Is much. Story is possible in every shot. Have a look around the subject home or work, and get shots of framed photographs or other personal items that might be story related. Remembered always hold these shots for at least 15 seconds. A pack as much rich storytelling materials you can into your schedule. I know some filmmakers who also takes scanners with them on the road because they'll ask to scan photos from people's albums so that then they don't have to take those photographs back to their office. 15. Establishing Shots, B-roll, and Verite: it's handed to grab a Siris of establishing shots of whatever context your subject is in. Whether the interview takes place in their home, their place of work or even outside. Giving the audience some context by bringing them into the scene always helps. This can work not only is a nice transition from a previous scene, but helps to tell the audience a little bit more about this person, from a wide shot of their street at home. To the smaller details which answer the questions we might have about who this person is, Where do they live? When is it? And what is it like there sound complaint just is, an important role of this process is the image layers much story onto a scene as you can. Too much story is never a bad thing. Something that I always love and a good documentary is simple verity footage of the subject going about their regular daily activities. This makes for brilliant and rich material to cut to during the interview process. It might take a few minutes for them to get used to being followed by a camera, but just tell them to relax and go about their business. They'll soon forget you're even there. I often shoot Varity after an interview because my subject will be more relaxed on camera and perform lis. Remember to keep quiet, try not to ask questions or engage the person too much if you want naturalistic action. Human beings are an endless source of original behavior, and this type of observation all footage is often revealing of our true nature, which is, of course, always fascinating. On screen. Good verity takes time and often needs the patience of a saint to get enough good material in the can to distill down into just a few rich shots that add value to your particular story. Well, you might want to keep the camera on a tripod. For some of these shots, I recommend taking the camera into your own hands and following the subject around this space. Also, remember to keep your hands as steady as possible and tuck your elbows into your chest. For added stability, make fluid pans and tilts without Jeter or shake controlled and methodical camera Movement is key. Look for a story in each frame and keep the composition strong by remembering your rule of thirds you might be tempted to film everything in a given situation, but remember, you're telling a story about a specific subject, so focus on them. For the most part, this is also a great time to use your shotgun microphone. One of the more creative parts of a documentary is the B roll shot. B roll is essentially grabbing a Siris of visual metaphors on camera, which could be used to enhance your film time lapse shots of the sky over a church to allude to the passage of time or slow motion shots of an athlete running through the finish line. If your film is about a race car driver, it might be handy to spend a day at the racetrack getting a much of creative and style I shots, the race cars and the people cheering them on in slow motion. B Road can be a lot of fun, and it's often taken for granted on its ability to transform a seemingly simple interview or seeing into appointment and powerful sequence 16. Closing Thoughts: Now that you've got your film in the can, it's time to complete the final assignment. Create a short video clip that gives us a taste of your footage. The video clip should include a little bit of footage from your interview and two B roll shots. Sharing material from your film is helpful at every stage in the process, and I highly recommend you start early. Film making is about connecting with people, so get your stuff out there and don't be shy. I depend upon a community of filmmakers to bounce my ideas off of, and you should, too. Thanks so much for joining us for this class. Everything you've learned here can be applied to other kinds of films. Log lines, framing B roll, these air ideas and concepts that filmmakers use every day. So get out there and start using them. We look forward to seeing your character documentaries