Documentary in a Day
I will not say much about pre-production period; all I can do is to mention that our topic for a documentary was home. How can we, students from Cambodia, China, Vietnam, Kenya, India, Singapore, Philippines, Australia, Italy, Mongolia, Russia, identify the place that we call home? It is a very broad theme. Personally, I came up with about twenty questions which are somehow related to the topic. And we did not use a single question from this list. The main difficulty was that the crew was composed right before the shooting. We did not have time to share ideas with each other, so we started to improvise.
Perhaps, making a documentary in a day was the most challenging task of the course. First, we were limited in time. We needed to shoot 5 interviews in less than 3 hours. And the key difference between a VoxPop and a documentary is a necessity to set a frame for an interview. It took us up to 20 minutes to change the camera position and to move lights. Our permanent background detail was documents and posters; it helped us to identify our location. Of course we could have used the same area for all respondents and save time for recording interviews, but it was a group decision to let everyone try themselves in every crew role. Second, we are non-native English speakers and it was extremely hard to think of our vocabulary and grammar while sitting in front of the camera. There are several ways to avoid this problem. It is better to repeat a speech 3 or 4 times before an interview, however at the end the speech will be less emotional. Another method is to record an interviewee secretly during a rehearsal. Participants think that a cameraperson sets up the equipment and they do not feel much pressure, so they can answer questions easily. Finally, it was truly exciting to work with people I have never worked with before. If in a constant team everyone knows what to expect from others, this time we needed to discover strong and weak points of our team members. Our great mistake was that every cameraperson was absolutely free to choose an angle and a frame. The reason why it happened was that we did not elect a person who knows the whole concept of the documentary and acts as a director.
In interviews we have mentioned 3 aspects of home – family, friends and food. The simplest way to illustrate these aspects is to shoot random people and places. The only problem with a B-roll was the impossibility to see a frame because of the sun. When we digitalized all the footage, almost half of it was removed to the crap folder.
We did the editing for the documentary together with Federica. I would like to highlight one episode which happened to our team: Federica was operating a computer mouse and at the same moment I was using a keyboard, we did not say a word to explain what we were going to do but we did it simultaneously. Honestly, for me it was a great pleasure to edit the documentary.
Our first step was to pick the best parts from interviews. For me it was 10 minutes of humiliation – I could not bear myself on a screen and run away from a suit. When we combined all responses to 4 groups we realized that narration is needed. I was surprised to discover the difference between the sound of my voice in English and in Russian, like it was two people talking.
The cost for camerapersons’ creative freedom was extra time in a post-production period. We had to change scale and position of several clips and to apply “horizontal flip” to one interview. The attentive viewer could notice that documents behind Lisa are written backwards. In addition, we stabilized three quarters of a B-roll. Though it takes time, it saves time while shooting, because there is no need to use a tripod.
The sound was the other issue. Apparently, we attached a lapel microphone in a wrong position and all interviewees seemed to whisper. We adjusted gain by 8 db to get a desirable result.
With a voice over and fast cut our mini-documentary is similar to a news-report. If we could shoot our interviewees with friends and families for a B-roll, it would turn into a documentary.