Lean Team Pro Tip #1: Learn and practice, learn and practice

2018-08-25T20:25:50+00:00Categories: Lean Team Pro Tip|

I shot my first film, 30 Frames A Second, in 5 days. I then spent a few more days writing a script, and edited the doc in 7 days (I’d rented an edit suite and could only afford a week’s worth of time). The movie probably cost me about $9,000 to make, and most of that was my own in-kind contribution of time and gear to the project. I never applied for funding, hired an executive producer, attended a pitch session, or got anywhere near a post-production suite. I then sent the film out to a few film festivals without any real idea of what I was doing. It ended up winning the Best Documentary award at the Chicago Underground Film Festival and at several other fests in the months that followed. It played on Netflix for several years, and is still distributed educationally by Bullfrog Films. I decided that making independent documentaries was what I wanted to do. I was fortunate that I already had several years experience in producing, shooting, recording sound, and editing, skills I’d learned on the job as a TV news cameraman. My work was my practice field. That's the essential point of this first lean team tip: Learn and practice (and learn and practice) as many of the skills of filmmaking as you can. By becoming self-sufficient in planning, producing, writing, shooting, lighting, recording sound, and editing, you'll not only become a better and more well-rounded filmmaker–a lean team filmmaker–you'll also assume full control of your creative vision. You will [...]

Lean Team Pro Tip #2: Eliminate Barriers, Get Close

2018-08-24T17:24:35+00:00Categories: Lean Team Pro Tip|

It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Getting close in documentary filmmaking literally means putting your body and your camera as close to what you’re filming as possible. But it also means getting emotionally close to your subject matter, not just physically close. And it also means staying close to the vision you have for your film, not allowing marketing concerns or outside validators to interfere. In my book I write, “There is a kind of meditative awareness that takes over when I’m shooting close to my subjects, much like that of the skier or climber who focuses only on the physical elements right in front of them. The subject or character guides my eye, and my eye communicates with my hands, which then manage the camera’s iris, shutter speed, zoom, and audio level. I’m always dealing with matters of exposure and composition and focus, but also with how my subject is responding to my presence. I’m deeply aware of them as a human being, and truly grateful they’ve allowed me to be this close to them so I can bring their story to a viewer, to make a connection.” To achieve this closeness, the lean team documentary filmmaker strips their gear and their crew down to its essentials. You can film without lights, tripod, or assistants; you can record sound directly into your camera with only a wireless and a camera-mounted shotgun; you can conduct an interview by asking questions from behind the viewfinder. You can follow your subject anywhere and shadow them without distraction, because you’ve [...]

Lean Team Pro Tip #3: Visualize Your Film

2018-08-24T17:26:09+00:00Categories: Lean Team Pro Tip|

First you'll visualize the kind of film you want to make, and then you'll be tempted to define it. Where does it fit within the myriad of sub-genres of the documentary form? There are environmental docs, investigative docs, celebrity docs, and social justice docs. There are docs about musicians, designers, and inventors. There are biographies and hagiographies. Docs about athletes and animals, money and mountain climbing. Concert docs, event docs, eco docs and hybrids.There are first-person films and films about politics. Observational ethnographies and observational anthropologies. Art films, experimental films, abstract and obtuse films. Many of these categories come with a lot of built-in contingencies that dictate the equipment you will use, the size of your crew, the amount of money you’ll need, the time it will take to raise that money, shoot your material, sift through it, and edit it. Even your film festival and distribution options will depend on the style and approach you take. In my book, Get Close: Lean Team Documentary Filmmaking, I write that “I always evaluate my idea based on the lean team documentary filmmaking, or LTDF, model. The first question I ask is, ‘Can I get close to my characters or subject matter?’ If the answer is no, then I don’t make the film." If the answer is yes, then I ask another question: ‘What kind of film do I want to make?’” I always keep my goals as a lean team documentary filmmaker front and center when asking that question. If I can’t make my film as a one-person [...]