Lean Team Pro Tips
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Lean team filmmaking tips, sage wisdom, and the occasional withering critique of the documentary film industry,
all based on my book, Get Close: Lean Team Documentary Filmmaking.
As of this writing in December of 2019, I’m excited to see a new film I’ve only read about it (I don’t count seeing the trailer; I’ve stopped trusting that trailers will ever accurately convey a sense of a movie’s true scope or artistic design). The movie is called Midnight Family, and it’s directed by the young filmmaker, Luke Lorentzen. The film is about a private ambulance company in Mexico City, one of hundreds that supplement the woefully thin government-run system. The film doesn’t sound like an agenda-driven documentary, it sounds more like a visceral thrill ride through the jagged, [...]
The next step in evaluating your project is to think about who (or what) your main character or characters will be. As I wrote in Lean Team Pro Tip #5, a character doesn’t always have to be a person. It can be a place, a thing, an idea, or an animal. In the 2019 film Aquarela, the film’s director Viktor Kossakovsky identifies his main character as a natural element: water. You can also have more than one main character, or an ensemble of characters. In our film The Church on Dauphine Street we featured several key characters: a priest, his [...]
I ended Pro Tip #5 with a question from filmmaker and teacher Barry Hampe (Making Documentary Films and Videos), who asks if your film is posing a question or making an assertion: “A question leads to a search for answers with the outcome not necessarily known,” he writes. “An assertion, on the other hand, starts from the conclusion and then piles up facts as proof.” To take this further I’ll quote from my book Get Close: Lean Team Documentary Filmmaking: “A film that asks a question invests the viewer in the search for the answer. A film that makes an [...]
You have eliminated the fat from your team, stripped your camera package down to its essentials, and defined your film. Now you need to evaluate whether or not you can make your movie by adhering to the lean team documentary filmmaking (or LTDF) strategy. As I suggest in Chapter Two of Get Close: Lean Team Documentary Filmmaking, “Try and look at your film through the lens of a lean team documentary filmmaker, adjust your expectations, and break down the elements of your project with these limitations in mind.” The next several installments of Pro Tips will offer guidance on how to [...]
In Lean Team Pro Tip #3, I wrote that "I always keep my goals as a lean team documentary filmmaker front and center when asking" what kind of film I want to make. "If I can’t make my film as a one-person or two-person team, on a small budget, within a manageable time frame, and still earn money doing my other work, then I don’t begin the project." But there is another pre-requisite to beginning a film that is harder to define yet, in some ways, it's the most important consideration. It involves a question: Ask yourself if it is curiosity [...]
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 [...]