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.
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 [...]
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 [...]
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 [...]