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The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros

This is a Public Topic geared towards first-time filmmakers. Professional members of The D-Word will come by and answer your questions about documentary filmmaking.

Dale Archibald
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

I plan to attend a local sports-related consumer show next month, with
an eye toward getting interviews and other shots. I'll use footage shot
in a public-access TV show, and for other things. Any tips or hints?
The eqpt will be loaned to me by the public access station. I will have
interviewees sign releases.

What sort of open-ended questions should I ask? What sort of shots? I'm
brand-new at this, so any help is appreciated.

Wolfgang Achtner
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link


In order to help you, you need to provide us with more information.

What do you mean by "sports-related" consumer show? Is this a fair, a sort of market with equipment on sale/ What sport(s)? Who do you want to ask questions? People selling equipment, members of the public, buyers?

What is your motivation for filming this event? Why is it important? Is there anything special about the event or the equipment being sold/exhibited here? Is this the first time or is this a yearly event? Is there any special significance for the locals? Will any (sports) celebrity be attending?If so, you need to obatin info about this person(s).

Will someone be demonstrating a sport using some kind of equipment? How big is the arena/sports ground, etc? Why are the organizers putting on this event?

These are things I would try to find out if I had to film this event and in order to figure out what to film and what questions to ask.

Wolfgang Achtner
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link


The following guidelines are the A, B, Cs of news coverage and they apply to documentary storytelling as well.

Whenever you decide to shoot something, you must ask yourself; "What am I shooting?" and "why am I shooting it?

Then your story must always answer the 5 Ws and 1 H: "Who, what, why, when, where and how."

Everything you need to do (what to shoot, who to ask questions, what to ask) depends on the answers to these questions.

Robert Goodman
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

Matt – I will pass along your comments to Mark. There are so many layers in the film it is hard to know where to begin. I can only say that I am very proud to have helped bring Stone Reader to audiences.

Dale Archibald
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

Hello, Wolfgang

First, let me say this won't be a documentary per se, although I hope to earmark some footage for a project I've dreamed of for years.

This is an annual golf show in Minneapolis. It is a fair, where golf courses, club vendors, and a few related others get together on a snowy Feb. day to help people get the snow off their feet and dream of spring.

I'm mainly interested in doing interviews of folks from the golf courses that will appear, doing the 5W and an H in shorter clips. First end product would be a show for local public access TV, with saved footage for the other project I mentioned. After all, they'll be gathered in one location so it'll save time driving all over searching them out.

There will be demos here, and it's in the Metrodome, the huge playing field for the Minnesota Twins and Vikings.

Thanks for the questions. I've written and photographed for magazines for years, but this will be my first foray into the visual documentary-related forum.

Wolfgang Achtner
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link


regardless of the duration of your story, the mechanics are always the same.

Ideally, each story should have a beginning, middle and an end and answer the 5Ws and 1 H. Given that you intend to do several shorter pieces, you could do one more generic piece and several others, each of which could deal with a particular aspect of the fair that you and/or your audience might be interested in.

It seems like you should be able to put several interesting pieces together.

If you know anything about golf – and I presume that you do – if you answer the questions I outlined (What is this story about and what do I want to show you) it should be rather simple to come up with some interesting questions to ask. You can ask the equipment vendors about gear, the players about form and playing tips, the visitors about ther expectations for the new season, etc., etc.

From what I imagine you'll find there you should be able to put togteher some visually interesting and exciting stories. Try to put some nat sound pieces together.

I can already visualize dozens of stories. Try to imagine YOUR stories visually and that should help you figure out what to shoot.

Doug Block
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

Chris, quickly read through your proposal. Leaving aside the odds against pulling it off, are you aware of a feature doc that came out a few years ago called My Date With Drew? If not, check into it. It was a small but charming film, came and went and barely made a blip commercially.

In all honesty, hard to imagine any established docmaker being tempted by your proposal. In the end, though, who are any of us to tell someone not to dream?

Doug Block
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

Thanks for your kind words, Matt. As for the mic, I used a Senheisser ME 63 mounted on the camera. It has the ability to screw on a number of mics with different patterns. I used one with a figure 8 pattern, that captures sound equally in front and behind the camera. So one mic was able to record both of us talking. Came in very handy. Only problem is if I film verite for long stretches without talking myself (and I never know when I might), it picks up a lot of extraneous room noise from behind.

Boyd McCollum
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

In reply to Chris Hinrichs's post on Mon 28 Jan 2008 4:16 UTC :

Chris, I'd make a couple of quick suggestions. First would be to reframe your proposal in tone and presentation.

By tone, I'd suggest not looking at all the reasons why it shouldn't work. I noticed on your site that you're an architect. Think about the proposal in the same way you propose something to a client. You don't tell them all the things that will go wrong (being overcharged by contractors, termites, fire, water damage, floods, famine, family arguments, etc...).

By presentation, while it's okay to have a paragraph teaser, I want to know what the story is. If it's not part of the story, don't tell me. Currently the way you build it up I'm expecting the greatest idea I've ever heard and no idea can live up to that. Obstacles that need to be surmounted are not part of the story, unless...

...that is the story. Which would probably make a very interesting documentary – "Guy faces insurmountable odds to make incredible idea a reality. Does he or doesn't he?"

I would also recommend trying to hook up with someone in your area, a friend with a camera or an aspiring filmmaker, and work together on moving the project forward. As Doug mentions, it's unlikely that established docmakers would be tempted, or being tempted, it may not be in the way that you're envisioning.

You also may want to start smaller. Instead of an A-list star, why not a local celebrity in your area. They're much more approachable and the idea would be the same. It might make the idea more attractive to more established filmmakers and celebrities.

Good luck!

Chris Hinrichs
Mon 28 Jan 2008Link

Doug, Thanks for taking a quick look. If you read the whole thing I specifically address My Date With Drew and how the two are very different films. Perhaps I need to do a better job of articulating just how different it is. Believe me, I know it's an incredibly tough sell. I know the chance of it ever getting made is next to zero. That's what intrigues me the most – the impossibility of it. I hope you find the time at some point to look at more of the material, but I completely understand that it's not for everyone.

By the way, I wanted to compliment you on 51 Birch Street. I saw it a while back and thought it was excellent. I recommend it often.

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