Monday 30 April 2012

40 It´s Like Building a House

Image by GHerrmann /
When people hear you make docs their first question usually is, how do you start. We always say the same thing: find the money first. They almost always look downcast and say something like, that doesn´t sound very creative, or idealistic.  But like building a house, before you pour the foundation you have to have the bucks to pay for it.

Then brick by brick we begin to put the project together. That means filling out grant applications, making pitches to the interested company, writing and re-writing the synopsis, the treatment, the budget, creating the storyboard, assembling profiles of the team, sources of financing, looking at locations and sometimes doing a short test film. Finally when all the bits and pieces come together (this can take months) we´re ready for some fun.

The shoot. This is like putting up the walls of a house. Compared to the rest of the production it´s usually short term and goes by in a flash (for us, due to costs and low budgets). After everything is in the can the really hard (sometimes boring) work begins. Post Production, when Eki, king of the editing room takes over. There are so many things he does that don´t show, like color correction, and making the music fit the tempo of the doc. We view and review the rough-cuts countless times and even then we miss stuff and have to go back and fix some small error. After the PP, like putting in the lawn of a new house, we have to do the DVDs and make sure all the principals get a copy. Then we hope we spelled all the names in the credits correctly.

Lesson 40  Your structure might spring a leak if you skip the details

littlemargiedocblog is taking a three week break while on the road

Monday 16 April 2012

38 The Right Gear

Is this thing on?
When we planned the shoot ("marihuanland") in Oakland, CA, Eki decided it would be more efficient to rent the equipment on site. When I saw the list (and the cost - around 5000 dollars) I let out a howl. He told me we needed it all. And that we were getting a bargain. They (Eki and Antti)  showed up at the hotel with a whole rooomful of stuff. At least five black bags (each about half the size of a body bag).

The list (Eki correct me if I´ve left anything out):

Two cameras (with hard drives that had to be downloaded every night)
Microphones: lavalier and shotgun mic with boom (the connections)

At the end of the shoot Eki said, with a puff of satisfaction, that we had used everything. All the bags were stuffed into the back of the car, including me.

Edit by Eki: Well, to make it exact, here's the actual rental gear list (the cost was actually around $4200):

1 *Sony EX1 w/16G Cards Package*
1 Sony Ex1 XDCam Camera
2 Sony Ex3/Ex1 BP-U60 Batteries x2 with Charger
1 Sony Ex3/Ex1 BP-U30 Battery
1 Sony Ex3/Ex1 SxS Card - 16GB
1 *Sony EX1 w/16G Cards Package*
1 Sony Ex1 XDCam Camera
1 Sony Ex3/Ex1 BP-U30 Battery
2 Sony Ex3/Ex1 BP-U60 Battery
1 Sony Ex3/Ex1 Battery Charger
1 Sony Ex3/Ex1 SxS Card - 8GB
2 Cartoni F101 Tripod
1 SteadiCam - Sachtler Artemis
1 Sound Devices 302 stereo mixer, Petrol bag, beta
1 Sennheiser MKH 60 Mic w/Zepplin support
1 Boom Pole - Internal Coil Cabled XLR
1 Lectrosonics 211 Diversity Radio Mic System
Sonotrim Lavalier, 3x Antennas, R.Angle XLR
3x Batteries  PAY IF USED
1 Headphones Sony MDR-7506 stereo
1 Dedo 24v 150w Kit w/ 3 lights & Focal spot
1 Kino Flo Divalite 400 Universal
w/ Tungsten/ Daylight Bulbs
1 C-Stand with sandbag

Lesson 39: Always, always take extra batteries

Next wee: 39 Keeping Track

Monday 9 April 2012

37 The Runaround

The problem: famous (or even semi-famous) people help sell docs. But they can be hard to handle. Or more specifically their "people" can be tough as old boots. They´re paid to protect (and cosset) their clients. You´ve found your Subject. You might of even had direct contact with him/her. Subject tells you to contact his PR, PA.  What´s next?

You send and email to the PA/PR person. In our experience it always begins with an email. Often it goes un-answered and you look for other routes. Finally you get through. Have your story ready and use your contact with the Subject, if you´ve been lucky enough to have one, as an opener. After preliminaries the PR/PA gets down to the nitty-gritty and sends a list of demands. Read it carefully and comply if it   doesn´t dilute or destroy your plans for the project. For example: if PA/PR demands that Subject has the right to check all footage tell him "NO!"

"Chasing Esa-Pekka" was a long hard slog because his "people" wanted him to have control, and veto power, over everything that went into the doc. We finally called a halt and said "Sorry but we´re not doing this documentary under those conditions." They even contacted our commissioning editor at the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) to back them up. But our CE supported us. Although we did have to take out the F word, which made one scene human and funny, to keep them happy. We never heard what they thought of the doc, although they later asked permission to use it. We gave it to them with pleasure.

Lesson 38: No matter how famous the Subject is, know when it´s time to say "NO!"

next week; 38 The Right Gear

Monday 2 April 2012

36 To Light or Not to light

When Eki, Antti and I go out on a shoot, they take masses of equipment. I always wonder what all the stuff is. Part of it is lights and reflectors. They spend quite a lot of time setting up the shot to make the subject (victim) look good. Here´s what I´ve learned from watching.

El Gaucho de Högsåra (2000)
Backlighting is good. Shooting in front of a window (most of the time) is bad. They try to show the subjects (especially if they´re not young and beautiful) in a good soft light. Usually the right amount of space between the camera and subject is about eight feet (Eki and Antti are also very conscious of background: does it look busy, confused?)

Pro lighting is a major ingredient in a broadcast quality product. In big-time movies and on still sets they might spend hours getting it right. But when I´m making a Homemade and on my own I don´t have  the time or the right stuff. So I make do. Light a lamp on the subject (the artist Cindy Sherman, who currently has a big one-woman show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York did this when she first started out and didn´t have to resources to buy equipment) Or I use natural light and hope that Eki can correct it in the edit. But when I compare what they do and what I do, I can see why they are both in hot demand.

Lesson 38: Your subject will love you if you light his/hers best side

Next week: 38 The Runaround 

PS: a sore throat kept me in bed, and made me miss the casting call for the Lone Ranger. Whaaaaa!

PS2, a note from from Eki: In the above image from Tryggve's interview, the natural light was great as is, no artificial light added.