One of the most frequently asked questions I get whilst on a shoot is
How many hours of footage do you have to go through?
This question always catches me a bit off-guard as I honestly have no clue how many hours of footage I actually take. I could tell you how many individual shots I have, I could even tell you how many shots are still outstanding on my check-list, but as far as duration, I always find this questions odd. Yet, it gets asked at every shoot I go on!
Because I didn’t go film-school nor have I taken any courses on how to film Documentaries I never really know if my methods are “Best Practices”. I constantly struggle with insecurities around my process; for all I know, I could be doing things completely wrong. Regardless, I’m going to take you on a trip with me to give insight as to how I plan, film and edit an episode of “Come Drive With Us“.
For every shoot I go on, there is a high degree of planning; and I’m not talking about logistics…even though that is something I have to do as well. No, I’m talking more about planning the shoot itself. Who I’m going to focus on; common interview questions to enhance the plot, trying to get the promoters to hook me up with the same quality of filming spots at the venue as LiveRC (I never do), etc. For me, this is no easy task as I am a one-person team so I definitely have to wear multiple hats.
While I tend to let each event tell it’s own story, more often than not, there are themes going into the shoot that I know will need to be covered. In some cases, there are shots that I want to take and I know exactly where they will appear in the production. The 2016 Worlds was a prime example of this. I knew that the opening shot would be the late Dallas Mathiesen handing the winner the IFMAR trophy. To build up suspense, my plan was to NOT reveal the winner but rather the focus would be on Dallas. Even though I had this shot planned out months before had I literally seconds to setup for it and execute it. Did it work? Beautifully! The opening sequence for “Come Drive With Us – The Vegas Worlds” was exactly how I envisioned it months before hand. I like to think that in a live setting this is no small feat.
The opening shots for my “Silver State II” movie coming out later this summer were also planned well in advance of the episode. I will leave you in suspense as to what that is going to look like though.
Because the location shoot is so physically demanding, I tend to prep interview questions as well as a comprehensive shot-list before the event. This way, I don’t have to worry about missing anything. This shot list does tend to change slightly leading up to the event with any new story lines that I hear about or when I hear about attendees cancelling, etc.
Lights, Camera…WAIT I’M NOT READY!!!
While I’ve had some shoots that are thoroughly enjoyable, like working on my “Pros & Cons” Documentary. For the most part, the actual shoot is the part I enjoy the least.
To me, the shoot is more like running a marathon than filming a movie. After the first day I tend to be running on pure Adrenaline. And most “Come Drive With Us” shoots are no less than 4 days long. The 2017 IFMAR Worlds in China was an excruciating 8 days of filming!!! Fortunately, I love the pressure and do my best work under these conditions. As I mentioned before, I tend to make relatively comprehensive check-list before the shoot. As the event progresses I make my way through this list ensuring I have each shot covered.
But a large portion of shooting an event documentary cannot be planned. I tend to follow the story-lines as the event unfolds. With each plot line that is revealed by the participants, I have to make sure I have accompanying B-Roll. But what exactly is this mythical B-Roll??
In film and television production, B-Roll is supplemental or alternative footage inter cut with the main shot. So what this means is that as I am shooting a doc, as participants in my film mention certain topics I need to make note and ensure that I have a shot that I can include related to this topic. B-Roll tends to make up well over half my total shots. It’s a never ending struggle to shoot these supplementary shots.
At the Silver State Race, one of my featured drivers, used to be a professional bull-rider. As luck would have it, there just happened to be a rodeo taking place in an adjacent building. So after putting my Producers hat back on to momentarily to sort through the logistics, and then my PA hat to make arrangements…my director hat to plan the shots and finally my cameraman hat to do the work…I found myself shooting back-stage among wild animals and “Cowfolk” at my first ever Rodeo!
Given that I’m a huge Steven Spielberg fan it doesn’t really surprise me that the Edit is my favorite part of the process; it is after all Mr. Spielberg’s favorite as well. For me, it’s when I finally get to see a return on all the time I have invested into a production.
The first thing I do is watch every single shot, catalog and add meta tags to each shot. This helps me get a really good idea as to what the story-lines are and with the tagging, it makes it very easy to find the shots I need once I start the actual edit.
This is where I think my process differs quite a bit from other documentaries. I say this because at this point, I still have no script; I won’t even have a high-level synopsis yet. In-fact, I think I break even more “rules” by starting to play around with the edit! I will place all my pre-planned sequences here, create the opening credit sequence and start working on the trailer(s).
After about a week or two of this I have a really strong sense as to the story I want to tell. At this point I stop editing and spend the next month writing a detailed synopsis which eventually turns into the script. The next time I open up Adobe Premiere, I will pretty much have the final script in my hands and I power through the edit. As the edit comes together, the script does have a tendency of changing. Usually it’s only minor but on one occasion I was so unhappy with how the cut flowed that nearly started completely over. AXIALFEST was the project in question; and stating over was a great decision as this is one of my absolute favorite episodes!
It’s at this point that I start to work on the score as well; for me the music is one of the most important pieces of the production. I tend to use as much music from AudioJungle.net, Shock-WaveSound.com & WarnerChapelle.com as their prices are within my reach for the budget I have to work with. Frequently I pick a piece of music that I have to seek out licensing for. This isn’t fun. Sometimes it’s a matter of e-mailing the artist directly; other times it’s a matter of working with their labels.
At this point in the process I spend a lot of time on something that I am sure most viewers of my films take completely for granted (Except maybe for Jeff Johnston).
Coloring. It’s not fun; but it is so crucial as the images coming off my camera are shot in what is called SLOG2 (For indoor shoots I use SLOG3) which makes the image look very flat and washed out (left). Footage shot using this method comes out amazing in post (right) and gives me a lot more options when I do the color grading. This really is a complex topic that really deserves it’s on series of posts; after-all, people spend years in school to learn how to do this. I could not even begin to do it justice in a solitary paragraph with the occasional run-on sentence.
Now that I have what is close to the final cut, I give my good friend Mike Garrison a call, and we record the Narration. This process is an absolute blast. Both Mike and I have a lot of fun with this part of the movie. Pretty much as soon as I’m off the phone with Garrison, I start plugging in his audio.
It’s at this point that I can sit back, and finally watch the end-to-end cut. Occasionally I make a few tweaks and call Mike up again for some pickups; but for the most part, I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
After an average of 250 hours it’s time for the release. Because “Come Drive With Us” is a YouTube Series, the fan-fare around the releases are sorely lacking.
There’s no Red Carpet.
There’s no release party.
Screaming fans aren’t lined up.
There’s only a nerdy Star Wars super-freak posting links to said movie on various social media pages, sending out press releases to media outlets, responding to some of the comments, waiting to see how long the token 2 dislikes take this time and then moving onto the next episode.
But I absolutely Love it!!!
Photo Credit: Rugspin Graphix