How I Became A Documentary Filmmaker | Interview With Zach Fu
How to Become a Documentary Film Maker
Becoming a documentary filmmaker is a great way to shed light on ideas and events that are important and inspiring to you. Though they may not be as lucrative as the Hollywood movie scene, documentaries are essential in our media and to our culture. You don’t need to be part of a huge studio; many of the most influential and original documentaries come from film festivals such as Sundance. Get the right education, gain some experience in the industry, then branch out and make your own documentaries.
Take a film class.Although you don’t necessarily need to go to film school to make documentaries, it is a good idea to take at least one film class. You will learn techniques and also make connections in the film industry through your professors and classmates. You will also get a chance to make a film, and you’ll have the school’s equipment at your disposal.
- Check your local community college to see if any film classes are offered.
Study a related field.The time you’ll spend actually shooting the film is minimal compared to the time you’ll spend researching, writing, and planning your film. Taking classes in writing can help you learn how to make a successful documentary that will be organized and also captivate your viewers.
- Graphic design classes may also be helpful, as your film will need to be edited with software after shooting.
Watch documentaries.It’s important to know what kind of documentaries are already out there. You don’t want to spend months making a film about something only to discover there are several documentaries already out there featuring the same thing. While you watch documentaries, ask yourself questions like:
- Why is this documentary successful (or not)?
- How does the cinematography affect the experience?
- How do I, as a viewer, connect to the film?
- How does watching this documentary make me feel?
Read trade publications.You should keep your knowledge current regarding the documentary industry. Subscribe to several trade publications and check out websites that feature documentary filmmakers.
- You can also read books about documentary filmmaking to gain knowledge on the subject.
Know important players in the industry.Research documentary filmmakers and find out as much as you can. Learn what makes them successful, and find out how they got their start in the industry. This will also help you get to know your competition.
Network.You should try to get to know other people in the documentary filmmaking business. Ask friends and classmates if they know anyone in the film industry, and do research on the internet. Attend filmmaking festivals or contests, and get to know film teachers in your area.
Join a film crew.Nothing can compare to actually working on a film crew and helping make a documentary. It’s a great idea to work on a few documentaries before making your own. You can gain invaluable knowledge by watching someone else. Pay attention to the details to learn how to create a budget, cast roles for a movie, organize your film, shoot scenes, and even edit and market films.
Planning Your Documentary
Set a goal.Is your purpose to shed light on something important to you, or is it to produce an entertaining product? Both are excellent reasons to produce a documentary, but they are very different. If you lean more towards the first, then it is more important to focus on the content rather than the composition. However, for the latter you might focus more on cinematography and sound.
Choose a specific subject to explore in your documentary.Your idea should ultimately be of interest to other people as well, as you will want viewers for your documentary. A good topic is one that you can develop into a moving or entertaining story.
- For example, if you are passionate about animal rights, you could make a documentary about treatment of animals in zoos and circuses.
- Alternatively, if you’re interested in social commentary, you could make a documentary about the effect of degenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s, on patients and their families.
Create a schedule.You’ll need to plan your film down to the smallest detail, so decide who you need to interview, where you need to go, how you will convey you story, and when you will film, edit, finish, etc. A good plan will mean a better film. If you know the logistics of when and where all your shots will be taken, you will produce a smoother and more professional product.
Make a storyboard.It is very important to create a storyboard to help keep you on track. A storyboard is a series of illustrations that show the breakdown of the documentary. Key scenes are depicted, as are details such as how the setting will look, who will be in the scene, and what will happen.
Making Your First Film
Get the proper equipment.At the very least, you’ll need a good camera and microphones. Invest in a quality camera, but don’t worry about getting one that is top of the line. You can upgrade later, but for now you just need something to shoot scenes with.
Put together a film crew.It’s nearly impossible to create a documentary all by yourself. You will at least need a subject for your film, and likely a scriptwriter, director, producer, camera operator, gaffer (in charge of lighting), boom mic operator, and editor.
Shoot your documentary.Once you have a plan for you documentary, the proper equipment, and a film crew, you are ready to begin filming your documentary. Set a specific shooting schedule, and be sure to stick to it. Organization is key for getting your film completed and keeping your crew happy.
Edit your work.This is an important step, as the finished product comes after a lot of work editing the documentary. You can do this yourself, or choose someone else to edit your film. There is software available, like Final Cut and Adobe Premier Pro, to help you make the best documentary possible.
Promote your finished product.Submitting your documentary to a local festival is the best way to start. Ask your local library or auditorium if you can show your film, then invite as many people as you can to watch it. You can also sign up for documentary filmmaking contests and post your film on social media and sites like YouTube and Vimeo.
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