As per many media outlets, this is the golden age for documentaries. With the popularity of online streaming, this genre is becoming all the more accessible to viewers. Documentary filmmaking is comparatively straightforward, and allows people with an outlet to touch on the conflicts, events, places and people they are passionate about. A short documentary is, in fact, a great place to start for anyone interested in getting into film production. Even Bruce Weber started out his journey in filmmaking with a feature documentary that went on to be nominated for the Grand Jury Award at Sundance in 1988.
Viewers have been drawn to documentaries more than ever before in the last few years. This increase in viewership also demands greater standards for style and storytelling from filmmakers. No matter whether a person creates short or feature length documentaries, the following basic tips can be helpful in brushing up their production skills:
- Use subtle movement: In documentaries, interviews often take a substantial portion of the screen time. They are not only extremely important, but also a great component to flex the creative muscles. Interview footage can often be tricky in the editing room. Choosing to keep the headshot and risk losing the momentum or cover the interview with a b-roll is at times a tough call. Usage of sliders while interviewing the subject can prevent the story from falling flat and help in drawing viewers to the footage.
- Feature interesting personalities: A documentary can significantly stand out by incorporating interesting individuals who can add depth to it. Personalities whose choices, conflicts and lives can elevate the value of the documentary should be selected.
- Use multiple camera angles: One should try to keep their options open in the editing room by opting to film with several cameras. This shall not only aid in grabbing diverse angles for each shot, but might also be helpful if the subject is not highly eloquent on the screen. Multiple camera angles make verbal tics and pause much more manageable. Moreover, capturing a profile shot or setting a second camera at a 45° angle from head-on can add more dimension and intimacy to the subject, while improving the overall look and feel of the documentary.
The simple tips underlined above can be quite helpful for anyone making their first documentary. The cinematic journey of Bruce Weber began when he met Andy Minsker, a young boxer from Oregon, while photographing the Olympic hopefuls for Interview in 1984. After interviewing him, he intended to make a short to accompany an exhibition he was opening in Paris. However, later on, Bruce became quite excited while reviewing the dailies and decided to continue the story by making a feature documentary called the Broken Noses (1987). Subsequent to completing this documentary, he met the legendary jazz trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker and began filming him, with a mind to creating a short film based on their portrait sitting.