Desiring to move up from short videos to the documentary format we have been searching for a book that would layout the basics of documentary making. We found the Shut up and Shoot Documentary Guide on Amazon. It turned out to be the very book we were looking for. We both read it, from cover to cover and feel a lot more knowledgeable already. Our next steps will be to shop for a few more tools (basically we’re still out of a light kit) and practice setting up in the most usual situations (day light, interior light, low light, etc) while we work on getting one of our documentaries ideas going.
The author, Anthony Artis, has 15 years of experience in video making. He knows what he is talking about. But what makes the book stand out is his obvious love for teaching and passing on knowledge. He obviously enjoys sharing what he so hardly learnt himself, often by trial and error. By doing so, he spares the rest of us a lot of failures and wasted time. The book is also as exhaustive as can be covering all the steps from the pre production to the promotion and distrubition. If you feel these pages will not be of interest to you, we found out that there were as important and as rich in information as the ones about more technical phases of the project. The post-production is the only area the book doesn’t cover in such details. It is assumed that the documentary maker will either already be a competent editor himself or hire someoen to handle the technical aspect of it.
I must also add that the book is well presented and enjoyable to read. The illustrations are well picked and very explantaory. A lot of effort was also put into the preparation of sum up pages, almost cheat sheets, ready to turn into a quick reference book when in a tight spot. A double page for example details all the steps in getting your sound mixer up and running or the do’s and don’t's in low light situation. I’m currently working on an electronic document gathering some of these quick tips and cheat sheets for us to carry around at all times as well as a clear and explanatory shopping list since we try to pick up the geatest tools when the need arises. Our latest acquisition was a shotgun mic that I think we picked well. We will soon be looking for a light kit.
What you will find in the book:
- how to research your documentary subject
- how to apply for funds either from private people or from orgaisations
- where to look for a crew and how to pick it
- select locations (private or public)
- select an equipment package and draw up a budget
- image control and camera work
- video lighting
- sound recording and mixing
- how to conduct a crew on set
- conduct an interview
- prepare a subject (wardrobe/makeup)
- finding the right combination for your post production
- promoting the movie (both online and through festivals)
and a lot more valuable knowledge and tips like how to deal with archive footage centers, interviewee walking out on you, insuring a location for shooting, and so much more. Actually, Anthony himself sum up his book and his intentions on his website, see for yourself what this is all about.
Down and Dirty DV
Anthony Artis, the author, is also the webmaster of downanddirtydv.com, a website, blog and newsletter about guerilla filmmaking I recommend you to visit. The book comes with a DVD full of extra resources for the young filmmaker (release forms, budget templates, cheat sheets and other practical documents). The extra alone are invaluable to young filmmakers who have no idea where to start looking for information like “how to draw up a release form?”.
One last thing
The book is also very well written which makes the read even more enjoyable. The tone is straight forward, and makes you feel like Anthony is speaking directly to you, sharing his errors and the solutions he found to them. And to add even more fun to it, the man also has a good sense of humor. The way he explains not to use dryer sheets as diffusion, from obvious first hand experience, ensures none of his readers will reproduce that mistake. Though i guess that’s the basic of guerilla filmmaking, try to make do with what’s at hand.
If you have a documentary project in mind, you won’t regret reading that book. Good luck to you.
When shooting video or taking photos a clean lenses and filters are a must. Rather you shoot digital or on film, or have consumer or pro camera, you are not immune to the dirty forces of nature. I can tell you, little is more disheartening than coming home from a shoot and finding your images are corrupted by a dirty lens. There is no remedy for this foolish, yet easily avoidable mistake. You can not rely on the view finder or LCD screen, the resolution is just not good enough to show most small smudges.
What is worse than a dirty lens you might ask? Well it is improper or obsessive over cleaning of the lens. Most of the lenses we deal with have a special coating on them which helps reduce flares, or light reflected by the surface of the lens. In addition the coating allows in more light than an uncoated lens. Typically on a glass to air surface 4% of light is naturally reflected away. A coating can bring this level down to about 1%. Lens coatings can usually be noticed by their red-purple or green appearance. Lens coatings can be rubbed away from over cleaning and applying too much pressure on the lens as you clean.
The number one way to have a clean lens is using preventative measures.
- Always use lens caps when not shooting.
- Keep your fingers off the lens.
- Use caution when changing lenses.
Use extra vigilance when shooting outdoors. Dust can come from a plethora of sources. Be especially aware around pollinating trees, salt water, and sandy areas with a lot of wind. For example during our recent vacation in Tunisia, we stopped to take photos at some sand dunes. I step out of the vehicle with my camera in hand ready to take a shot and was immediately blasted by a whirlwind of sand.
Simple dust particles: A little dust on the lens doesn’t really hurt a lot, as the end of the lens will be out of the focal depth of field. Problems could arise though when shooting against a strong light source, where reflections off the dust can intrude. Dust particles can be easily removed with a light brush or air. Avoid using any kind of compressed air cleaners, which could leave a residue on the lens surface. The essential and primary tool for the job is a bulb type air blower. It is simple and easy to use, just avoid contact with the tip of the blower and the lens as to not scratch the lens surface.
For more aggravating dust use a fine brush to gently knock off particles. A great tool that should be in everyone’s equipment bag is a brush style lens pen. They offer a quick and easy method for dust removal as well as other deposits on the lens. One end of the pen will have a retractable brush, the other will have a non liquid based cleaning pad. These gizmos have become extremely popular and are in wide use around the world.
First use the brush tool to remove all abrasive deposits then use the cleaning pad lightly in a circular motion. These pens are usually marketed to clean both lenses and LCDs. I recommend having a different pin for each use. Also these pens can not be cleaned and will have to be replaced from time to time, which is no problem considering how cheap they are. Similar type pens are also used for sensor cleaning, which I will cover in a future post.
Liquid Based Cleaning
Liquid based cleaning methods have long been the standard method and are necessary for stains like grease from your fingers. Apart from the liquid a cloth is also required. Avoid cheap dime store wipes that may be too abrasive. Use a good microfiber cloth specially made for lens cleaning. Before attempting to clean your lens with a liquid and cloth, use a brush to knock off any dust particles. One of the best liquids you can use is your own breath. It contains no chemicals that may eat away at the coating on the the lens. Breath hard on the lens surface leaving a fog of moisture on it. Then using a the microfiber cloth, gently wipe in a circular motion from the center of the lens to the outside(without rubbing). In other words, leave off the elbow grease. If a problem area still exist a stronger cleaning solution will be needed.
Many products exist for lens cleaning. It is important to chose one that will leave no residue on the lens surface, such as those commonly sold for eyeglasses cleaning. One possible solution is pre-moistened cleaning pads especially designed for camera lenses. Use these pads one time and dispose off, they should not be recycled. Your other option is to use a cleaning liquid in conjunction with a dry cloth. The procedure here is the same, just be aware that it only takes a little bit of liquid. A small amount will go a long way and decrease the possibility of leaving any kind of residue on the lens surface.
A full line of top quality cleaning products can be found at the B&H photo and video store. Keeping your lens clean and dust free is one of the most essential parts of coming home from a shoot with usable material. Make a habit of checking your lenses before shooting and periodically throughout. With a little care and proper handling, your lenses can give you years of beneficial service.
Find a movie suiting your mood by asking Jinni.com (beta). Interesting idea
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- In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director.
- Self-plagiarism is style.
- A lot of movies are about life, mine are like a slice of cake.
- There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.
- What is drama but life with the dull bits cut out.
- If it’s a good movie, the sound could go off and the audience would still have a perfectly clear idea of what was going on.
- Actors are cattle.
- I never said all actors are cattle; what I said was all actors should be treated like cattle.
- A good film is when the price of the dinner, the theatre admission and the babysitter were worth it.
- Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.
Once upon a time in the American Midwest there existed a band. They didn’t seem like anything that came before and captured the hearts of fans hungry for an alternative to downward spiral of the music industry. They and called themselves Uncle Tupelo. Named from a drawing of Elvis by a friend, from randomly picked words in the dictionary. The roots of the band were as varied and sporadic as the sound they produced. In their music folk and country are shamelessly intertwined with rock and punk. Though band members might humbly dispute the claim, they have been credited as being the founders of alternative country. Jason Ankeny of allmusic wrote,
“With the release of their 1990 debut LP, No Depression, the Belleville, IL, trio Uncle Tupelo launched more than simply their own career — by fusing the simplicity and honesty of country music with the bracing fury of punk, they kick-started a revolution which reverberated throughout the American underground. Thanks to a successful online site and subsequent fanzine which adopted the album’s name, the tag “No Depression” became a catch-all for the like-minded artists who, along with Tupelo, signaled alternative rock’s return to its country roots — at much the same time, ironically enough, that Nashville was itself embracing the slick gloss associated with mainstream rock and pop.”
The original lineup consisted of Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy, and Michael Heidorn. The band would be managed by Tony Margherita, who met Jeff when he worked in a record store in St. Louis. Between 1987 and 1994 the band would embed itself in music history, though without knowing commercial success. Four albums were recorded: No Depression (1990), Still Feel Gone (1991), March 16-20 (1992), and Anodyne (1993). 89/93: An Anthology was released in 2002 as a retrospective of the band’s work. As the Band grew, so did that of the alternative rock scene. Rather than being associated with the MTV frenzy and commercialization of ‘anti-commercialization’, they dug deeper into the roots of country and folk. The band would grow in members as well. Future members would include Bill Belzer who replaced Heidorn, who was then replaced by Ken Coomer. Max Johnston and John Stirratt would also being added to the band, giving them a much richer musical range. With their increasing artistic developments, so did come tensions between Farrar and Tweedy. Eventually Farrar would leave the band and form Son Volt. Jeff Tweedy would take the remaining members to form Wilco with Margherita as manager..
Wilco “I will comply” in CB jargon, would release their first album A.M. in 1995. The album featured Brian Henneman on guitar, a long time friend and collaborator with Uncle Tupelo. Though the album didn’t receive commercial success or many favorable reviews, I always felt it was underrated and an essential step of closure in Tweedy’s breakaway from being labeled. With labels come limitations, through the years Wilco has proved itself to be above categorization. When you think of Wilco, you have to think of Tweedy. He is the heart, soul and leading visionary. Their evolution as a band is like any true artist, growing and experimenting through the years. Rather it be in the style of Boy Dylan or Pablo Picasso, Tweedy is reaching out to expression.
After A.M. would come multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett, Bob Egan, and the departure of Johnston. As a guitarist and keyboardist, Bennett brought a new dimension to the sound Wilco was trying to create. The next album, Being There (1996) showed the most significant step in Wilco’s development. The album began to stray from the Uncle Tupelo sound with a harder edge and experimental dive, both musically and lyrically. Another important aspect is that Tweedy convinced Reprise Records to sell the double album set at a single album price. In so doing, the band lost their share of royalties. Though this decision might seem foolish to the business minded, it was a beginning of a special relationship with their fan base. In later years similar actions would fortify them as a band of destiny.
Wilco now had credibility and a life of its own outside of Uncle Tupelo. The next album to be released would be Mermaid Avenue (1998), collection of unknown Woody Guthrie lyrics. The album was a collaboration with Billy Bragg. Guthrie’s daughter, Nora, requested that Bragg put the songs to music. Bragg, being a fan of Wilco, convinced them to participate in the project. The album is a milestone in music history, putting Woody Guthrie in perspective to a whole new generation. The story of this collaboration is documented in Kim Hopkins film Man In The Sand (1999). After Mermaid Avenue Egan would be replaced by Leroy Bach. Simultaneously, Wilco was working on their third album. Summer Teeth (1999) would produce yet a whole new sound, strong and depressing lyrics and rich in overdubbing. After completion would come the second installment to the Woody Guthrie Project Mermaid Avenue Vol II.
During this time Tweedy was also branching out to other collaborations. By this time, Tweedy’s song writing prowess had risen to a level beyond that of the ordinary. I first heard him on the Golden Smog album Down By The Old Mainstream (1996), which lead me to Wilco. He then appeared on the following album Weird Tales (1998). He would join again with Golden Smog in 2005 on Another Fine Day. Tweedy would also do the soundtrack for Ethan Hawke’s 2001 film Chelsea Walls. After another collaboration, with Jim O’Rourke in 2000, the direction of Wilco would change once again. O’Rourke introduced drummer Glenn Kotche to Tweedy. An immediate friendship and compatibility emerged. The trio performed as Loose Fur, with the self titled album Loose Fur (2003) and then Born Again In The USA (2006).
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) would be the album that put Wilco over the top. Kotche was brought into the band on drums, replacing Coomer. During production, tensions in the band began to grow with Bennett and Tweedy’s artistic vision for the band. Bennett would then be fired after the album was completed. When the album was finished came what what could have been devastating blow to the band. Reprise records dropped the album and the band. Fortunately Wilco was able to leave with a finished album in hand. This produced an incredible freedom in how the Band could enter the next stage of its development. Remarkably this whole incident was captured for prosperity in Sam Jones Documentry I Am Trying To Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco (2003).
During the time between labels, Wilco made a bold move. During a time when online downloading of music was soaring, the music industry was in panic mode. Rather by legal action or other, they were gunning down music lovers. Artist like Metallica battled Napster, bringing down a community of 26.4 million users. Wilco took a different approach. Fans were eagerly awaiting the new album, that was now in delay, the band took the decision to stream it from their website for free. The fans loved them for it. When Wilco finally signed with Nonesuch Records, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot became the band’s best selling album. Ironically enough, Reprise and Nonesuch are both subsidiaries of Warner Brothers. So basically in the end, Warner Brothers bought the album twice. Before the release of the album Wilco would collaborate with Scott McCaughey on the Minus 5′s Down with Wilco (2003).
The following album, A Ghost Is Born (2004), once again experimented and explored musical possibilities. The songs were created first with Pro Tools, before being performed live. Again the album would be streamed free online before the actual release. Bach would leave the band to pursue other interest, making way for the current lineup. Jeff Tweedy (lead singer, guitar), John Stirratt (bass), and Glenn Kotche (percussion) were joined by Mikael Jorgensen (Piano), Nels Cline (Guitar), and Pat Sansone (multi-instrumental). The new lineup debuted with the album Kicking Television: Live In Chicago (2005). Ever since the beginning days of Wilco, Tweedy would embark on solo tours with acoustic guitar and harmonica in hand. In 2006 the film Jeff Tweedy – Sunken Treasure – Live in the Pacific Northwest was released. It displays the special nature of his solo performances, which put the music of Wilco into a whole different light.
The next album Sky Blue Sky (2007) would show a whole new collaboration and arrangement of the members talents. Yet again Wilco streamed the album prior to release and even offered a free MP3 download with the song What Light. The album sold an amazing 87,000 copies in the first week alone. The latest installment in the Wilco catalog is Wilco (The Album) (2009), again streamed from their website prior to release. The album has already produced their first #1 spot in the charts with the single You Never Know.
To date Wilco has won 2 Grammy awards and 2 nominations. Mermaid Avenue was nominated for Best Contemporary Folk Album. A Ghost is Born won Best Alternative Music Album and Best Recording Package. Sky Blue Sky was nominated for Best Rock Album. Their success is nothing less than hard work and commitment to artistic expression mixed with a rare relationship with their fan base. I was lucky enough to meet the current lineup and attend the sound check during a show here in Paris a few years ago. Despite their fame and success, they are very approachable and generous. The true highlight of Wilco as a band is seeing them live. The unique manner in which Tweedy and the crowd interact is reminiscent of smokey bar room nights like those in Saint Louis when Uncle Tupelo plowed the grounds of musical development. Check out the official Wilco website wilcoworld.net for more information on the band and to listen to their albums.