The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide

August 31, 2009 by Samantha Halfon · 4 Comments
Filed under: Filming 


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, 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.

Buy Now

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DIY: Camera Shoulder Rest – Part 2

June 22, 2009 by Derrick Faw · 3 Comments
Filed under: Equipment 

Several people have requested that I give a better explanation of how to construct our Camera Shoulder Rest. It has been several years since I built the device, but I will try to explain the best I can out of memory.

The frame was constructed of flattened steal. I bough a piece with pre-drilled holes. I cut the steal into two pieces, one being the camera arm and the other for the shoulder support. The shoulder support was then bent in a curved shape. Be sure to allow plenty of extra space for the padding to be added later.

The camera arm was then attached to the shoulder support with a nut and bolt. To give added support to the arm, I was able to find a curved bracket and bolted it between the camera arm and shoulder rest. The device is now ready to paint.

The handle was made from a small rubber-handled plastic flashlight. The light head was cut off using a hacksaw. Then with a long bolt and washers it can be fixed to the end of the camera arm.

I purchased some padding from a cloth shop and fashioned it around the shoulder support. Then secured it with needle and thread. Now with some cloth I sewed a sleeve that would fit around the shoulder support. This process proved to be very difficult. In hindsight it may have been easier to fix the padding and sleeve before bending and attaching the shoulder support the camera arm.

To make the design hands free I had to devise a belt system. I used nylon strapping that can be found in most hardware stores or cloth shops. On each end of the shoulder rest I made a loop, similar to a belt loop. After this another strap can be threaded through the loops to act as a belt around the wearers chest. A plastic buckle was used to fastened the belt around the chest. It also allows for easy adjustment. This will hold the camera rest down on the shoulder. To keep it from sliding off and making it a totally hands free design another strap was used. It was attached near the top of the curve of the shoulder support and running diagonally across the back, then attached to the belt strap.

The last step is to fix a method of attaching the camera to the camera arm. I used an extra plate from quick release tripod mount, then with a bolt and wing nut it can be moved and removed easily. I provided a diagram below to hopefully illustrate my design and meanings better.


I would like to add that there are also several good camera rest available for purchase for those not wanting to attempt your own model. Use the link below for a nice selection from B&H.

BH Photo Camera RestS-800 Super Pro Shoulder Support

Last Night Filming at chezGrace

December 19, 2008 by Samantha Halfon · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Arts, Filming 

We’ve filmed vernissages at chezGrace several times over the past three years and as time went by we learned a few business tricks.

At first, Grace’s attention was with the attendance. She loved videos showing that several various people came and enjoyed the show. As time went by, the main subject of these short videos became the artist and his works. Of course, we also film the visitors, especially visitors contemplating and commenting on the works. Eventually it evolved into a combination of the two.

Nassim Al Amin - chez Grace

Nassim Al Amin - Caméra Cachée

I really enjoy filming the artwork in motion, moving in and outside of the piece if it’s a canvas and around it if it’s a sculpture. When used with care during editing, it can produce a great effect in the final product. If we just want to use a frontal shot of the work, we usually rely on a photo shot instead of video. The photo shot is easier to reframe or color correct later. Also, for a frontal shot to work, the video camera needs to be perfectly still for four seconds. So, for four seconds, no one can enter your frame. This is easier said than done when filming a live event.

Filming the artworks can be teadious especially if they are framed in glass. A polarized filter on the photo camera has been our best solution so far.

The second difficulty is to interact with people. First, I usually try to let them know that they’re are in the frame. I make sure they are aware of my presence and that I’m filming. I pay attention to their reaction. At the least sign of embarassement, I’ll stop filming and go ask them if it is a problem. If someone says he or she doesn’t want to be filmed, I won’t point the camera their way again and if ever they are in the frame, I’ll cut out the shot. This is actually very rare. Most people agree to be filmed. I often reassure people and tell them we’ll edit the footage and take out everything inapropriate so they shoudln’t worry. Surprisingly, few ask what the video is for. I usually go ahead and tell them because they are even more cooperative when they realize the video is only to promote the artist and Grace.

We do not ask people to act. We try and capture the fun moments of the evening. One thing I have learned though, was to recognize the people that are really confortable around the camera. They will usually accept, if asked, to repeat something they just did that I might have missed. We also get a lot of cooperation from the artist (after all, he or she is the one who will benefit from the video). We’ll often ask the artist to be filmed in front of his works or around his friends and also, a necessary shot each time, with the host of the exhibition.


Nassim Al Amin

As I’ve said, we do not direct people, they are visitors and we are only covering the evnt. We have to capture moments and try not to get in people’s way. One thing we can do though, is give our input beforehand. For example, changes in the lighting or move some furniture around. An important thing we discvoered was that the cocktails should not be in the main exhibition room.This creates a huge gathering around it that makes it difficult to film. Shots of people eating or drinking are really not what you want in this type of video. If the cocktails are placed too close to the exhibition space, you will always have someone eating or drinking in your frame.

Filming a live event like this is an interesting exercice. On one hand, the creative part is limited: we don’t direct people or prepare shots. But, on the other hand, we learn to react quickly, to adjust and to observe. A lot of the work is done in the preparation. You have to always be ready to catch a good moment. You need the right equipment for the job. It should be light and efficient. Also, it’s a great occasion to practice and see what does and doesn’t work.

Filming in Widescreen

December 7, 2008 by Samantha Halfon · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Equipment, Filming 

Yesterday we filmed an exhibition opening at an art gallery in Montmartre, Paris. As i mentioned in an earlier post, I intended to film in Wide Screen (16:9) for the first time. Our camera, the Canon GL2, offers two options to film in Wide Screen:

  • The first option is to display two lines (one of top, one of the bottom) showing the limit of the 16:9 frame. You can then film in 4:3 and, when post-producing, generate a 4:3 version and/or a 16:9 version. If you respected the lines while filming and framed making sure that no important information was outside the limit, both versions will be OK.
What you see in the viewfinder

What you see in the viewfinder

The resulting 4/3 image

The resulting squared ratio image

The resulting 16/9 image

The resulting wide image

  • The second option is to modify the aspect ratio and film in 16:9. In that case, in the viewfinder, you will see what you are framing but resized to a 4:3 ratio. It will make everything look squeezed and distorted but when played back in the correct ratio, the image will be perfect. While you film, you can rely on what is and what is not in the frame which is the strong point. The weak point of course is that everything you see through the view finder is deformed by the 4:3 ratio.
The image as seen in the viewfinder

The image as seen in the squared viewfinder

The same image as seen in the widescreen movie

The image as seen in the resulting wide screen movie

As this was my first time filming with that ratio, I expected difficulties framing but it actually came naturally. The only thing that disturbed me at first was that I had to place myself a little bit further away from a painting to film it entirely since, to film 16:9, the camera has to blow everything up a little bit. I quickly adjusted to that and all my instincts fell back into place.

As for what the ratio brings, well, it enables to put more characters or more action in the frame which brings more depth, more life to the images. It also looks more like the movies we’re now used to and I think it is now a necessary thing for video makers to do. We just can not afford to keep using 4:3 when everything else people watch is shot wide. At no point did I feel like I missed the 4:3 ratio, I doubt I will be going back.

Please don’t hesitate to comment on your experience if you already switch to 16:9, let us know why and when you switched and what you like and dislike about this ratio.

The Camera Makes The Difference

November 26, 2008 by Derrick Faw · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Equipment 

Up until this fall we have shooting footage with a basic JVC Mini-DV camcorder. All and all, it served us very well as we were starting out filming artist and vernissages. Maybe by disaster or fortune, it finally bit the dust and forced us to invest in another camera. We had longed talk about needing a better camera and advancing in our work in video, so it did not take us long to decide we needed more of a professional camera. The big question for us was rather to make the switch to HD. After toiling over the question for weeks and hours of research the decision was conclusive that we invest in the best camera for the money we could spend and wait for the prices of HD cameras to become more reasonable. The primary reason we decided against HD was that a professional grade camera was out of our price range. We could of easily bought a lower end model, but none available appealed to our needs. Many people today are on the HD craze it seems but fail to realize that unless you distribute your media via Blu-ray disc there really isn’t any advantaged gained. We also had issues of features, accessories, and appearance. We wanted something to give us the most advantages when filming and also it had to look professional.

Canon GL2

So now we had to chose from several great DV cameras on the market, after many Google searches, reading reviews, eBay and Amazon watching, we finally we found the Canon GL2. It is a wonderful camera with excellent optics and processing. From everything I’ve read it has become the industry standard for professional video capturing, especially amongst documentary makers. There is no need for me to go into a lengthy discussion of all the specifications and features of this camera, as it can be found on dozens of websites. I will say though we are excited about this camera feel like our money was well spent, and most of all we are ready to put this thing to work!