Tips and Tricks to Get What You Need For Your Documentary
IDA Documentary and Film Courage joined forces to make available the conversation that took place during DOC U with documentary filmmakers Ondi Timoner, David Weissman and Kirby Dick about the art of the interview.
For having worked on a documentary and having been on the other side of the camera for one, I can only say that documentary is an underestimated genre and that more time during festivals or during the Oscar race (looking at your THR) should be spend sharing tips about it and dissecting its craft. I am happy to see it being so successful in the last few years, thanks to creative filmmakers who have pushed the boundaries of narration and hopefully its time for wide recognition will come soon.
Although it always seems obvious when watching a good/great documentary that this was the right way to go to tell its story, when you start working on one, the task can quickly feel daunting. For one documentary made, I wonder how many have been abandoned in drawers and now lay with dust and tears in a closed drawer.
Knowing what and when to shoot, capturing the right moments, defining and limiting your subject (probably the trickiest part of all), conducting successful interviews and knowing when to say stop, these are some of the many elements that need to be mastered by the filmmaker and his/her team for the documentary to make sense and reach an audience.
Unlike narratives, each documentary has a unique recipe and particular ingredients, which is what makes this genre so exciting at the moment. (That and the fact that narratives overall regress towards remakes, franchise and adaptations while life keeps moving forward, feeding documentaries with new and unbelievable stories)
Here are some of the points the three directors come across during this “30 minute conversation”:
- How to get the interviewees to say what needs to be captured
- Pre-interviewing or Not
- How do you gain the trust of the interviewees
- When to interact and when to go for ‘verite’ style
- The most interesting place to interact with people
- Conducting interviews
- About capturing subjects interactions and still getting what you want
- Finding balance between following an outline and capturing the moment organically
Unfortunately the questions were cut out and probably other elements too, which takes out of the experience, but listening to the (only) two times Sundance Grand Jury winner (Timoner) or one of the 2011 Oscar-short listed documentary filmmaker (Weissman) make up for it.
I am not familiar with Dick’s work yet, but I am a huge fan of Timoner’s DIG and We Live in Public, and I had the chance to watch Weissman’s We Were Here at Sundance this year, that I loved (but made me cry six months worth of tears, beware).
If you haven’t seen their work yet, I can only recommend you to have a look, it will only emphasize more how wonderful it is to listen to these established filmmakers sharing how they work to obtain what is on screen.