MAKING A LOW BUDGET DOCUMENTARY

After starting my videography business a year ago,  I knew at some point I would love to try my hand at making a short documentary. If you are at the beginning stages of making your documentary,  I really hope you read this post and avoid some of the challenges I faced. As my documentary - Young, Gifted and Grinding was not commissioned and was purely a passion project, all the money to make it came straight from my pocket, so I hope it gives you a few ideas on how you can save some pennies here and there, as well as lots of time.

This post is all about pre-production and production but stayed tuned for a post all about post-production, which I will entitle AUDIO ISSUES!

 

 

 

1. Finding Contributors

Unless you have special access or a personal relationship with your contributors, it may be hard for you to even get them to read your emails. Don't take this personal. People are busy but depending on how important you think this contributor will be to your film, depends on how far you are willing to go to get there attention.

Solution

Always start with an email or if they have a contact number on their website even better. Keep emails short and if you can, put a link to some of your previous work and why you think they specifically would make a great addition to your documentary. If people don't get back to you within a week, you can then opt for the 'Nothing to Lose' approach. For me this involves the following.

  • Direct message on Instagram and comment on their most recent picture on Instagram
  • Direct message on Twitter and @ them on Twitter
  • Message them on Facebook
  • Attend an event that you know they will be at (this worked for me)

 

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2. Finding a Studio

Most of my contributors were from London and finding a studio in London can be pricey. You may decide to do all your interviews on location, which will mean you don't need a studio at all. Some of the studios I found ranged from £100 for 12 hours to £500 for one hour!

Solution

Make sure you get in touch over the phone with whatever studio you go for, detailing exactly what you expect. If they state on their website what equipment they have, make sure that this is reiterated over the phone. Is their room soundproof? Is there a room for the contributors to get ready. As you are probably trying to save money, a good place to start looking for studios is on Gumtree and a plain white or black room will suffice. You also have the option of doing purely location interviews, which I would recommend, especially if the locations relate to your contributor i.e - interviewing a hairdresser in a hair salon. 

3. Finding Accommodation

If your documentary means that you will be travelling and needing to find accommodation over night then please listen carefully. If you can, STAY WITH A FRIEND. As you probably already know, videography equipment can be super expensive and staying in a hostel can not be the best option. As you are on a tight budget, a hotel may not be an option. I ended up staying in a hostel that cost £10 a night but had great reviews. The hostel was dirty, had ants, black mould and the showers sometimes didn't work.

Solution

I would not recommend staying in a hostel if you have a large amount of equipment but if I had gone for more expensive accommodation, I wouldn't have been able to budget in all my required studio days. Although I wouldn't do it again, I'm glad I did it. Air BnB could also be an option for you. Check as many reviews as you can about where you will be staying. Bring multiple locks so you can store your equipment away and if the place doesn't have lockers, don't even think about it!

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4. Travelling with Equipment

Video equipment can be very heavy. If you have a car that is ideal. If not, keep your equipment to a minimum. After 3 days of location interviews and travelling around London on public transport for over 6 hours in one day, I was absolutely knackered and my back was in a lot of pain.

Solution

Will there be natural light available on location, meaning you can take one less light? Make sure to have at least one other person helping you film, especially for location interviews and if you are using public transport. Try not to spread yourself too thin. The aim is to try and make it as easy on yourself as possible, because it will not be easy either way. 

5.Interview Length

The ideal interview slot was two hours. This gave me enough time to delve into a topic with a contributor and also go off script if something interesting came up. Two hours also allowed time to capture B roll footage and cut-aways. Sometimes contributors didn't have much time to spare but I interviewed them all the same in the hopes that they may have ended up being able to stay longer.

Solution

Make sure the main contributors for your film can make an allocated interview slot. Sometimes you do have to wing it and hope for the best. Sometimes I was told I had 20 minutes with someone and found myself finishing the interview three hours later. Doodle Poll is a great way for contributors to choose their own interview slots.

6. People Being Late

People who are helping you out with documentary are probably not being paid, so just keep that in mind. Try to do what you can for them by paying for their travel and providing food. With that out of the way, I do believe some people are chronically late and it can really slow down the production and be a horrible start to the day.

Solution

Always opt for someone who is reliable over someone who is creative but chronically late. When someone is literally not there, then nothing else about them is important as they are not there. Their creativity, humour, logic or kindness is irrelevant because they are absent. This can be catastrophic for a production on a budget. Work with friends you can rely on or post your project on groups like Project Noir where you can ask for volunteers and receive people's CV's.

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7. Audio Issues

Audio is one of those things that you don't notice when it is done well but is glaringly obvious when it is done poorly. Remember that people move around while they are talking and this can knock lapel mics out of place causing them to rustle and rub on people's clothing or skin. THIS IS A NIGHTMARE.

Solution

Keep an eye on your audio. Feel free to stop interviews to check that nothing is amiss and if possible try allocate sound to someone who can have headphones on that are attached to the recording device.  Always have a back up mic recording as well as the lapel mic. I had a rode mic attached to the camera. The sound isn't as good but it is still usable and can be improved with audio equipment such as Audacity or Adobe Audition. 

8. Backing up Footage

The thought of footage getting deleted or formatted scares me to my core! Remember that it is not just footage but your time, other people's time, hard work and money that is lost too! Luckily this didn't happen. Remember that when it comes to footage, you can never be too safe.

Solution

Make sure to back up footage as and when you can. Create a system to back up footage and folders on your computer that anyone would understand (film date, filming time and location, name of contributor interviewed, camera number). I would also try to back up all files onto two hard drives. Ideally you will have enough SD cards that you don't have to delete footgae from your SD cards until the project is complete but depending on your project length, this may not be possible. I had about 14 64gb and used them all in under 2 days!

My documentary - Young, Gifted and Grinding

great articles here about equipment and videography

http://documentarycameras.com/how-to-make-a-low-budget-documentary-film/

http://documentarycameras.com/best-cheap-documentary-camera-filmmaking/

https://www.desktop-documentaries.com/video-production-equipment.html