Posted by – March 27, 2009

Hey all –

Jim has invited me to take the lead on a video documenting the filmmaking process of ‘Ghosts With Shit Jobs’ (I will also be involved in the main production in some capacity or other).

I’ve worked on several documentaries in the past and have a few ideas about how to do this. It’s still pretty embryonic but I wanted to share some thoughts and encourage people to think about this aspect of the production as things move forward.

First of all, I am NOT interested in making what I would describe as an interview-led documentary. This doesn’t mean that there will be no interviews; it does mean that interviews would take a back seat to footage drawn from actual unstaged incident and interaction, on set and behind the scenes. This requires a greater amount of shooting, less predetermination of content and more involved editing. Very roughly speaking, it steers the project toward cinematic documentary traditions and away from television models.

It also requires a greater amount of indulgence and consent from cast and crew as subjects. The model only really works under what I’ll describe as a ‘negative option’ consent arrangement – that is, you can ask the camera person to stop filming, but barring this, all on-set happenings are considered fair game. In exchange it would be understood that the documentary cameraperson’s presence will not be physically disruptive, and that the approach of the documentary will be respectful. In short, it requires trust on both sides

To pursue this, then, I would require a generalized consent policy that the production as a whole can endorse; so I hope you have time to discuss this and arrive at some conclusions at the meeting on the 5th.

The other thing that needs to be said is that I will not be present for every day of the shoot, and you never know when something interesting is going to happen; so I would be interested in working out a protocol which would allow other cast and crew to pick up the documentarian role in my absence. More broadly, it would be great if a general consciousness of the documentary pervaded the overall production, so that, for instance, the feature cameraperson might roll camera during rehearsal to capture that process, or individuals with something to say might feel at liberty to request an interview or even tape themselves.

The issue of documentation in my absence comes up immediately in the context of the meeting on the 5th. This meeting will be key to the evolution of the overall project, and it would be a great loss to the documentary if it weren’t recorded in some way. And I’ll be on an airplane!! I’d appreciate any help anyone can offer in documenting this meeting – even a (clean) audio-only documentation if video would make folks uncomfortable at this juncture.

If anyone is prepared to take the lead on the latter, please let me know. And if folks feel that this initiative calls for a special ‘documentary’ skill-share, I’m happy to facilitate that as well. Otherwise, please share any thoughts you might have on this idea.

2 Comments on Documentary

  1. Flick says:

    Sorry I’ve been absent on the list – I’m travelling a lot these days.

    I’m doing some teaching for the Pacific Cinematheque – my employment contract includes a waiver / release for my image etc for the documentation of the project. Perhaps it’s something we could include in the contract? Of course, for actors, this might prove trickier, as they have their own protocols for release forms, but even ACTRA (which we’re not using) has specific exceptions for promotional / behind the scenes videos.

    I’ve shot a lot of behind the scenes stuff – most of it interview-led. ;0)
    The biggest danger of not using interviews is that nothing exciting happens in front of the camera, and you’re left with mundane footage of just making a film…

    I just colour-corrected this film, perhaps the ultimate example of that problem, which then became a bit of a festival darling in its own right:

    Shot in three days that the filmmaker was on set as an actor, by a guy who had just bought his first handicam, and was using video for the first time…

    The trailer, I think sums up the conundrum nicely.

  2. Jim says:

    That’s a good point re: releases. I’ve been advised to have the general release (which includes doc stuff) separate from the contract Dave posted.

    I agree that if the shooting goes smoothly, simply documenting the process might not be that engaging. But if interviews were also shot — and I really like the idea that crew could initiate an interview, if they think of something interesting to say — then I think the bases would be covered.

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