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The Mechanics of Documentary Storytelling


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Documentary making and editing tips

The Mechanics of Documentary Storytelling

  1. 1. The Mechanics of Documentary Storytelling Andy Carvin [email_address]
  2. 2. What We’re Gonna Talk About <ul><li>Story structure </li></ul><ul><li>Video technique </li></ul><ul><li>Scripting technique </li></ul><ul><li>Editing technique </li></ul>
  3. 3. Story Structure: 3 Parts <ul><li>The Tease </li></ul><ul><li>The Body </li></ul><ul><li>The Conclusion </li></ul>
  4. 4. The Tease <ul><li>Allows viewer to focus on what the film is about </li></ul><ul><li>Introduces one or more principal characters </li></ul><ul><li>Establishes setting/location critical to the story </li></ul><ul><li>Presents a conflict/set up a problem/asks a question </li></ul><ul><li>Sets the tone for the film </li></ul><ul><li>Sucks in the audience - hopefully </li></ul>
  5. 5. The Body <ul><li>The main plot; the meat of the story </li></ul><ul><li>Get to know the characters, what they're doing and why they’re doing it </li></ul><ul><li>See the action unfold </li></ul><ul><li>The body usually makes up 80% of a documentary </li></ul>
  6. 6. The Conclusion <ul><li>Wrapping up, giving closure </li></ul><ul><li>Recaps point of story </li></ul><ul><li>Whatever you promised or asked in your tease needs to have been delivered </li></ul>
  7. 7. Example 1: The Soccer Match <ul><li>Tease: Meet Sarah, the team captain; </li></ul><ul><li>Former county champs, going through a rough patch </li></ul><ul><li>About to compete against current champions </li></ul><ul><li>Body: Get to know the team; what are their strengths? </li></ul><ul><li>What challenges do they face? </li></ul><ul><li>Experience leadership of coach, individual members </li></ul><ul><li>Climax: Match vs the champs. What happens? Who wins? </li></ul><ul><li>Conclusion : Reactions of the captain and team mates </li></ul><ul><li>How did the experience change them? </li></ul>
  8. 8. Example 2: The Boardwalk <ul><li>Tease: Establishing shot of boardwalk, montage of activity; </li></ul><ul><li>ask what the boardwalk means to Atlantic City </li></ul><ul><li>Body: History of the boardwalk; archival footage from </li></ul><ul><li>library, old postcards; interviews with community members, </li></ul><ul><li>parents, grandparents; today’s boardwalk </li></ul><ul><li>Conclusion: Summarize its history; next generation of kids </li></ul><ul><li>growing up here; continuity of boardwalk in the life of the </li></ul><ul><li>city; end with grandfather and grandkid strolling into sunset </li></ul>
  9. 9. Video Technique <ul><li>Footage must always serve the story </li></ul><ul><li>Establishing shot: wide view providing context </li></ul><ul><li>(think sitcoms: Outdoor shot of Cheers, Seinfeld restaurant, Friends apartment in NYC) </li></ul><ul><li>Interviews: typically head and shoulder shot - close, but not too close. </li></ul><ul><li>Zooming in for intimacy, intensity </li></ul><ul><li>Zoom forces viewer to focus on something </li></ul>
  10. 10. Video Technique, Continued <ul><li>Wider shots to see interview subject in context of a particular situation </li></ul><ul><li>Odd angles add intensity (&quot;God shot,&quot; MTV shot) </li></ul><ul><li>Action style, keeping things moving: either characters move or the camera moves </li></ul><ul><li>Lots of “talking heads” feels like TV journalism </li></ul><ul><li>Shooting same thing from as many angles as possible - creates more editing options </li></ul>
  11. 11. Scripting Technique <ul><li>Script follows your story structure: </li></ul><ul><li>Beginning, middle, end </li></ul><ul><li>(Sounds obvious but not always easy) </li></ul><ul><li>Uses at least one of two elements: </li></ul><ul><li>Narrator voice and character voice </li></ul><ul><li>Most documentaries use both </li></ul>
  12. 12. Script Narration and POV <ul><li>Narration always has a point of view </li></ul><ul><li>Third-Person Narrator </li></ul><ul><li>(narrator never seen, just heard; disinterested) </li></ul><ul><li>Self-injected narrator (seen, but not in plot - 60 Minutes, TV journalism, Michael Moore) </li></ul><ul><li>Character narrator (”I’m Priscilla Presley, and this is our family’s story...&quot;) </li></ul><ul><li>No narration: characters speak for themselves </li></ul><ul><li>Example: Riding the Rails </li></ul>
  13. 13. Scripts are heard, not read <ul><li>Narration isn't literature - it's oral, conversational </li></ul><ul><li>&quot;If a three-syllable word can be said in a one-syllable word, change it!&quot; </li></ul><ul><li>- Nat Geo scriptwriter John Goodman </li></ul><ul><li>Tone of narration shouldn't vary during the documentary </li></ul><ul><li>Multiple narrators don’t always work </li></ul><ul><li>Use lots of action verbs - avoid overuse of descriptive adjectives and adverbs. </li></ul><ul><li>Let the visuals be your adjectives </li></ul>
  14. 14. Editing Technique: Music <ul><li>Music can be a powerful element </li></ul><ul><li>It’s often a character in its own right </li></ul><ul><li>Example: Beach Clip </li></ul>
  15. 15. Editing Technique: Pacing <ul><li>Pacing of edits affects the tone </li></ul><ul><li>Faster edits picks up the pace, but requires more footage! </li></ul><ul><li>Slower edits means slower pace, but you get to milk your footage </li></ul><ul><li>Example: Parade Clip </li></ul>
  16. 16. Editing Technique: A-Roll vs. B-Roll <ul><li>A-Roll: your primary footage (interview subjects in particular) </li></ul><ul><li>B-Roll: secondary footage used to support interview or narration, also used to cover errors like “jump cuts” </li></ul><ul><li>A-Roll is melody, B-Roll harmony </li></ul><ul><li>When editing, you generally go back and forth </li></ul><ul><li>A-Roll of soccer match - B-Roll of fans - A-Roll of soccer match </li></ul><ul><li>Interview subject - B-Roll of what they're talking about - Interview subject </li></ul><ul><li>Example: The Guitarist </li></ul>
  17. 17. Editing Technique: The Four Transitions <ul><li>Cut: simplest transition from one shot to the next, usually in same location and time frame </li></ul><ul><li>Dissolve: graduate transition where shots overlap; often used to show change in location/time </li></ul><ul><li>Wipe: special effect transition where one scene seems to &quot;wipe away&quot; the other scene </li></ul><ul><li>Fade to Black: Scene literally goes black; </li></ul><ul><li>end of chapter or story </li></ul><ul><li>Example of transitions: India footage </li></ul>
  18. 18. Remember: Always Serve the Story! <ul><li>All of your tools should be used to contribute </li></ul><ul><li>to telling your story: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Video footage </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Characters </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Narration </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Music </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Edits </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>It’s like composing a symphony: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Each instrument contributes to the whole package! </li></ul></ul>
  19. 19. <ul><li>Thank You! </li></ul><ul><li>Andy Carvin </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>