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  • Documentary Filmmaking Advice

  • Bobby Hall

    July 20, 2022 at 3:19 am

    I have a friend who’s a producer and he offered me the opportunity to work on a documentary. I’d be in charge of the filming and sound recording. I don’t really have much experience with this. I’m more into video editing. The only filming/audio recording I’ve done is very basic stuff like interviews where I have one or two cameras that are stationary and either a lapel microphone on the subject or a stationary microphone that’s nearby.

    I have a DSLR camera and a Zoom H4n audio recorder and a couple lapel mics. My guess is that this equipment isn’t good enough for a documentary, especially since the DSLR automatically stops recording after about 12 minutes, which could be a problem during interviews.

    I was wondering if this would be doable for me if I had the right equipment (which the producer would be able to provide) and if I could just watch some YouTube tutorials on how to use the equipment. To me this sounds like something an experienced crew would be better for, but maybe I’m thinking it’s more complicated than it is…? I’m not sure, so I wanted to get other people’s opinions. Thanks!

  • Matthew Jeschke

    August 12, 2022 at 11:40 pm

    You can lookup various ways to setup a set. Typical setup (60 minutes style – I forgot real name) is two cameras over the shoulder zoomed in, and one wide in middle of set. In my work, the goal is to capture the face, especially eyes.

    The trickiest thing is lighting. You’ll want to make sure you have their faces lit so you’re not getting nose shadows, chin shadows etc. Perhaps just shoot outside on patio or where there’s good diffused natural light so you don’t have to worry as much. Peter Hurley has an AWESOME 3 hour course on lighting the face. It’s very easy to follow but get’s REALLY cumbersome. I see lots of people use beauty lights, or massive lights in a soft box / diffuser (my terminology isn’t perfect). Easier to just find good diffused natural light if you’re starting out.

    Microphones, use a dual wireless setup if two people such as Rode Wireless Go Lav. Zoom H4N is a PITA to use. I sold mine. I believe that setup can mix the channels into stereo? I don’t have the second transmitter with mine so I use a channel splitter. Save to WAV if possible. Be conscious of your levels so you don’t clip and use microphones that don’t shape the sound too much, have a flat frequency response. You said you do editing so probably already know that. Makes it easier for sound engineer / to match microphones, clean up audio, etc. If you save to MP3 or in the video file then there’s not as much room to shape / touchup the sound in post.

    Don’t forget to capture ambient audio… Can use a shotgun mic and cell phone (record to wave). There’s hundreds of ways to do all this. If you’ve two people (or three) can easily pull it off. Get a lot of equipment though and must be conscious of syncing it up. I just clap my hands.

    If you interview one person it’s quite a bit easier. I typically just do one person for my stuff. I shoot how to stuff, adventure vlog, etc. Anyways, I said a bunch of random stuff. It’s not simple, but you can do it as I learned it all myself and run my productions all by myself too.

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