Documentary Advice for Student

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    Tom. G

      Hello there,

      I’m studying film at University and have been given a documentary project in which I’m the DOP. I would love to ask for any advice on documentary cinematography. For example, what are the fundamental must-do’s?

      Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated!

      Thank you,

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    • #215168

        In my experience, being present and aware of more than just the camera is important. Listening to the subject and being emotionally in tune with what’s being discussed always resulted in me shooting for the emotion rather than trying to play catch-up, as it sometimes felt.

        Also, I’m not a fan of the term “b roll” (if it’s gonna be up on the screen and the same size as the “a roll” then it’s just as important!) but getting good coverage is huge if you haven’t shot documentary before. Schedules are always differing but if you can get your coverage AFTER any interviews, I find that’s best- you know what’s valuable and relevant after hearing the subject speak.


        Sorry if these are too basic, I’m not sure what your experience with doc-style shooting is.

        Tom. G

          Thank you for responding! I like your comments on B-roll. That’s a great point about the quality of what we’re shooting.


            I liked to introduce myself to the people being followed around or interviewed, first name and that I’m the guy pointing a camera at them. During breaks I tried to get some very brief but light conversation with them. They’ll be less intimidated.

            For coverage I liked to be very active on my feet. Let things play out in front of the camera without interrupting and try to get as many angles and frame sizes (zooms help with that) as possible. It’s a bit of a fine line as you should simultaneously try to be “invisible” and not distract the subjects. So I liked to stay away as far as possible from them – the closer I would get with the camera, the more I hindered them from being themselves, at least I came to believe that.

            There are exceptions to this rule of course, inserts of a certain process that’s been talked about, when you might need a CU of a hand pushing a button and things like that. Also, people get used to being filmed after a time and then it’s less of an issue. But in general, I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible.

            Tom. G

              Thanks Stip, that’s a great point about being invisible. I’m going to be shooting in a kitchen, so I really don’t want to get in the way!

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