Preparation

In most shoots, it's worthwhile to sit down with the participants and tell them clearly what they're getting into. That sounds easy in theory, but it can be tricky in practice. Craig Gilbert, director of the verite series An American Family, on the Loud family of California, claims he explained everything in detail to the family before any cameras came in. However, in her own book on the filming, Pat Loud claims she didn't have a clue what he was talking about but went along out of goodwill.

At all costs, try to avoid pressuring the people in your film. The more relaxed they are, the better. Are they comfortable with the mikes? How do they feel about a lavaliere? Are the lights too harsh for them? Yes! Okay, then see if you can soften them. The calmer the atmosphere around the shooting, the better the results.

Your participants must know plainly what demands are being made of them. That means they must be aware of the schedule, the hours of filming, and how long you will want them. Overestimate rather than underestimate. If you want someone for a morning, don't say an hour. If you want them for a week, don't say a day.

If dress is important to the film, be as clear as possible about what you want your participants to wear. Thus, you may want your principal character to wear a light-blue sweater in most scenes so that he or she will be clearly identifiable. If you are working in someone's house, assure them that everything will be left clean and neat at the end. Check the power supplies so that you don't plunge the whole neighborhood into darkness by overloading the electricity. And tell them not to worry about food or drink or meals, as you will be supplying everything.

Occasionally, though not very often, your participants may want a fee for appearing in the film. This is more pertinent to the "personality" documentaries than to the average social documentary. If a fee is involved, make sure that both sides agree on how much it is and how it is to be paid. Also, be sure that the exchange of money does not contravene network rules.

If you have the time and the money, try spending an acclimation period with your subjects without filming. Allan King did this with tremendous effect when he made Warrendale, one of the pioneer cinema verite films. Warrendale was shot in a home for emotionally disturbed children in Toronto, and King and his cameraperson, William Brayne, wandered around the home for a few weeks with an empty camera before turning a foot of film. The time taken getting to know the children and letting them get used to the cameras paid off in the tremendous naturalism and authenticity achieved by the film.

Occasionally, you may want to reorder the setup in which you are filming, just to make it easier to shoot. I try not to do this too often because people may feel uncomfortable with the arrangements. So you weigh the pros and the cons before making such a decision. The converse of this is to ask your participants not to transform interesting backgrounds into ordered sterility by cleaning up the filming area.

As you do more and more filming, certain kinds of problems keep coming up again and again. The most common ones deal with privacy, areas of questioning, involvement or noninvolvement of children, and payment. In recent years, many participants have also begun asking for the right to see the rushes and for the final decision about whether the material can be used. I fully agree with the right to see the rushes, but I will not go ahead with the filming unless final-use decisions are in my hands only.

Each film will necessitate certain ground rules, which must be established before you turn on the camera. True cinema verite often demands almost a wall between the film subjects and the participants. When I interviewed photographer Richard Leiterman about how he shot A Married Couple, a very intimate portrait of a problem marriage, he said: "We went in with a kind of ground rule that we would have no communications with them. We put up an invisible barrier between us."

Ground rules are relevant everywhere, particularly for much institutional filming. In 1975, Roger Graef made the series Decisions for Granada Television of England. The films dealt with crucial decisions made inside various British oil and steel companies. The intimate corporate scenes Graef wanted to film had rarely been filmed before, and Graef obtained permission only after rigid ground rules had been established. These rules included the following:

• No scoops. No information was to be released in advance, and no one was to be told about any information obtained during the filming.

• The filmmakers would only film what they had agreed to cover.

• No lights would be used, no interviews filmed, and nothing would be staged.

• The companies were left with the right of veto over confidential material.

Film Making

Film Making

If you have ever wanted the secrets to making your own film, here it is: Indy Film Insider Tips And Basics To Film Making. Have you ever wanted to make your own film? Is there a story you want to tell? You might even think that this is impossible. Studios make films, not the little guy. This is probably what you tell yourself. Do you watch films with more than a casual eye? You probably want to know how they were able to get perfect lighting in your favorite scene, or how to write a professional screenplay.

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