Welcome to VivaDocumentary.com, this is my first article for the site so let me introduce myself. My name is Karl and I’m a senior film and video major at Columbia College Chicago. I am concentrating on editing there and I have a particular interest in documentary and experimental forms. I find documentary films so interesting because there seems to be so much unexplored territory.
People have been writing stories for thousands of years and people have been telling stories for tens of thousands of years (if not more). Film in general is unexplored; it has been around for less than 150 years. Now if we look at documentary film making it still hasn’t even taken hold in the mainstream in an art form that is less than 150 years old. How exciting! I love the idea that I could be a pioneer of this vast territory.
Not only is documentary new exciting and unexplored, but there are some other aspects that really draw me to it. Making documentary films are in general much less expensive than other forms of film-making. In documentary it is often beneficial to work with a smaller crew. The crew for the latest documentary I shot was around four people, and when the crew was larger that four people it actually became detrimental to the shoot. The editing process for documentary is a little different too. Instead of editing based on a script the editor uses an idea or message. To me the best part of making documentaries is the editing.
Why are documentaries so cheap? First of all, documentaries use a lot less than fictional narrative films. For example documentaries use less equipment, actors, sets, props, costumes, make-up, and crew. Don’t get me wrong this is not always the case. I’m sure there have been some narratives that used less than most documentaries and some documentaries that have used more than most narratives. This is just generally speaking. Documentaries use more of what is available to them on the location that they are being shot at. They try capturing events that would be happening anyway where narrative creates events to capture. This aspect of not having to create everything that is shot is the main reason documentaries are generally cheaper.
One of the reasons documentary can be cheaper is that there is usually a smaller crew. The crew is small on documentary films for a few reasons. The main reason is that it is hard to manage a huge crew capturing a large event and many times it is unnecessary. A crew of only a handful of people is enough to get the shots needed from that event. The crew for the latest documentary I shot was around four people, and when the crew was larger that four people it actually became detrimental to the shoot. With a larger crew there were too many people doing things at once and this disrupted the event that I was filming. With a smaller crew each person’s role becomes larger but the ability to be disruptive is much smaller. I personally like having an important role in making films. I think this is mainly because I’m a student and people don’t trust my abilities enough. It feels good to really be a part of a film. With documentary this is the case. If you are working on one you are probably doing something big.
My favorite part about making documentaries is the editing. The great thing about docs is that nothing is for sure in production. You might not get the shots you need at one location but get wonderful shots you could have never dreamed of at another. This is why documentaries can’t be scripted exactly. The director can only find messages or feelings that he wants to convey. As an editor this gives you a lot of freedom. There is all of this footage that you have to sift through over and over to find the best way to convey the messages and emotions that the director intends. Many times the footage holds much more that what the director ever expected. Finding this in the footage is what I truly love about documentary. As an editor I have to ability to create something amazing out of mounds of footage. I have the ability to create something no one ever expected out of it.
Documentaries are powerful. The true power is yet to be found because it lies in such unexplored territory. Right now they are generally cheap with a small crew. While things in production are generally smaller the power is unleashed in the editing. This power is why I love Documentary.