Telling the ‘close to home’ sto­ries

Pasatiempo - - Onstage This Week -

So you think you have a great idea for a doc­u­men­tary, and you can get your hands on a dig­i­tal video cam­era for not too much money, and it’s not that ex­pen­sive to film peo­ple sit­ting in chairs pon­tif­i­cat­ing about im­por­tant top­ics, any­way. Doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ing is boom­ing th­ese days, what with easy, in­ex­pen­sive ac­cess to equip­ment and no re­quire­ment to write a 120-page screen­play like all those other guys are do­ing. What more do you need to make a doc­u­men­tary?

Plenty, ac­cord­ing to Hank Rogerson and Ji­lann Spitzmiller, a hus­ban­dand-wife team of Santa Fe doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ers who men­tor novice doc­u­men­tar­i­ans (theirWeb site is doc­u­men­tary­howto.com). The cou­ple are just fin­ish­ing up the doc­u­men­tary Cir­cle of Sto­ries; their Shake­speare Be­hind Bars played at the Santa Fe Film Fes­ti­val in 2005. Speak­ing by phone, the cou­ple of­fered some prac­ti­cal ad­vice and re­flec­tive com­ments on doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ing. Pasatiempo: Do you sense that more peo­ple want to make doc­u­men­taries? Hank Rogerson: Yes. I think peo­ple see that there are not only bet­ter av­enues for mak­ing films but bet­ter ac­cess to dis­tri­bu­tion with the In­ter­net. Be­fore, it was very hard for any doc­u­men­tary to get any sort of dis­tri­bu­tion other than through ed­u­ca­tional out­lets. Ji­lann Spitzmiller: And it’s a lot eas­ier to make a doc­u­men­tary than writ­ing a script and gath­er­ing to­gether 50 to 100 peo­ple to make your fic­tion film. You only need one to four peo­ple on a doc­u­men­tary crew, de­pend­ing on how you ap­proach the film­ing. And as peo­ple get cam­eras in their hands, I think they turn to what is clos­est to them, the sto­ries that are close to home. Pasa: Does “doc­u­men­tary” nec­es­sar­ily equate to “the truth”? Rogerson: We like to say truth is rel­a­tive. What we work for as film­mak­ers is to rep­re­sent the truth of the sub­ject. Spitzmiller: If some fic­tional fea­tures say, “Based on a true story,” then doc­u­men­taries are “Based on a true story times 100.” But it’s still a lit­tle re­moved from the true story. Rogerson: What you choose to shoot on any given day is sort of al­ter­ing the truth. You go to your sub­ject’s house, and they’re mak­ing Thanks­giv­ing din­ner, and you film that, and then their fam­ily comes over and you film that, and then they de­cide to go to church and you de­cide not to film that be­cause you want to take a break. Right there you’ve al­tered the truth. And when you put a cam­era on some­body, it changes things au­to­mat­i­cally, be­cause ev­ery­body wants to be a star to­day, so they start chang­ing how they act in front of the cam­era. Spitzmiller: I won­der if we don’t ben­e­fit from some of that, peo­ple be­ing less guarded in front of the cam­era. Pasa: What ad­vice do you have for new­com­ers to the field? Spitzmiller: Ed­u­cate your­self in film lan­guage. De­cide if you are go­ing to shoot it your­self or hire some­one who is more ex­pe­ri­enced to shoot it, but ei­ther way, un­der­stand the gram­mar of film­mak­ing. Rogerson: Un­der­stand sto­ry­telling: the beginning, the mid­dle, the end, and not nec­es­sar­ily in that or­der. Think about char­ac­ter mo­ti­va­tion — chal­lenges, ob­sta­cles. And un­der­stand the le­gal as­pects of it all. In­stead of go­ing into it with blind faith, make sure you get the proper per­mis­sion for your sub­jects, your lo­ca­tions, your crew. Spitzmiller: And of course you need to learn how to raise money.

— R.N.

Hank Rogerson and Ji­lann Spitzmiller

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