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Thread: Preparations for making a documentary.

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2008

    Default Preparations for making a documentary.

    Ok, so I am a complete novice and I'm aiming high but this is what I want to attempt to do.
    In two months time we will be travelling to Uluru (Ayers rock) from Perth - Western Australia.
    The entire trip will take about 6 weeks. We will be on our own, completely self sufficient.
    I want to put together a documentary of the trip- aimed at off road travellers, highlighting the beauty of some of the remote/desert country in these areas as well as providing information on the various tracks that we will be travelling on - ie- degree of difficulty (though these can change due to different factors)
    In short I want it to be interesting to anyone thinking about travelling that route - or to the destinations we have in mind along the journey. (Uluru being the highlight of the trip, but there will be many more interesting landscapes to be explored along the way.)

    So here's what I think I need to do.

    First of all I need to completely understand how my new camera works,
    (I am buying a JVC Everio HD7) and spend the next two months practising filming with it under all kinds of variable outdoor situations. Like I said I really am a novice! (I've only had SD camera's in the past.)

    I need to thoroughly research the areas we are going to be travelling through and TO and dig up any interesting facts, history (old ruins etc), geographical type interesting facts - wildlife or flora typical to certain areas?
    It's no good getting there and not knowing WHAT to film I'm thinking - although some things might need to be researched when we get back.
    Maybe even the names of aboriginal tribal communities in certain areas. Some roads require fee's to drive across as they are on aboriginal land.
    Places in which to buy fuel and stock up on food (reporting on fuel and food prices along the way will be a MUST)
    Campgrounds.... (Reporting on the various campsites and what amenities (showers/laundry ete) are avaliable along the way is also a necessity)

    To make the footage more interesting is really where I'm going to get stuck I think and this particularly ( though anything I have written I'd love to recieve advice on!) is where I am asking for help.
    I know I will have to remember to film things like signs along the way - names of roads - names of towns we might pass through...
    What I don't know is how I am going to get across the sheer remote-ness of some of these areas.
    There are places where it is SO flat that you can almost see the earths curvature on the horizen.
    I want to get THAT across - the complete isolation and vast expanse of the outback.
    I guess some limited panning........... Filming the car from a distance (I'll have to get out and walk a fair way) driving up the dirt roads....

    Should I include things like actually setting up camp? The "domestic" side of the journey. The kids etc? And how much of it?
    Don't want to turn it into a "family" video, but then again families might be who will be interested in doing such a trip?
    I'd like a few campfire shots. How best to do this?
    I think I'm going to need some additional lighting but I'm not sure what or how we will run it.
    (We only have an inverter in the car that runs a light with a normal light bulb.)

    If I'm wanting to show some of the time frame of the journey...."The next day". How best to do that?
    Seems a bit corny to keep showing sunset or sunrise shots to mark the passing of days.
    Six weeks is too long to do it as a "day one, day two of the trip etc" journal type thing.
    But somehow I need to communicate just how long the journey will take - emphasizing the expanse of the country. Maybe just in the narration afterwards?

    In fact six weeks is a heck of a long time full stop - to be encapsulated into one video!
    I think this is what I am most concerned about.

    Anyway, all just random thoughts here.
    I would appreciate ANY advice on how best to try and do this.
    We are wanting to make this as informative and as interesting as possible.
    We have watched other amateur looking documentaries of similar trips (that have been SOLD!) and quite frankly it bored us to tears mainly because of the TERRIBLE narration, things like sliding wipes in the editing and endless zooms which just become irritating after a while.

    A huge task, yes.
    A learning experience for sure!
    Are we aiming too high? Probably, but we have a real passion for the outback and what better place to start I guess.

    Last edited by Tracy; 05-22-2008 at 05:08 AM.

  2. #2


    Cool tracy! I dig your documentary already.

    You are right about most of the pre-pro prep work you are doing now, but I always insist on an angle being a professional myself.

    You've got great things going there withe regards to knowing your target audience, your travel show, even concentrating on giving viewers a lot of wide shots (WS) to emphasize the vastness of the landscape, but a great documentary these days is always about content and engagement of the viewer.

    After researching docus for Discovery Asia, the one thing that new viewers of docus and travel shows are interested in are things that ordinary people don't know about a place, topic or thing and even if they know about it, to present what they already know in a more vibrant way, for example if you find a small town along your journey that's fairly well-known, dig deep to find secret treasures about the place. Facts and figures always helps move a documentary along like how National Geogrpahic has successfully done with their 'Mega' series...

    Offer people trivia....a kind-of...'Oh did you know that?' Get their curiosities satisfied.

    Another thing that's changed about the documentary world is that, just straight-up storytelling doesn't work for the network execs. It's very boring. My advise again is to give people the inside-scoop to a place, location or character.

    The second last thing I normally emphasize is character, character, character. You can go to the most desolate place on earth and be bored if not for a character. Someone or something even, that engages.

    Characters make a story. Without a character, there's no story. So really, in the process of your research, 'cast' your characters and characters need not only be people. They can be locations and this is where scripting/real visualizing takes place.

    For example when you make your Ayers Rock docu, MAKE Ayers Rock a character. Imbue it with the characteristics that most hit you when you look and perceive it because at the end of the day, 10 000 people can make a documentary on Ayers Rock but it's the perception of Ayers Rock that is most unique that will stand out.

    Even a cactus and a desert can be a character, I tell you! LOL!

    The final thing I normally stress on (and this because I'm an artsy fartsy person and you don't have to follow this advise if that's not your style) is to lace your documentary with symbolic shots and great ambience/music.

    Symbolics shots work wonders and so does the right music.

    Well, that's it from my POV. Have a great trip and hope to see your work sometime soon!

    Ms Persis Shanker
    Writer/Director/Producer (TV/Film)

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2008


    Thank you!

    I'm wondering how far to go as far as the "character" thing is concerned? I am a songwriter as well and one of the songs I wrote was of Uluru and in it I likened the rock to a "sleeping dog". That's just how it strikes me LOOKING at it. It looks just like a very old tired sleeping "being" of some sort. ALIVE while it sleeps.
    In fact the whole place - "the outback" seems alive.
    I have often, when out there felt as though I'm being "watched".
    It' almost as though the essence of the energy of the people (or maybe anything that was once living there) has been permanently absorbed into the earth and somehow you can still feel traces of it.
    It's very strange and I'm not alone in feeling this because I have read of other travellers descriptions of similar experiences - especially being "watched".
    You don't want to go TOO far with this sort of thing I guess because some people are apt to "pooh pooh" any kind of spiritual type stuff but perhaps a little of that might be worth mentioning to go along with the right footage?

    My husband thinks we should film the whole trip from the angle of preparations for such a journey (Perhaps a quick shot of the car up on a hoist being thoroughly inspected prior to the trip at the mechanics) focusing on the traveller/family who has never done such remote travel.
    We have fire extinguishers, super duper first aid kits, a CB radio as well as a HF radio (the only medical service out there is the Royal flying doctors)
    We also have GPS's (two) and a laptop with all the maps on it in case both GPS's fail.
    We carry our own water, fuel and food enough to last us at least two weeks etc....
    Shots relevant I think would be of us calling into the HF base as we leave etc, and then all that follows.
    Really go into detail about all it involves for those who have no experience.
    Then...separate to THAT, he thinks we should then do four separate OTHER video's of four locations of significance.
    One of course being Ayers rock.
    The reason for this he explained is that with fuel prices absolutely skyrocketing over here (it's ludicrous how fuel keeps rising every DAY!) people are unable , in a lot of cases, to DO the entire trip we are doing.
    There may be people who simply want to travel to Uluru, or the bungle bungles...not necessarily do the huge loop we will be doing.
    So this is what we may end up doing. After all we will be filming everything anyway.
    Last edited by Tracy; 05-23-2008 at 02:30 AM.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Surrey, UK
    Blog Entries


    Quote Originally Posted by Tracy View Post
    I want to get THAT across - the complete isolation and vast expanse of the outback.
    Just a suggestion..
    Find one of these flat, barren places and either find a feature on the horizon or place something there (your car?)

    Set your camera on maximum zoom and focus on the object you've selected.
    Now zoom out - showing the expanse of the land - but NOT all the way. Pause and hold, as if you have zoomed out all the way and THEN zoom out even further. The idea is the first zoom gives the impression of the expanse and the second zoom gives the impression of the EXPANSE.

    (Or you could do a series of smaller zoom out/holds)

    To pull this off you might need to create a false horizon by lowering the camera (if you use the "true" horizon, I suspect everything will be lost in haze)

    I'm also not sure whether the the shot will be more impressive if you place the horizon two thirds up the frame or one third. I'd have to experiment, but I'm sure others will know.

  5. #5


    no problem Tracy! you're wlcome!

    one of the ways to exapnd
    character' of Ayers Rock is to see how people relate to it, how you relate to it. So it's Ayers Rocks in terms of....ya know that kind of thing.

    Tim's advise about putting an object in frame to show vastness is also a good idea. Again, how the car is there in terms of vast landscape, see?

    If you also can, you can use a wide angle lens (if you have one) to show vastness. Plus it also nice to place your camera at a low angle so that viewers have this feeling that the horizon is a dominating factor in the shot.

    It's also great to have another wide shot (with more action, low angle again) where a car or your jeep drives past the frame. Moving shots always help also.

    Well, that's all for now. Take care and looking forward to seeing your stuff!
    Ms Persis Shanker
    Writer/Director/Producer (TV/Film)

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2008


    Thanks Tim. Great idea for the zooms.
    The car would be good but also something like a single lonely old dead tree would also get the point across.
    I will definitely experiment with lots of ways of filming the land and the sky.
    Sometimes a huge sky gives a feeling of "expanse" but then again long stretching dirt roads that seem to disappear over the horizon also give a feel of great distance and isolation.
    I'll definitely have to get some moving shots of the car Persis....especially the dust trail behind.
    Speaking of which...I am a bit concerned about the camera and all that dust. (fine fine powder like dust....gets in everything!)
    I've seen dust protectors for cameras but I'm wondering if they truly work!

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