Introduction to Documentary Filmmaking: Your Guide From Pre-Production to Post

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Taught by Lisa Vangellow

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Class hosted by: Lisa Vangellow

Director/Producer at Arsenal

Lisa Vangellow is a producer and director with a penchant for character driven features, documentaries, and television. She is currently in post-production on her documentary feature on the multi-faceted actor James Franco. Lisa was given unprecedented access to the enigmatic actor and traveled all over the world with him. With over 200 hours of footage, she intends to deliver a compelling look inside the actor’s personal and professional life. Lisa was invited to be one of five filmmakers to participate in the Tribeca Film Institute Documentary StoryLab for the Franco Doc where she workshopped her project along with the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner The Wolfpack and the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Weiner. Lisa has previously produced the narrative feature film anthology, Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards starring Natalie Portman, Kristen Wiig, James Franco, Jimmy Kimmel, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblin, Thomas Mann, and Matthew Modine. It made its World Premiere at the Atlanta Film Festival. Lisa’s film and TV slate includes a variety of fiction and nonfiction projects. In the documentary space, Lisa is in various stages of production on four feature documentaries and one docu-series. She holds an MFA in Producing from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television and a B.S. in Marketing from the W.P. Carey School of Business at ASU. Full Bio »

Summary

Since filmmaking was invented, it has been used to capture real life and the stories within it. From the first documentary films like NANOOK OF THE NORTH through classics like GREY GARDENS and THE THIN BLUE LINE to recent hits like MY OCTOPUS TEACHER, THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS, and CRIP CAMP, documentaries have held an important role in the film landscape. They've uncovered otherwise unheard stories and uncelebrated heroes, defined cultures and generations, and affected global change, all while entertaining audiences and giving careers to filmmakers and truth-tellers. Yet the craft behind putting projects like this together is rarely examined. For those hoping to create documentary films of their own, there are important steps, techniques and an overall understanding necessary in order to properly plan, execute and release your non-fiction project.

While studying successful documentaries, you will find there is a lot more that goes into putting one together than simply finding an interesting subject and pointing a camera at it. Documentary filmmaking requires a strong sense of story, pacing, and voice. But beyond that it also requires you to understand how to gain access in the first place, how to put together the right team and equipment, how to legally protect yourself, how to actually get your film out there once it's complete and a lot more. So how do successful documentarians create their films from start to finish? What are traps along the way you can avoid? And how do you ultimately get your film watched?

Lisa Vangellow is an independent producer and director currently in post-production on her untitled documentary feature on the multi-faceted actor James Franco. She has a slate of projects she is independently producing that focuses on TV series, doc-series, based on a true story series and features, and comedy series and features. Lisa recently left Arsenal film after 5 years as Vice President of Development and Production, where she worked on projects including Push, Che: Part 2, and Let Me In. Arsenal is a feature film production company that has worked on projects including Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache, Reasonable Doubt, and The Way BackLisa was invited to be one of five filmmakers to participate in the Tribeca Film Institute Documentary StoryLab for the Franco Doc where she workshopped her project along with the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner The Wolfpack and the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Weiner.

Over the course of three sessions, Lisa will offer her experience from the trenches to help filmmakers master the nuts and bolts of documentary film production and share step by step instruction on how you can produce a commercially viable film from idea to post-production. First, she’ll focus on the selection of subject matter and how to gauge its commercial viability. Lisa will take you through pre-production for a documentary film hitting on areas such as how to create a budget, hire your crew, get financing and explaining why you may want a lawyer to handle the nitty gritty. From there you’ll get an overview of different documentary styles and insight on how to create your story through the use of specific examples. Finally, Lisa will explain how to survive the post-production of your film to bring the entire project together and discuss your options for distribution.

You will leave with an overall understanding of the documentary filmmaking process, an idea of what makes a good documentary, and how to execute these lessons in the real world. Even if you have little to no experience or if you have narrative film experience and are looking to try documentaries, Lisa will guide you towards the goal of completing a documentary film.

 

PLUS! YOU WILL RECEIVE THESE DOWNLOADS:

  • Budget Template
  • Notice of Filming Template
  • Documentarian Ethical Truths Guide 
  • Film Funds Resource

 

"Lisa is honest, raw with truth and very real with her knowledge. I appreciated how candid she was with the entire documentary filmmaking process. She was so incredibly detailed in each and every section. This was by far a master class on documentary filmmaking. Thank you Stage 32 and Lisa."

- Tiffany F. 

What You'll Learn

Over the course of 3 sessions, you will learn overall knowledge and guidance in the tools and skills needed to prepare yourself to make a commercially viable documentary.

Week 1:

Overview: The current documentary landscape

  • What makes a good documentary film? 
  • What makes a commercially viable documentary film? 
  • Discuss past films, which received critical acclaim and what made them popular.

Pre-Production 

  • Outline what needs to be discussed prior to beginning your film shoot.
  • Approaching your subject or determining your story
  • Find financing or grants (reference sheet included)
  • Hiring an attorney
  • Hiring Crew
  • Research Editors
  • Plan for travel
  • Research and decide on equipment
  • Create a budget

Legal

Why do you need an attorney?

  • Contracts 
  • Insurance (GL, Workman’s Comp, E & O) 
  • Appearance releases, location releases, notice of filming posts 
  • NDA's and crew contracts 
  • Licensing music, movie, and archival film licensing process and cost.

Fair use

  • What is it and when is it appropriate to claim fair use? What is the risk?

 Q&A with Lisa


Week 2:

Documentary Styles/Creating the Story

  • Verite 
  • Interview/archival 
  • Creating the narrative 

Securing Interviews: 

  • How to develop a rapport with your subject and gain trust.
  • Types of questions to ask.
  • How to secure interviews with people outside of your subject for the film.
  • How to deal with high profile interviews. 


Morals and Ethics 

Q&A with Lisa


Week 3:

Editing/ Post Production

  • What editor is the best for your film style?
  • How long does it take and how much should you budget?
  • The editor is the most expensive but most important person to hire (besides a DP).
  • How to collaborate with an editor to create the story you want to tell.
  • How to deal with obstacles with your editor. 

Approaching obstacles and creating a timeline 

  • What is the purpose of your film?
  • Where will you show it?
  • Create a timeline from start to finish accounting for editing.
  • How to deal with various obstacles that arise during the process. 

  • Discuss examples: legal, money, lack of participation from subject, scheduling issues, travel, safety, ethics. 


Post Production/Deliverables 

  • Sound Mix 

Discuss the need/cost for VFX and Animation 

  • Color Correcting
  • Music Composition/licensing
  • Deliverables 

Festival Strategies

  • Include festival application fees in budget
  • Strategies on what festival is best for your film and why
  • Other distribution platforms: Netflix, Amazon, HBO, Showtime, Hulu

Q&A with Lisa

About Your Instructor

Lisa Vangellow is a producer and director with a penchant for character driven features, documentaries, and television. She is currently in post-production on her documentary feature on the multi-faceted actor James Franco. Lisa was given unprecedented access to the enigmatic actor and traveled all over the world with him. With over 200 hours of footage, she intends to deliver a compelling look inside the actor’s personal and professional life.

Lisa was invited to be one of five filmmakers to participate in the Tribeca Film Institute Documentary StoryLab for the Franco Doc where she workshopped her project along with the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner The Wolfpack and the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Weiner.

Lisa has previously produced the narrative feature film anthology, Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards starring Natalie Portman, Kristen Wiig, James Franco, Jimmy Kimmel, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblin, Thomas Mann, and Matthew Modine. It made its World Premiere at the Atlanta Film Festival.

Lisa’s film and TV slate includes a variety of fiction and nonfiction projects. In the documentary space, Lisa is in various stages of production on four feature documentaries and one docu-series.

She holds an MFA in Producing from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television and a B.S. in Marketing from the W.P. Carey School of Business at ASU.

Schedule

Session 1 

Overview

Pre-Production 

Legal

Fair use

 

Session 2 

Documentary Styles/Creating the Story

Securing Interviews

Morals and Ethics 

 

Session 3 

Editing/ Post Production

Approaching obstacles and creating a timeline 

Post Production/Deliverables 

Discuss the need/cost for VFX and Animation 

Festival Strategies

 

FAQs

Q: What is the format of a class?
A: Stage 32 Next Level Classes are typically 2 to 4 week ongoing broadcasts that take place online using a designated software program from Stage 32.

Q: Do I have to have to be located in a specific location?
A: No, you can participate from the comfort of your own home using your personal computer! If you attend a live online class, you will be able to communicate directly with your instructor during the class.

Q: What are the system requirements?
A: You will need to meet the following system requirements in order to run the class software: Windows 7 or later Mac OS X 10.9 (Mavericks) or later.
If you have Windows XP, Windows Vista and Mac OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion): The class software does not support these operating systems. If you are running one of those operating systems, please upgrade now in order to be able to view a live class. Upgrade your Windows computer / Upgrade your Mac computer

Q: What if I cannot attend the live class?
A: If you cannot attend a live class and purchase an On-Demand class, you will have access to the entire recorded broadcast, including the Q&A.

Q: Will I have access to the class afterward to rewatch?
A: Yes! After the purchase of a live or On-Demand class, you will have on-demand access to the audio recording, which you can view as many times as you'd like for a whole year!

Questions?

If you have a generic question about Stage 32 education you can take a look at our frequently asked questions section on our help page, or feel free to contact support with any other inquiries you might have.
 

Reviews Average Rating: 5 out of 5

  • I enjoyed the class immensely. Very informative and Lisa was a very excellent teacher and she's very cute and nice too. I do have a request tho that you have slides available for all three classes not just the first one so I may print out all of the material. It's a lot to write by hand. Thanks.

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