Q. In Death of an Interview you said the sound recordist asked the
officer to repeat the questions. You mentioned that it was not your style, but
you let it go. Do you never ask and interviewee to repeat the question? If not
how do you go about interviewing in such away that the usable without
additional narration explaining what is being talked about?
A.I never ask the interviewee to repeat the question. Asking
an interviewee to repeat the question is making him responsible for a part of
your production process, and that's not his job.
You just have to do a better job of asking
questions. Usually an open question, "Tell me what happened that day"
will get you an answer you can use. If not, in editing, I have no problem with
having the narrator repeat the question: "We asked Mr. Jones what happened
that day," followed by the sound bite from Mr. Jones.
In an interview I will sometimes go back
to a question and answer and deal with it a second time, e.g., "I liked
what you said about XYZ, but I wonder if you could give me that answer again so
that it's clear that we're talking about XYZ on the morning of the
seventh." Usually this will get me what I want. (I also go revisit
previous questions and answers to try to get a shorter version.)
The critical part of interviewing is not
asking the questions, it's not listening to what the person says. – BH 3/17/08
Mitchell Block and the 3 Ps
I have read the first edition of your book "Making
documentary Films" twice and I am reading the second edition now. I have
read several sections twice. One that I keep coming back to is Documentary
Categories where Mitchell Block lists his 4 P's. You added a 5th. I understand
and can think of several examples of all 5. However I have trouble codifiying a
definition to express and idea to someone else. How would you describe all 5
P's: portrait, performance, place, poetry, and process?
A. You know, sometimes one accepts things a little too
uncritically. I used this quote from Professor Block in the earlier edition of
the book, and I'm sure its meaning was clear to me at that time. I kept it in
this edition, and perhaps I shouldn't have. I can provide a definition for each
of the items, but it's clear to me at this point that Block's four Ps (or even
my five) don't cover the field.
covers biography, whether historical or contemporary, and by extension, should
cover many historical documentaries, since they are usually built around the
people involved. Performance obviously relates to people doing things, whether
giving a performance (musicians, comedians, dancers) or doing something
skillful (surgeons, guitar makers, golfers). Place covers travelogues (remember
the original meaning of documentary was travelogue)and films that deal with
locations and positions. Poetry is a special case of the personal documentary
involving artistic use of images and sounds. And I added Process to include the
documentary of a unique event with the outcome in doubt.
But that still
leaves us with historical documentaries tied to an event -- the BBC three-part
"Dunkirk" is a wonderful example -- investigative documentaries,
which might fall under Process, but perhaps should not, and behavioral
documentaries, where the behavior shown is more important than either the
portrait or the process.
And there are
probably several more categories that don't really fit into this metaphorical
pigeon hole. Hope this answer helps. Thanks for pointing this out.– BH 3/17/08
Honorarium for Interviewees
Q. Dear Mr. Hampe, I just received my copy of Making Documentary Films and Videos. It is a fantastic resource. I
can't imagine shooting a doc without the knowledge you present in your book.
The one thing I
have not been able to find though is discussion about honorariums for
interviewees. Can you give me some guidance as to how I can approach potential
interviewees? What would be a good way to determine what I, as a producer,
should offer to them?
A.In general, I don’t pay for
interviews and I doubt that most documentarians do. However, if the interview
subjects incur expenses in making themselves available for the interview, those
should be covered by the filmmaker.
If you are interviewing an expert for the
purpose of having them lend their credibility to your film, that’s a different
matter. You’re using the expert in his or her professional capacity and should
pay. How much? Everything is negotiable. Find out if they have a consulting
fee, and if you can afford it. If so, pay it in return for a signed release. If
you can’t afford it, negotiate. Make a counter offer. Try to accommodate their
schedule and go to wherever is most convenient for the interviewee, so you take
up as little of their time as possible.
To be safe, put a category in your budget
for honoraria. That plus the contingency fund that should be a part of every
budget should get you through.
Sorry I can’t give you a hard number, but
there isn’t any. You might want to talk to a SAG and AFTRA rep about what their
minimum payment is for a featured player in a documentary. That will give you a
number to negotiate from.
Good luck with
your project. – BH 3/11/08
Too Late for Career Change?
B.I enjoyed Making
Documentary Films and Videos. I found it informative, entertaining and most
importantly - encouraging. The latter because you put the documentary process
in perspective. It can either be a monumental effort or begin with only modest
I very much wish to follow my dream of doing documentary films,
but I not sure if I can at my age (nearly 50). Is it too late?
A.No, it's not too late. I’m older than you and I’m
still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. That’s the beauty
of documentary filmmaking today. If you were starting when I did, when you
actually had to learn how film works and required a pile of money to make any
sort of film, even a learning documentary, then finding your way into the
business would require a major upheaval in your life. Today you can buy a
pretty good prosumer digital video camera for $5,000 or less, and a pretty good
desktop editing system for under a thousand dollars, and make a documentary to
learn on about almost anything close at hand for a few bucks worth of tape.
So, good luck.
And keep in touch.– BH 3/4/08
To Be Influenced or Not to Be Influenced
B.Hello Mr. Hampe,
I was born with a gift for art. At 42 years of age, I have finally
realized and accepted this. One of the last conversations I had with my late
father included him saying that I should have always pursued the arts and I
should still not rule it out. He reminded me of all the little drawings,
carvings and sculptures I would create and also some of the photographs I shot
with his camera.
It is time for a career change and I can afford to risk leaving
the financial security of my job. I would like film to be my medium. I have a
list of subjects and ideas written down on recipe cards in a box (people,
I do not know anything about shooting film in a way that appeals
to the masses enough to make an income, hence I want to educate myself with all
available materials. This is how I discovered your name and website.
In your opinion. Is it possible for someone to loose thier own
special brand of creativity by focusing too much on learning the common technicalities
of the trade? This has me very concerned, because I belive my point of view is
unique and do not want it influenced ot the point where I become a
steriotypical striving film-maker. Is there a way to avoid this? Any thoughts
would be appreciated.
"In your opinion. Is it possible for someone to lose their own special
brand of creativity by focusing too much on learning the common technicalities
of the trade?"
Yes. The goal of most production courses is to make the students
employable, which means they must learn the conventions (and conventional
wisdom) of their craft. If you don't care about getting a job in film or video,
but rather want to use these media for artistic expression, then taking the
average video course would benefit you only if you can separate the nuts and
bolts of technology from the creative uses of the media. Some people believe
you need to learn the rules before you can break them. I'm not so sure. One of
the beauties of video is that you can see what you are getting. And you can
learn as you go.
You don't say what sort of film you want to make. Or how you want
to approach it so as to preserve your creativity. So i can't comment on that.
My field is documentary film, and my goal is to communicate the truth as I
understand it to an audience.
Get a camera, get a desktop editing system, and teach yourself. If
you can find someone you trust who knows video technology, you might ask them
to critique your work from a technical standpoint.
Good luck.– BH 3/03/08
B-Roll vs. Visual Evidence
Q.Hi Mr. Hampe,
First, I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your book! It
was incredibly helpful for me, since I'm just starting my first documentary
project. The documentary is about a former senator, and I have a quick question
from your book as it relates to my project.
In Chapters 10 and 11 you discuss visual evidence and B-roll. But
I'm somewhat confused about what the difference between the two would be for my
film. The book discusses the categories of behavioral and historical
documentaries; however, my film, while focusing on historical events, is also a
study of behavior (as the subject is still alive, I plan to film him and
contrast his everyday behavior with his historical accomplishments, such as
marching with Martin Luther King, to show the normalcy of historical figures).
I very much want to avoid using "visual wallpaper," but I'm not
really clear on the border between such material and true visual evidence in
the context of this film. Would archival footage of the Senator in the Senate
chamber be evidence in a section on his voting record? I see little alternative
to having the film consist primarily of interviews, since there is only a
limited array of archival footage of the topics involved. When the Senator is
discussing his trips to India, of which there is no visual evidence, would
stock footage shots of the Indian countryside be visual evidence, or visual
Thanks so much!
A.In my terms, visual evidence adds
information to the documentary and would be missed if it’s not there. B-roll is
a visual filler and is usually interchangeable with other shots that would do
just as well.
Historical footage of your senator marching with Martin Luther
King is visual evidence (in context) but is not what I would call behavioral.
Direct cinema footage of the senator in his office, dealing with staff, talking
with constituents, interacting with other legislators, or at home with his
family – in other words, behaving more or less as he would be have if there
were no camera present – is behavioral footage and in some contexts would be
visual evidence and in others B-roll, depending precisely on how it is used.
Stills and stock shots of India could be either, depending on how
they are used and what he is talking about. If the images help us to
understand, they would be visual evidence. If they’re just filler, they’re
B-roll. One test for B-roll is to ask how similar this shot is to a slow pan
over a portrait of George Washington in terms of its communication
As you plan your film, try to think in terms of what you will show
the audience, not just what they will hear from interviews. Treat interviews as
primary research and try to use them sparingly.– BH 2/15/08
That Old Cost Per Minute
Q. I just want to begin by saying that your book 'Making Documentary
Films and Reality Videos' has given me a lot of useful information and
confidence to turn my ideas into something tangible.
As a first-time
filmmaker, straight out of university, a big concern of mine is how I will
raise the funds necessary to make a documentary. In your book I noticed a
$/minute average cost for documentaries at a major film festival.
What is the
cheapest documentary you have ever made, based on the 'per minute' method
aforementioned? And from the costs for that documentary, what took up the
largest chunk of your budget?
A.Alex, Thanks for the good words about the book. If you found that
cost per minute data, you're reading the original edition, published over ten
years ago. I didn't include it in the second edition for the simple reason that
it is no longer pertinent. As I wrote (in both editions): "There is no
truth whatever to the notion that a film or video should cost so many dollars
per minute. The cost of a documentary depends entirely on what is to be shot,
how many days it will take to shoot it, how large a crew is required, the
equipment that will be used, and all the other things that may go into a
production, such as the cost of actors, props, makeup, special effects, and
special items such as original music."
A major theme in
the new edition is that digital video provides us with high quality, low cast
cameras and editing, so that a documentary that doesn't involve travel or
actors can be made for lunch money. Of course, if you want to shoot in HD at a
remote location, you're looking at big bucks. How much? I don't know, first,
because it depends on what you are doing, and second, because the costs are
You might want to
start by downloading the budgeting checklist available elsewhere on this
website. Good luck!-- BH 2/11/08
Influence of Editing
Q. Hi! really enjoyed your book and I am writing a thesis on the
influence editing has on its audience in documentaries. For example, the way in
which editing can be used as a manipulative tool and to find out if an audience
realises they are being manipulated into believing what they normally would not
believe. If you could give me some pointers on what direction to take on this I
would greatly appreciate it! Thanks Sean
A. Hi Sean. I go into this in some detail in the new edition of the
book, especially in chapter 14, "The Growing Problem of Credibility,"
and chapter 15, "Documentary Ethics." In fact, I write, "Give me
enough footage and a good editor and I can show you a sequence of a saint
consorting with the devil. That doesn't make it true." (You can read the
whole chapter by clicking on Chapters in the Book at the page called
"Book: Making Documentaries."
Here are a couple
Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore tells us if either the Greenland Glacier or the ice
shelf in West Antarctica were to melt completely - or if half of each should
melt - then the level of the ocean would rise by twenty feet. He then shows us
what the resulting flooding would do to the coast of Florida and the island of
Manhattan. But having previously scared us with stories of past abrupt
geophysical changes that, he says, occurred in anywhere from a few days to in
as little as ten years, he somehow fails to mention exactly how long it might
take for the ocean level to rise by twenty feet. We're left believing if we
don't turn out the lights and buy a hybrid car right now, Florida's a goner.
Actually, it turns out that Gore's statement about sea level rise is probably
true, but . . . Most climatologists say the length of time it would take for
the ice to melt - if it were to happen at all - is in the range of one thousand
to five thousand years. This is certainly not the impression you are left with
in the film.
In Fahrenheit 451
a brief statement by Sergeant Peter Damon, who lost both hands in Iraq, and
which Michael Moore apparently bought as stock footage from NBC News, is placed
in a sequence in which other people, who actually were interviewed for the
film, make negative statements about the treatment of veterans and about the
Republican administration. A false impression is created about the meaning of
Sergeant Damon's statement. So much so that, according to the New York Post,
Sergeant Damon filed a lawsuit against Michael Moore for "loss of
reputation, emotional distress, embarrassment, and personal humiliation."
That should give you a start. Good luck with your thesis.– BH 2/04/08
Hi there, i read you book and it is that good it is going to be my bible
for my project at college. I'm making a behavioural doc on my circle of
friends, more or less treating them like monkeys/children, looking at who's the
alpha male, how he maintians his authority. Giving them tasks etc. Are there
any more books/films i can look at to get ideas for the types of experiments
and tasks i can do on them?
Sorry, but I don’t consider experimental manipulation to be appropriate for
a behavioral documentary. You’re not getting behavior as it occurs naturally;
you’re getting forced behavior not unlike what you find in “Reality TV” shows
like “Survivor,” or the Donald Trump TV show, "The Assistant." These
are game shows and not documentaries. Put another way, if a researcher is doing
experimental manipulations as part of his or her research, and you film this,
you are filming the research which includes the behavior of the subjects in the
research situation. Whatever the results may be, they are research results and
are only as significant as the research itself.
example, psychologists studying aggression did a series of experiments in which
students were asked to give other students an electric shock. (No shocks were
actually given.) Under some conditions of the experiment, the students giving
the shock would crank the dial all the way up to the maximum. If you filmed
that, all you could say is that under certain conditions, some subjects
administered a big shock. But it would be wrong to generalize anything about
the behavior of the subjects other than in the context of the experimental
your proposed film, you're doing the manipulating yourself for the purpose of
making a film. The question that distinguishes this sort of manipulation from
documentary is: Would any of this have happened if there wasn’t a camera
present? The presumption is that the events recorded in a documentary (except,
perhaps, for the interviews) have a life of their own that would have occurred
naturally regardless of the presence or absence of a film crew. Think about it.
Hi Barry, I've read your book and I'm inspired to make a documentary on
public monuments and outdoor sculptures. It will be a behavioural documentary.
I would like to seek your advice if I need permission and clearance to film
these public displays. Thanks! Jay
I'm a little lost as to how you make a behavioral documentary on monuments
and sculptures. They don't behave. They sit there and get looked at. But the
answer is that public monuments and sculptures are public. You can film them
without permission. The people visiting them, looking at them, passing by,
however, are not public. If theirs is the behavior you're filming, you need
their permission to put them in a film.
Rose by Any Other Name . . .
Hi Barry, thanks for your book, I've read it from cover to cover and I find
it extremely helpful for a beginner documentary filmmaker like myself. I'm
interested to make a documentary about an old shop in my neighbourhood, but I'm
not sure if I could call it a behavioral documentary because I'm more
interested to show and let the visual tell about the history and story about
the place and the people directly or indirectly related to it without any
interviews or voice-over narration. I plan to shoot it as a linear documentary
chronicling the events that take place in and around the shop from opening till
closing time for a day. My question is, can I call this a behavioural
documentary, and if not, what should I call it, because I need to supply this
information to my local film commission, from which I'm applying for funding to
produce this documentary.
I think your local film commission is picking nits. I don't see any reason
not to call it a behavioral documentary. You're interested in the
behavior that happens in front of your camera. Or you could just call it a direct
cinema documentary about the people and events at this shop during a single
day. Or you could just tell the local film commission to stuff it and go shoot
a day's worth of whatever happens at the shop on mini-DV, edit it on your
computer, and get it done without all the red tape. Good luck with the project.
Hi Barry, I am the guy who posted the question above (A Rose by Any Other
Name...). I'm pleased to let you know that I took your advice and went ahead to
shoot the documentary on my own with just my miniDV cam. Though I was not able
to shoot everything within a day, I managed to do it in 3 different days. The
video was then edited at home using my eMac with iMovie. All in all, it took me
2 weeks and less than $30 (the price of half a dozen of mini DV tapes) to
finish the 15-minute video. I'm glad that I had your book by my side to guide
me through the project from start to finish. Thank you, Barry! --Joseph
Congratulations, Joseph. Now you've got a documentary to show to help you
get support for the next film.
Barry, I have an Idea about a documentary that would be filmed in a bar. Do
you need a release form from every single person or is there a minimum amount
of time a person can be on the film without signing a release? Also, same
question for music playing in the background.
If you are going to show it to anybody, you almost have to get releases
from the people in the bar. If I were doing this, I'd have one person
designated as "release getter" and one section of the bar designated
"no film area." It would be the release getter's job to either get a
release or direct those who didn't want to be in the film to the no film area.
The music question is tricky. In general you should have the right to use
incidental music that's playing in the background if it's just bits and pieces,
under the doctrine of fair usage. If it is recognizable and lasts very long,
then your safest bet is to go for a release. If the music is live, and played
by musicians in the bar, get a release -- and if it is published music you'll
have have to go through the clearance procedure. The best situation is live
music by musicians who play their own, preferably unpublished, compositions and
who will give you a release. Good luck.
Where can I find free music online to use in a documentary?
In general you can't if the documentary is going to be shown outside of
your immediate family. The reason is that someone owns the rights to any music
you might download, and you must "clear" the music rights to have the
documentary shown on television or played in a theater. Music clearance is both
time consuming and expensive, which is why many independent documentary
filmmakers either purchase stock music from a stock music library, or
commission an original score from a composer.
First, Ask Later
Hi Mr. Hampe: I am starting at the bottom and I just purchased your book
and it should arrive tomorrow. I just want to let you know that I am looking
forward in reading it and in the next time I contact you I hope to have my idea
at a level so that I don't waste your time and you can hopefully help me.
Sincerely, Cheryll McKimm
Cheryll, Good plan. I'm always happy to answer specific questions from
readers about what I have written.
for First Time Filmmaker?
Barry, I enjoyed your book very much and basically have been using it as
the bible to my first project. We'll have a two man crew in Israel to film a
documentary on human behavior with the outcome in doubt. (See I did read your
book carefully). Any advice for a first time filmmaker with a limited budget
(1) Make sure all of your equipment is interchangeable, so that, for example,
if a mike goes out, you have a replacement that works with your sound gear and
Waste tape. Shoot a lot. You won't be able to go back for pickups.
Concentrate on visual evidence, not interviews. Record behavior, and treat
interviews as research.
Cover each situation you are in. Get good establishing shots that show where
you are filiming (and why, if possible) even if you don't intend to use them.
Everything changes in editing.
I am thinking of doing reality tv, some of my friends argue that it is not a
form of documentary. i think it is just a matter of your subject, and where you
have the camera.-ps
A.Reality TV is not documentary; it is the name for a series of game shows in
which people play by the rules of the game in order to win a prize. It does not
meet the first test of an actuality documentary, which is: Would this event
have taken place if it were not being filmed? btw - thinking about doing
reality TV and actually doing it are two different things. Reality TV is big
business for big bucks. If you are really interested in it, try to get a job
with a company that is doing a reality TV show, so that you can (a) learn how
it's done and (b) learn whom you need to know in order to pitch a reality TV
I just finished reading “Making Documentary Films…”, I think it is one of the
most important books about Documentary production. I have been editing local TV
News for over 25 years and now I.’m looking forward to editing my own films in
my semi-retirement. I started producing a short film about my neighborhood, a
very diverse area known as The Canyon. I know that you don’t like a lot of
interviews or man on the street sound bites. But I don’t know of any other way
of doing this film unless I let the residents of the “Canyon” tell the story .
I have very good B Roll of the area, including wildlife, streams and the
architecture. I ‘m not planning on using narration. Is there another way to
approach the film with not using all interviews? Thanks, and I can’t wait for
the revised version. Sergio
A.With a background in TV news, it's understandable that you would record
interviews as a way of making your documentary. The problem with TV news is
that it is formatted as stand-up, sound bite, stand-up, with B-roll. It has a
beginning, middle, and end, and lasts 45 to 90 seconds. Not much depth.
making a documentary, you need a clear idea of what you are trying to
communicate to your audience. You may not have this at the start of filming
(although you should have a good idea of what you're trying to do) but
you should be clear about what you are trying to communicate by the time you
start editing. I treat interviews as research. They help me understand the
subject, so I can communicate it to my audience. And once I'm clear on what the
documentary is about, I try to find the best way to tell the story. In the case
of "The Canyon," that might mean going back and finding newspaper
clippings, home movies, people's snapshots, artifacts, whatever, that will help
your audience understand the point to your documentary. And it will also no
doubt include sound bites from people you've interviewed. But the
responsibility for telling the story is yours. You do it the best way you can.
The point is you build your documentary out of the bits and pieces of sound and
image that you've gone out and found, until, like a mosaic, it reveals the big