When I was involved in researching, writing and pre-producing documentary movie ideas pre-Canon 5D Mark II, I kept asking the guy who ran the production company, “How am I required to write up all this stuff?”.
“How do you do it so it really cuts through the crap and gets these ideas into a form that’ll work for the film funders and the broadcasters?”
“How have you done it before?” was the most pointed of those three questions. Followed by “And what is a treatment anyway?” when all he could do was tell me to write a treatment, write a treatment.
On asking other moviemakers based in the same small city, the consensus was that a treatment is a document that describes the movie you intend to make, and that was as far as it got. I came up with my own way of writing about my movie ideas, to some moderate success, but I felt it was far from the best way to do it.
Now Stillmotion has shared their ‘Rethink Documentary Production Style Guide’ via a blog post by cinematographer Joyce Tsang and it is great to see how one of the most successful small, independent documentary production studios does it.
‘Breaking Down 3 Of Our Favorite Scenes From Our Journey Home’ details the technical decisions made in support of the movie’s five keywords – Home, Awareness, Bridge, Empower and Lost – shows us how intent is translated into finished product via moviemaking hardware through understanding how our gear and how we use it help create emotions.
Add the downloadable PDF of ‘Rethink Documentary Production Style Guide‘ that Ms Tsang shares at the end of the blog post to the ‘ReThink Documentary Creative Brief’ to my previous article ‘Stillmotion’s “Our Journey Home” & How the MUSE Storytelling Process Guided Stillmotion’s Creative Choices in Making It.’ and you have an excellent resource to draw on when writing up your own documentary treatments.
Or you could try what we did for one project that defied being written about as it was based on unpredictable events and unreliable people, and so we turned funding earmarked for treatment writing into cash to pay for foreign travel.
We edited the footage that was shot into an online preview that cut to the heart of the story better than any number of documents could. But that project had unique constraints and was to be shot under unique conditions. The conditions and constraints of ‘Our Journey Home’ are more common than mine were and there is much to learn from how the Stillmotion team handled them.
Other articles on Stillmotion’s MUSE process and ‘Our Journey Home’:
- planet5D.com – Stillmotion’s “Our Journey Home” & How the MUSE Storytelling Process Guided Stillmotion’s Creative Choices in Making It.
- planet5D.com – Stillmotion’s ‘Storytelling With Heart’ Touches & Teaches the Real Heart of Story.
Breaking Down 3 of Our Favorite Scenes from ‘Our Journey Home
Here’s the gear used:
- Main Camera: RED Epic
- 2nd Camera: RED Epic, Canon C100 version 1 or Sony A7s with Atomos Shogun
- Frame Rate: 23.978 fps with some off speed as needed (48, 60 and 96 fps)
- Lenses: All Canon glass: Cinema primes & L-series primes, plus 24-70mm f/2.8 II
- Tripod: Manfrotto (509hd head/536 mpro legs)
- Monopod: Manfrotto (MVM500A)
- Shoulder Rig: Zacuto Rig
- Slider: Cinevate Atlas 30 (current version)
- Gimbal: Freefly MoVI M10
- Primary Light Kit: Kino Celeb (current version), Westcott Flexlights / Reflectors, Profoto 800W HMI
- Post: Edited entirely on Adobe Premiere
- Color: FilmConvert
Our Journey Home was made with Muse, our storytelling process, and we use a set of 5 keywords as a filter to keep us aligned with our purpose. From locations to characters to lighting setups and camera selections we always fall back on this set of keywords to help us make decisions in a story-relevant way.
These were the keywords that our team and the client agreed on together. Those are the 5 keywords that define what we are trying to say—what this documentary is all about.
“AS THE DP, IT WAS THEN MY RESPONSIBILITY TO TAKE THOSE KEYWORDS AND BLEND IT WITH PATRICK’S VISION, EFFECTIVELY INTERPRETING EMOTION, PERSONALITY, AND PURPOSE INTO TECHNICAL DECISIONS.”
That isn’t an easy feat.
See, it’s natural to be drawn to the beauty of an image. The magic of lens flare at golden hour, the epic-ness of a glorious aerial, or the ever elusive floating dust particles suspended in the air.
When we set out to tell this story, one of the first big decisions we made was which camera we were going to shoot this film with. It’s a huge decision and affects many other parts of production (like lens choice, lighting packages, speed) and post-production (storage space, editing workflow, color, etc.).
Looking at the set of keywords, we see a wide range of emotions and feelings. Home (and the lack of home) lie at two opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the look and feel of the visuals. Lost is cold and negative, while Empowerment is inspiring and positive. Awareness and Bridge are more neutral and impartial.
Read full article at Stillmotion “Breaking Down 3 of Our Favorite Scenes from ‘Our Journey Home'”
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(cover photo credit: snap from Stillmotion)
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