Documentary Shorts

9 March
Odeon

At one of the many Q&A sessions that took place at the Manchester International Film Festival, each of the Shorts directors or producers stated that creating a working relationship with the subject of a social documentary was essential. It doesn’t matter whether the focus of the project is a remote football team such as Fort William FC (A Long Way to Winning, Dir. James Baines, UK) or a community in South Africa fighting against a coal mining company that appears to be trampling over their rights (Divided We Dance, Dir. Anna Prichard), Or even a would-be Buddhist monk in training (Heng Yue, Dir. Tara Darby) - cooperation is key.

There are times when the subject matter may be more used to having a camera crew around, which was the case for Mathew vs Pritchard (Dir: Jake Hardy, UK). For people of a certain age they may remember Pritchard as one member from the anarchic outfit that were captured in the Dirty Sanchez TV series, a programme famed for people carrying out acts of destruction, normally upon themselves. His transformation to a barber shop owner, a triathlon survivor, and hill walker is entertainingly described in the film.

Inevitable questions were asked by Heng Yue during training in Brentwood, Essex to be Buddhist monk as to why he was to be the subject matter of Tara Darby’s documentary short film. Would the emphasis be on the martial arts element of the training so heavily associated with violence in most modern films? Or would it be on the discipline, hard work and control at the core of the ancient art? The latter proved to be the correct answer.

Similarly, when James Baines was locked out from Fort Williams’ changing room at half-time, a boundary had been set which was to be respected.

Organisation and preparation are key elements to a successful shoot as well. Only turning up with a camera and microphone means that valuable shooting time can be lost. For director Anna Prichard and producer David Quintero, a five-day trip to South Africa for Divided We Dance meant that interviewees had to be identified, transport across a wide area planned and key players such as Kirsten Youens contacted before a trip to the airport is even considered. Much of that background and preparation work was carried out well in advance of a single frame being captured, usually with the help of a fixer, but always with the flexibility to accommodate the changing situation on the ground.

Many documentaries are a snapshot in time, with the final outcome not always being known, as with Divided We Dance whose central legal case is still ongoing. Brianna Tutti’s feature, Heroes Wear Leos (as in leotards), revolves around the case of Larry Nasser, the disgraced team doctor to the USA national gymnastics team and now a convicted serial child molester.

Confirming the international attraction of this event, over in the Philippines director Cole Sax has taken a more focused view on a small family unit with Second Sight. Each member of a family is a key cog in its success, so there is little room for manoeuvre should things go wrong. When the mother, Joanaly, goes blind, everyone is significantly affected, from the mother who can no longer play a part, to the sons who had to give up their education to work cultivating rice to bring in money. After two years of needless blindness, Joanaly is reliant upon doctors, some of whom travel from different countries and donate their time free to help easily treatable illnesses. She is one of 300 people who are treated in two days. She waits with the other 299 in a queue, hoping she will be able to see if her sons are happy by looking at their faces and not only listening to their words.

This event presented diverse topics and different viewpoints, but all projects were undertaken with respect, distance and sometimes quite a bit of humour.

Ged Camera

Post Production Workshop with One Bright Dot

13 March
Cultureplex

So you've created your own, attention-grabbing masterpiece. The main actor is a well-known person from (small) screen and stage, but because you grew up with them they charged mates' rates. Your budget is almost spent and all that's required is a bit of tweaking and your creation will be available for all the world to realise how much of an influence you'll be on future generations film fans.

Then someone pipes up: "What about post production?"

“What do you mean?”

“Well, every film seems to have it, so perhaps should we just check?”

“What benefits will it bring?”

That statement will then unleash a whole series of technical questions.

"Did you shoot it on two different cameras?" you may be asked.
"How can you tell?"
"Well, the colour balances are different."

Or:

“Was that scene shot over two different days?”
“How did you know that?”
“Well, the background noise changes between camera switches.”

Without trying to knock someone who has expended a lot of physical and mental energy, plus undoubtedly a lot of money, welcome to the world of post production.

At one of the many workshops held as part of MANIFF 2020, three creatives - Millie Ali, Chris Brearley and Nick Netsall - who are actively involved with post production techniques offered insights into some of the common mistakes they encounter.

One Bright Dot was set up by Chris about 15 years ago though his love of film, but all three panellists are firm in the belief that anyone setting about shooting a film needs to factor in post production at an early stage, particularly independent filmmakers.

At the event at Cultureplex, which was hosted by one of the MANIFF organisers, Neil Jeram-Croft, One Bright Dot provided advice. It’s important to take a step back from just considering the efforts that take place in front of the camera, and instead take a more holistic view.

For example, it’s popular to shoot on Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR), or even an iPhone, with superb effects. But if consideration isn’t given to colour balance and so on, then it can take a lot of time, effort and money to match everything together.

One thing the trio advise is to always capture a few extra takes as “an insurance policy”. On the set, the actor(s) may have just captured the tone and intent of the script, but there may be something on the background track that is at odds with the sound. So having another take to hand whilst everything is set up allows for the best of the takes to be combined.

The company are always willing to engage with new filmmakers and nurture them along. “It will save you money in the long run”.

Ged Camera