I have sacrificed a lot to partake in Recording Place, RMIT summer studio. I work full-time, I have 2-3 other film projects I am in pre-production for and I have a casual job on top of that. For the past 6 weeks I have been either at work, in meetings or at uni every day, all day. I can wholeheartedly say that it has been worth it. It has been my favourite class to date at RMIT. I have learnt invaluable lessons about documentary filmmaking and I feel empowered by that knowledge. For this I will be eternally grateful to our tutor, Rohan Spong and to RMIT.
Rohan himself serves as an inspiration to all media students. He made a whole documentary film by himself. He shot and directed his own documentary set in New York! Hence he flew back and forth from home in Australia to complete the project. This is a huge feat and it is immensely inspirational. He encourages us to go forth into the world and work alone if we need to. This is important to me because I have always felt let down from collaborators and to be encouraged to work alone and to now have a personal example of someone having done that and succeed is enough to inspire me to do the same.
More importantly, Rohan broke down the process for us in a way that was easy to understand and practical. This is something I feel I have missed in other classes throughout my degree at RMIT. We have focused a lot on media and film theory and too little on how to apply that knowledge practically within the industry.
The structure that Rohan taught which I will take with me onto my next documentary project is:
- Choose an interesting setting and observe characters–allow stories to come to you.
- Once a person, place or event is decided upon, create a logline, synopsis and treatment. (This stage helps define the purpose of the film and the direction of the interview questions)
- Write no more than 10 questions with a “destination” in mind.
- Shoot an interview with your subject in flattering lighting and compose a strong image/background to frame your subject.
- Edit the interview a few times until you have the final rushes, then add appropriate visual details to compliment what is being said.
- Use images that compliment what is being said.
- Cull and refine ruthlessly.
Working with Haylee McCormick throughout the studio has been an absolute pleasure. Her and I worked seamlessly together and had fun through the whole process. At this point I had almost forgotten that my original desired subject had declined and Haylee and I had searched desperately for a new subject, because everything since has moved so quickly and has felt quite easy.
Once we locked Ariel in (as hesitant and somewhat hostile as he was at first) we knew we had a promising story to tell. It was certainly going to be a challenge for us. We both felt the story itself was shallow — just a celebration of sweaters — but with Rohan’s guidance we found an angle that was sweet and we enjoyed allowing ourselves and our documentary to be playful (not something either of us is used to — we both normally side with the dark side). We decided comfortably to divide cinematography and sound roles, but worked collectively on the rest.
We had a major mishap on the way (we somehow deleted our original footage), but we proved our problem solving skills a plenty when we re-shot most of it within moments of everything being deleted.
The most important tips and skills I have taken away with me from the course is to always categorize, label and back-up everything! Haylee and I learned this the hard way. Another is to think carefully about composing an image based on the Rule of Thirds — even the interview should be shot with symmetry and visual appeal in mind. Lastly, to write the idea and treatment before you jump into production — no more ‘winging it’!
Truthfully, these are only a few main examples of the points I have taken away from this studio. Really, I feel as though I have been given the combination to documentary filmmaking. I am very excited to make my own documentary with Rohan’s advice in mind.
Word count: 731