I was 20 years old. I pulled up to the church venue with my trusty T3i in hand and parked my mom’s convertible. I was wearing a dark grey suit I purchased straight from India (one of those made to measure sites).
I walked into the building and immediately was greeted by the bride’s mother. She waved me into a room full of groomsmen. I turned on my camera and started filming… everything. I filmed the guys tying their black dress shoes. I filmed every bow tie being put on. I even filmed them playing cards in the corner.
This was the first paid wedding gig.
Throughout the rest of the day and evening I filled up 4 cards full of footage. I didn’t want to miss a second of anything.
I followed the photographer around and copied her angles as she flashed her fancy Canon MKii at the happy couple.
The 12 hour day took forever. But the DJ finally played ‘Closing Time.’ And it was time to head back to my MacBook and dump the footage.
Thinking back, I had to buy another hard drive to fit all my footage.
While scrolling through I noticed something frightening… 90% of my footage was trash.
My biggest problem was the fact that I did 0 planning before the wedding. I didn’t plan out any shots. I didn’t put any thought into what I was filming. I didn’t even get a decent angle of their first kiss.
It’s an issue that plagues a lot of filmmakers. Planning. It’s key and can make or break the shots that you get in your film. This includes both documentary and narrative work.
So how do you plan your film before you even start making it?
Currently, I’m making a film about a high school wrestler who struggles with an eating disorder. Now I know a little about wrestling. I came 2nd in conference in 8th grade (humble brag)…
But I wanted to have an idea of the high school wrestling culture before I started scripting my story out.
The worst thing would be to write a 15 page script, then throw it away because it’s not accurate to the topic of my film.
Now here is the Survey Tactic that recently worked crazy well for me.
First, I put together a survey of 5 questions that hit on my general film idea for wrestlers to fill out.
Next, I searched Reddit (an internet website forum with every subculture you could imagine) and I told them about my film and asked for help.
I ended up getting 30 amazing, detailed responses. These are real thoughts from people in that subculture.
Here’s how you can create your own survey.
#1 – figure out the subculture for you film.
What’s your film about? Is it a wedding film? Is it about a dancer? Or maybe a farmer? Figure that out!
Start searching for subreddits here. Or use other forum sites. You can even have friends fill out these surveys.
Example for wedding films: you can find a ‘bride’ subreddit and see what shots brides actually want captured. This is going to help you create some killer wedding films.
#2 – Go to google drive and create a survey.
Write up some questions that you have about the type of film your making. Write out questions that would help serve your story.
You can see a sample of my questions here:
This is going to allow you to get a jump on your visuals and story before you set your script in stone.
This is especially helpful for documentary work that is covering a specific subculture.
#3 – Sift through those responses.
You might get a lot of responses. Focus on the longer responses.
It means they really put their thoughts and feelings into answering these questions.
Sure, some of the responses will be weak. But you’ll find golden nuggets like this response I got!
#4 – List out these topics into scenes and moments you can capture.
Take the responses you got and start breaking those responses down into scenes / moments in your film.
Don’t skip this. This is where we actually get value out the information we received.
Because this allows us to tell the truth about that subculture. And that’s what people enjoy most. People laugh at the truth, cry at the truth, and feel the truth.
Start telling the truth in storytelling. A trick to do that is by listening first.
Here’s a link to my survey. Check it out and feel free to copy my questions and adjust them for your next project!
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