Last month, the Digital Media Associates– members of one of our fellowship programs at the Columbia Journalism school- produced the video above as a team. We wanted to share our process, because while it’s a short, straightforward story, the steps we took to produce the piece are the same steps we’d take to make a full-length documentary. We’ll walk you through the reporting, shooting, storyboarding and editing of a video that might be similar to the videos you’ll produce.
Step One: Pre-Reporting & Casting
We began with researching Ramadan – being knowledgeable about our subject matter allowed us to ask informed questions when we were looking for our main character.
Then we searched Morningside Heights, Union Square and Columbus Circle looking for the right person to feature in our story. We were looking for someone who worked a strenuous job while also fasting for the Muslim holy month. There were some language barriers but luckily one of our crew, MJ, is fluent in Arabic.
Our top prospects were narrowed down to three food cart vendors around the city. We only needed one but we secured the others as backup – it’s always good to have a backup plan. Mohammed el Damallawy, an Egyptian native, became the subject of our piece. We worked out a schedule to follow him throughout an entire day.
Some people may object to the word “casting” but it’s important to find a character who is willing to commit, and is available to be filmed when your schedule allows.
Step Two: Capturing Image and Sound
The next step was to start shooting. We arrived at el Damallawy’s house in Astoria, Queens, at 7:30am with all of our gear – a Canon C100, tripod, monopod, a lavalier mic and a boom mic. Our character took the train to work, so we placed the lavalier on him during his commute – we wanted to capture anything he might have said during his journey. We also used the boom mic – this was used to capture ambient sound of the surrounding environment.
We used the monopod on the train for a steadier shot (and because we didn’t have a permit to use a tripod in the train). Using the monopod also allowed us to have more room to move around in the train and on the platform. When we arrived at his food cart, we used the tripod to capture close-ups, medium and wide shots of his actions – these shots would be used later to build sequences. We interviewed him throughout the day, when the customer traffic slowed down. When his shift was over, we followed him back home.
Step Three: Structuring the Narrative Arc
We logged all our footage and then began working on the structure of our story. We didn’t want to simply show el Damallawy going through his day; we wanted to illustrate his struggle through images as well as sound. First we transcribed our interviews – this made it easy to find the best quotes – then we organized the quotes by topic. After that was done, we wrote a four-line synopsis of our story: who the character was, and the struggles he faced while trying to get through a day of fasting. This summary helped us to clarify exactly how we would communicate this story to our audience.
Step Four: Editing Image and Sound
We decided before we started shooting that the entire story could be told in two to three minutes. We had captured about eight hours of footage so we did a lot of editing to fit that time limit. We used Premiere Pro CC to edit. After we combined the best visuals and audio for the piece, it was time for corrections. We did some color-correction, and then we mixed the audio so that that the levels were even – great audio is essential for producing great video. Our final step was to export, and upload the final version to Vimeo.
Making video is time-intensive, but the more you do it, the faster this process gets. Enjoy it! And eat lots of junk food.
Video produced by Rhon Flatts, MJ Daoud and Joanna Plucinska. Graphic by MJ Daoud.