Producing A Documentary: The Personal Piece

What if the character in your next piece isn’t a stranger at all? What if it’s a family member? Could you interrogate your parents and get them to reveal secrets they’ve buried since before you were born? Could you delve into the personal accounts of people you’ve known your whole life? How would you even approach it? This is exactly what documentary filmmaker, Lacey Schwartz, had to do in order to produce her documentary, Little White Lie. Recently, Columbia Visuals talked to Schwartz about the process of producing a documentary and turning the cameras on her own family.

A well-edited sequence creates clarity and allows viewers to understand the action taking place on screen. In order to create a seamless sequence in the editing room, you need to understand how to capture all the necessary footage. We've put together a basic list of shots you’ll need in order to create a coherent sequence of action- it's a simple starting place if you've never shot a sequence before.

Four Steps to a Video Story

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.

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Covering Protest in Ferguson: “I didn’t expect it to feel like war.”

Salima Koroma didn’t think her first first out-of-state assignment would be the historic protests over the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. She’s been producing video for Time’s online video team for just about two months, and last week they bought her a one-way ticket to Ferguson, Missouri.

Before starting at Time, she graduated from the documentary program at the Columbia University Journalism School, where she produced her own documentary, Bad Rap, and was a producer for NowThisNews. Columbia Visuals talked to Koroma about her experience producing video from Ferguson.

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Covering Protest in Ferguson: “These are people, not sound bites.”


Brent McDonald is a senior video journalist with the New York Times. He produced “Standoff in Ferguson,” a three-minute video for the Times that was published on August 14th, in the midst of protests over the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

McDonald has been producing video for over ten years, and has been with the Times since 2005. Columbia Visuals spoke with him by phone from Ferguson, Missouri, on August 15th. He told us about the mood there and gave us some details on his production methods. (more…)

“less about raising money and more about marketing the film”

Filmmakers today have to be their own production companies, PR agencies, and distributors. Columbia Journalism School alum  Salima Amina Koroma, class of 2013, exemplifies the way young filmmakers have taken control of all aspects of producing a documentary. (more…)

“It all comes down to building trust.”

Luke Malone, CUJ ’13, is an Australian journalist based in New York City, and the producer of “Secrets of the Living Dolls,” a documentary that features men who dress up in elaborate latex female bodysuits.

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