“Months ago, I got the crazy idea to write, produce and direct my first documentary. I wasn’t completely unrealistic — I knew enough to start small with a short, micro-budgetfilm. I also knew I could count on a supportive network of documentary filmmakers — including pros such as Doug Block, Marshall Curry, Laura Nix, Tracy Droz Tragos, Robert Greene, and others — to help guide me through the process. Later in this piece, I’ll share some of their invaluable wisdom. But first, here’s a bit about my film and my process so far….”
As filmmakers we’re all storytellers — trying to tell stories we hope will make an impact on the world.
But in the age of fake news, ‘truthyism’, and one-sided agenda-driven journalism, how can we craft compelling stories with integrity, that people will actually want to watch?
That’s the question I put to veteran FRONTLINE editor Steve Audette, ACE, one rainy night in a hotel bar in London,…
Dr Michael Coyne is a legendary Australian photojournalist and documentary photographer whose client list includes some of the most prestigious magazine, corporate and institutional clients. He is heavily involved in outreach and education, being Adjunct Professor of Photography at Melbourne’s RMIT University and Honorary Lecturer at Hong Kong University as well as a respected public speaker.
A longtime Fujifilm camera user and Fujifilm Ambassador, Dr Coyne was chosen to test the Fujifilm GFX 50S in Tokyo in January between working on assignments and personal projects such as the one about contemporary village life depicted in this video.
FUJIFILMglobal – Michael Coyne with XF23mmF2 R WR / FUJIFILM
Simon Kilmurry, Executive Director of the International Documentary Association, asks whether documentaries movies are relevant nowadays in his guest column at The Hollywood Reporter, Why Documentaries Matter Now More Than Ever.
Mr Kilmurry answers in the affirmative:
Documentary film is essential to a healthy and democratic society — that is why it is feared by autocrats.
I once dreamed of a feature film and broadcast-quality Super 16 video camera system that anyone could afford and that was small, lightweight, rugged, self-stabilized and could easily be carried everywhere.
At the time, I was trying to work within the prevailing documentary production framework dominated by state and federal funding and broadcasting organizations aka gatekeepers.
The gatekeeper system demanded you go cap in hand to a series of these organizations with your one-page treatment, hoping for pre-production funding in order to get started. Then you were forced to run the same gauntlet over and over again at each subsequent stage of the process.
Eventually, if you were lucky enough to get to the point of hiring a crew and renting hardware at enormous expense, as demanded by the funding gatekeepers, you could apply photons to sensor and begin shooting.
If, that is, said gatekeepers did not snatch your project out of your hands because some bureaucrat along the way decided you were not worthy enough to make your own movie.
We decided to shortcut that gauntlet-running process a little with one project where we took my initial pre-production grant and gave it to the famous though erratic documentary director to whom I was forced to hand over the whole movie.
He shot a fair percentage of the final footage then edited some into a short preview used in running the rest of the gauntlet. It helped by proving the brilliance of the documentary’s story idea and the engaging though challenging lead character.
Some lessons from that era
Never agree to hand your project over to anyone, no matter what guarantees they make and conditions they agree to. Kill or at least postpone your project if you are told that handing it over is the condition of obtaining crucial funding.
Never create a project containing a secondary story thread in which your nation’s Prime Minister takes so much interest they feel compelled to demand your first-time director commission from a national public broadcaster be rescinded immediately.
His reason? That the leader of another country and his dad might possibly be embarrassed by reminders of their own past transgressions if certain scenes were to be included in the final cut. It all went downhill from then onwards.
The famous if erratic documentary director/cinematographer, I discovered too late, had his own agenda and made a very different movie to what I had envisaged.
His was a hero-worshipping puff piece and mine was about the broader, deeper human rights issues surrounding the lead character. The movie made a small splash on the festival circuit then sank without a trace.
So, the lessons?
Always shoot your first footage and edit your own preview by whatever means possible, even if you have no money whatsoever.
Never hand your project over to anyone, ever. Did I already say that?
The affordable moviemaking hardware and software we have now did not exist then otherwise I would have followed my own advice and done everything myself.
In the process I would have proven I could do it and could have brushed off the loss of my first director’s commission from a three-letter acronym national public broadcaster by bypassing all state and national funders and broadcasters to go straight to foreign funders and broadcasters with an advanced preview.
If the camera system I had long been dreaming of had existed then I might have remained in charge of my own project from go to whoah.
Here at last, here at last
That camera is finally here, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH5 with its revised lenses, the Lumix G X Vario 12–35mm f/2.8 II Aspheric Power OIS zoom and Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm f/2.8 II Power OIS zoom.
I would add the Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f/4.0 Aspheric zoom though the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro is tempting due to its faster maximum aperture, repeatable clutch manual focus and reportedly excellent optical correction. Neither wide zoom has optical image stabilization (OIS) unfortunately, particularly handy on the longer end of their focal length scales.
I would add two or three fast prime lenses to that core three-zoom kit, one moderately long, another moderately wide and possibly one in-between.
There are a few options with moderately long primes, including the Lumix G 42.5mm f/1.7 Aspheric Power OIS lens, its Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 Aspheric Power OIS stablemate or the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45mm F1.8.
Same again with moderately wide primes including the Leica DG Summilux 12mm f/1.4 Aspheric, Leica DG Summilux 15mm f/1.7 Aspheric or Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8.
Then for fast standard primes we have the choice between the Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 Aspheric, the Lumix G 25mm f/1.7 Aspheric, the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 Pro, the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 25mm f/1.8 or Sigma’s 30mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary.
Let’s not forget Cosina’s excellent if pricey Voigtlaender Nokton f/0.95 manual-focus prime lenses in their 10.5mm, 17.5mm, 25mm and 42.5mm incarnations as well as cinema primes like those from Veydra or Samyang‘s Xeen range.
I have yet to try out current cameras with 5-axis Dual IS 2 like the Lumix DMC-G80/85 or DMC-GX80/85 to know how much stability non-OIS lenses gain by it but knowing the GH5 will have IBIS is a relief.
Right now I am packing for a video location shoot in a dimly-lit location where I can only use the GH4 handheld. I am taking a Rotolight Neo to use if supplementary lighting is permitted but plan on applying CoreMelt Lock & Load to my footage for stabilization, sacrificing some of the 4K frame. With the GH5, I will no longer need to do that.
The coming of the GH5 looks set to change everything for the better.
Martin Wallgren – Lumix GH5 High ISO Grading Test
BBC – The World Around Us – The Camera That Changed the World
Header photoillustration aka featured image created for this website in Photoshop by Carmel D. Morris. Product photographs kindly supplied by Panasonic.