A documentary filmmaker is one who films reality. The documentary comprises of interviews with real people and actual events that took place as opposed to fiction films, which are entirely for entertainment. Documentary films may also contain some enacted material and imaginary sequences because the film is not necessarily only a report of reality but also a response to reality. A documentary film is creative, reflective and individualistic. The style of creating and editing a documentary film would thus vary from person to person.
The job entails research where one needs to read material related to the topic of the film. This could be newspapers, magazine reports, academic books, philosophical works and fiction works that are based on the same theme or issue.
The second stage of research requires field research where one needs to meet and interact with people who know about the subject and visit spaces that could be included in the film.
After this is done, one needs to prepare a script or a plan of shooting. This will put the entire documentary into place, thus one will need to keep a strict eye on details - how many people, places and events to be covered, whether the film will include animation, poetry, enactments, schedule of the shoot and budgets.
The director must then choose the ideal crew - camera person, sound recordist and editor.
During the shoot the director could do the interviews and decide on the visual style of the film and the kind of shots that will enhance the final product. Once the shoot is over, the director reviews the material gathered and initiates the editing stage where a script is written on the basis of information that has been gathered (because reality will never be exactly as expected in the shooting script).
After this the director and editor work together to create an edited film. Once the film is complete, the director supervises the final post-production work which includes working with composers on music, mixing the sound and adding the final touches.
A documentary film is creative reflective and individualistic. The style of creating and editing a documentary film would thus vary from person to person. In documentary work, directors are most often also the producers of the film. Raising money, budgeting and organising the work process i.e. renting equipment, paying people and making schedules are often done by the director.
How challenging is this field?
Documentary filmmaking is the most difficult of all types of filmmaking because it depends entirely on the director's ability to feature reality interestingly. Unlike fiction this cannot be shaped to one's own requirements of a good story.
What is the scope of this field?
This is a growing field in terms of possibility in India because different types of documentary films are made by NGOs, the government and broadcasters. Subjects you need to be good at in school: History, literature, physics and art.
What are the necessary qualifications to enter into this industry?
Since this is not a formal industry like broadcasting anyone with an interest and ability can enter this field in theory. But more generally an education in filmmaking or mass communication does help.
What are the dos and don'ts in this profession?
- Be curious, open minded, hardworking and interested in different art forms and ideas
- Be observant of how people speak and how they live their lives
- Have a good sense of humour
- Respect alternative opinions and differences of approach
- Be dishonest
- Be lazy and inattentive or easily bored
- Be rigid or unquestioning of the predictable version of things and ideas
- Knowingly do anything to trap, misrepresent or make unsafe the people and places in your film