- By Joy Davenport
- Published 09/28/2010
Filming a good documentary requires great attention to detail -careful research, passion for the subject matter at hand, and painstaking preparation can combine to create an unforgettable “slice of life” – one that really resonates with viewers. However, you must approach the pre-production part of your project correctly – part of getting it right relies on great storyboarding. Detailed storyboards will allow you to organize a lot of different types of information – you will also be able to plan out the entire pre-production process. Most documentary filmmakers work hard to create a specific focus or point-of-view (Dylan Avery, creator of the 9/11 conspiracy documentary, Loose Change, is one example of this style), whereas others will strive to avoid bias or editorializing. Whatever approach you take, you will need to go through a process of previsualization before your can craft truly effective storyboards. This previz phase is usually a brainstorming phase, one where test interviews may also be conducted (with or without filming the subject).
The point of previz is to structure a particular focus, and to find subjects who will share their lives to the degree that is necessary to produce a meaningful documentary. During previz, consider locations, research, “casting”, and camera shots and angles. Spend a little time thinking about soundtracks, music, and any special effects. Setting the tone and organizing your vision is the goal of previsualization. Sometimes, t
his is achieved in a group setting – true brainstorming is a group activity. However, you can also work alone – putting your research in a linear order and dreaming up ideas can be very helpful as your prepare to do your storyboarding. Today, documentary directors are turning away from the tiresome storyboarding methods of past decades. Instead of hiring a live artist, and dealing with delays and drama while waiting for sketches, they are opting for film storyboard software that takes the artist out of the equation. Web storyboard software has come a long way – now, it offers a full complement of pre-loaded artwork, including characters, background, and props. This software is designed to pay for itself over time, by eliminating the need to outsource drawings. It also streamlines the creative process – you can create finished storyboards in mere minutes.
Whichever storyboard method you choose, be it old-fashioned paper storyboards or modern digital storyboards, you will need to map out every second of your documentary – frame by frame. Consider every element of each shot or scene, and then add dialogue and music as well (obviously, this is easier with digital storyboards – the software makes it easy to add or change sound effects). Play with ideas as you craft your storyboard – you can capture the essence of your artistic vision through experimentation. This can lead to a more streamlined, cost-effective filming process. You’ll save time, money, and effort when you create polished storyboarding that organizes all the myriad elements of your documentary – before the cameras start rolling.