After four months I finally finished post-production of this short doc, the biggest project I’ve ever worked on in my 14 years in the business. It’s about the history f the Quebec Anglophone exodus from the province, seen through the eyes of 9 people who left Montreal for Western Canada.
The story was generated by writer David Johnstone, and last October The Gazette sent us out west to track down these nine people: Vancouver Island, Vancouver and Calgary. Then we went to Aylmer, Quebec for one other person who moved there after leaving Calgary.
As the photojournalist on this project, my job was to pruduce the visiual part of the story, including the video. When I was briefed on the story, I decided right away that it had to be a documentary, not just a simple video report. There were so many layers to the story and the historicl significance was to important not to delve into it deeply. Having decided that, I had to decide how to structure it, what elements I would need, what information I needed to get from the “subjects,” what questions to ask them. The writer had his own needs for the written portion of the story, and ahd his own set of questions for the interview.
Because of what I needed, I had to call the “subjects” before leaving Montreal, to do pre-interviews to A: help prep them for what I would need, B: get ideas for anything else I could use, and C: get ideas for other questions we could ask during the interview. I even watched a few documentaries to get ideas of what could work.
On the ground, I also had to shoot b-roll, tons of it given that we had nine people to interview. During the interviews, having informed the writer what I needed, I had to pay close attention to the questions. The writer could easily forget questions that I need asked since he is busy dealing with his own questions and his own needs. Also, the answers give me ideas for b-roll, (including archival pictures or old family pictures) and other questions that might suit the needs of the documentary. So after every interview the reporter wold ask if I had other questions or if I needed anything. I can’t afford to forget to ask something. If the writer does he can always make a phone call later. If I forget, I can’t fly back from Montreal to ask the question on camera, so It could create serios problems.
All this to say that team work on projects like this is VITAL. Whenever he had ideas he’d ask my advice or opinion, and vices versa.
For stills I decided to shoot mainly portraits o the subjects, and if editors needed other images I decided to use stills puled from the video. The gear I brought with me: 2 Canon 1D Mk111 still bodies; 1 Canon XHA1 vid cam; 1 tota lamp; 2 umbrellas; 2 Canon 580EX speedlights; 1 Canon 70-200 2.8 lens; 1 Canon 17-35 2.8 lens; lights stands and infra red transmitters, loads of batteries, tapes, extensions cords and a small video tripod.
Then it was time for post production. I shot close to 6 hours of tape, and I certainly had enough material to make an hour-long documentary, but for online purposes I decided to make it half that, chopped into 3 episodes. For editing I had to decide on scoring, find archival images, etc. After some reseach I decided on two Bowser and Blue songs, which they kindly gave me permission to use. Total post-production time was about 1 solid month, spread out over 4 months.
Lessons learnt: plan everything down to the last detail BEFORE shooting (I could’ve planned better). Be thorough during pre-interviews so the people understand what you need; plan shots carefully so you don’t end up with too much tape; BRING A HEAVY TRIPOD, no matter how much gear you have (had so many problems with the small one I brought; VERY jerky); shoot deails for b-roll (you can’t have too many); don’t forget to manual focus during interviews; PLAN EVERYTHING.
I loved every minte of this project in spite of the many, many frustrations. Would love your critique so I can get better. Thanks.