Not a How-To Post on Documentary Filmmaking

In order to spark conversation, I thought I’d take a quick run through my process of making the documentary film, For the Love of Books. I invite questions, requests for more of an explanation, and most of all suggestions for improvement.

documentary filmmaking, how to, step by step

  1. As a longtime fan of documentary films and a writer of scripts, the catalyst that sparked me into action to try and make my own film came as I attended the Rhode Island International Film Festival.  
  2. While watching a block of shorts, I saw a film called Two’s a Crowd. It was about a Manhattan Jewish couple who had maintained separate apartments during their marriage but because of economic circumstances, they’d decided to finally move in together. I remember a line: “I can get married or move in together, but I can’t do both.”
  3. Two brothers made the film. I thought it was funny and interesting about relationships. I turned to my sister and said, “We can do this.”
  4. A plan was hatched to do a short film about my father and his morel mushroom hunting buddies. (now in progress)
  5. I have a MacBook from St. John’s University I use for work. My wife has one too. I decided I would be an Apple guy and that I would look for a camera that worked well with Apple and the company’s software program, Final Cut Pro X.
  6. I purchased an iMac with the largest screen possible. I purchased their video editing software Final Cut Pro X. 
  7. I might use the wrong computer jargon here, but I’ll do my best and correct me if you find mistakes. You’re going to need a lot of RAM. I think of this as working memory.  The iMac often comes with 4 GB of RAM. I have since upgraded to 16 GB.  It was very easy to do this myself. Just involved a few screws. Apple charges a lot for their RAM. Buy it and install it yourself.
  8. You are going to need an external hard drive. Final Cut Pro X will work much better if your video is stored on an external hard drive so the desktop processor is free to run the video editing software.
  9. Sometime after I bought my computer and before I bought the camera, I started to think about the crazy costumes of the Pulpwood Queens. I thought they’d look great on camera. I emailed Kathy Patrick and asked her if I could bring my camera down to Jefferson, Texas and film some of the events.

my camera: the JVC GY-HM150U

  1. A couple days before my trip to Jefferson, I purchased the JVC GY-HM150U from B & H photo. I purchased memory cards, a bag to carry the camera in, and an extra battery.
  2. I read Anthony Q. Artis’s book, Shut Up and Shoot. It gave me a lot to consider before I began shooting.
  3. I thought a film needed a through story, something a viewer could watch from beginning to end. The only story I could think of (maybe the only story I had access to) was my own story of being nervous and travelling to Jefferson for the Pulpwood Queens’ party. 
  4. I decided to shoot at 24P. I kind of wish I would have just shot in HD.  I may not have even described this right.
  5. I did what I could to shoot footage of the journey. This included still photos and video of airports, my rental car, the state line, sites along the way, and the “Jefferson” sign as I entered town. Except for when my battery ran out, I videoed everything that happened at Girlfriend Weekend.
  6. What story are you telling? How can you “show” it? I tried to feel out a story as the weekend passed. I knew I had to have an ending. I was on the lookout for it.
  7. It wasn’t long until I wished I’d bought a tripod. 
  8. Other mistakes? forgot to white balance the camera, didn’t know my camera had a “stabilization” button, ran out of battery in the middle of great footage, and I once had the mic facing the wrong direction.
  9. As you fill up your memory cards, where will you put the video? I had a MacBook and an external drive that I put footage onto at night. The files are enormous.
  10. Kathy Patrick introduced me to the crowd as a documentary filmmaker. I had a camera. As far as anyone knew, I was a documentary filmmaker. I tried to start acting like one. I focused on trying to capture the experience of the Pulpwood Queens’ Girlfriend Weekend. The more I filmed, the braver I got and the more I was willing to stick my camera into the action. I asked people questions and filmed their answers. 
  11. I wasn’t determined to make a documentary film. I wanted to learn to use my camera and get some experience. My experience with the Pulpwood Queens motivated me to see the film to completion.
  12. Having been introduced as a documentary filmmaker,  (rather than a guy who bought a camera) I was approached by Brooklyn-based photographer Natalie Brasington.  She offerred her still photographs to the film. I believe this is one of the key events that allowed the film to be completed. 
  13. I connected via Facebook with my old high school basketball rival and friend Jeremy Vogt. He offerred his music to the project.
  14. I took Apple workshops on Final Cut Pro X  at the Apple store on West 14th Street in Manhattan.  It was during these courses that I also learned about Larry Jordan and his book Final Cut Pro X: Making the Transition.  
  15. I essentially wrote an essay about the Pulpwood Queens. I cut it in half and read the first half of it to open the film. I used Natalie’s photographs to illustrate it. I added Jeremy’s music. I did the same for the end.

Hope this gives you an idea of my process

Love to hear questions and suggestions

Thanks for reading!

Good News: Documentary Will Play Phenom Film Festival

My documentary, For the Love of Books, has been accepted to screen at the Phenom International Film Festival.  For the Love of Books tells the story of Kathy Patrick and the Pulpwood Queens’ Girlfriend Weekend. The Queens throw a book-loving party each January that features outrageous costumes, great storytelling, and many inspiring literacy projects.  The majority of the still photography in the film was taken by Natalie Brasington and the music was done by my former high school basketball rival, Jeremy Vogt. The festival will be held in Shreveport, Louisiana from Sept. 6-9, 2012. I plan to share more information as it comes, and I hope you’ll help me spread the word.  Special thanks to Kathy Patrick, the Pulpwood Queens, and all the talented authors who appear in the film. If you sign up for regular updates below, I’ll write you a note  and say hello!

Shreveport film movies industry screenwriter scripts William Torgerson Kathy Patrick Pulpwood Queens Book Club film festival Texas

Two of the Many Friendly People I Met in Jefferson, Texas

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A School Project With a JVC GY-HM150 U, Apple, and Final Cut Pro X

Because I wanted to try some documentary work, back in January of 2012 I bought an iMac, Final Cut Pro X, and a JVC GY-HM150 U video camera from B & H Camera in Manhattan.  I’ve been meaning to write about how I like these products and what’s it has been like to learn how to use them. The video you’ll see below is something my daughter and I worked on last weekend.  She was to do a project on sheep and so the whole family collaborated over a weekend at Queens Farm. Yes, we do have a big farm here in one of the five boroughs of New York City.

That's Me With the Black Video Camera

Charlotte’s Cover Image for her Video

One of my films is almost finished, the one about Kathy Patrick and the Pulpwood Queens’ Book Club. I’d been researching what sort of camera I wanted to buy, when I realized that my trip to Texas to see the Pulpwood Queens would make for a great story.  So I bought the camera and read the book on how to use it on the way down. If you see the film, it won’t be too hard to figure out I was a rookie cameraman, but the content of the Queens and the authors is so great that I think it carries the documentary.  I was also very fortunate that two friends, Natalie Brasington who is a photographer, and Jeremy Vogt who is a musician, provided some great content.

Since my trip, I took all four of the Apple Pro Lab courses in Manhattan at the store on 14th Street. They were FREE and fantastic.  Now I’m reading Larry Jordan’s Final Cut Pro X: Making the Transition. The “transition” refers to those who are coming from the old FCP programs. I didn’t really have any editing experience so I haven’t had much new to get used to.

I’m calling the Pulpwood Queens documentary For the Love of Books. The second film will be about my father and his buddies and will titled The Mushroom Hunter. I don’t think my daughter and I talked about what she wanted to call her film. Given her title page, I guess it’s Charlotte’s Sheep Project.