Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Please follow us at

Hey there - workshops are starting this week, new blog posts are coming out all sorts of stuff, but please follow us at our new blog site:

See you over there!



Thursday, September 2, 2010

Moving to

Hey there lovely readers - Please come find me over at, new site, new blog, new class starting soon - please come check it out - pass the word - sign up for class - make your documentary!

Documentaries Rule!

Thanks for reading & Filmmaking

Stephanie Hubbard
The Documentary Insider.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Documentary Insider going to WESTDOC

Hey there Documentary Insiders -

I went to WestDoc last year, and this year I will be covering the conference for all my Documentary Insider Readers and workshop students!  I think there will be lots of cool relevant subjects there.  Last year, WestDoc is where I met Adam Chapnick - which resulted in one of my favorite posts of 2009.

So - another bonus to Documentary Insider readers, WestDoc is offering my readers a discount - just use the code CTW2010 to get a 10% discount on the conference if you sign up by Sept 1. 

Who should go?  Well, one of the nice things about WestDoc is that you get a chance to sit with executives from different channels to pitch your shows.  If you have a show idea - then that would be ideal.  Last year I went to one session that jerked loose the ideas that I'd developed a few years earlier - then met a guy at the WestDoc cocktail party from a production company hungry for ideas (I knew how to pitch him cause I'd just been to the earlier session) I ended up producing a demo with the guy and his company.  In the end the network didn't take it - but WestDoc man - it might be a good fit for where you are at right now - or it might be something you'll just want to read my articles about ; - )

BTW - I will be starting a 12 week Doc School in September. I will have one class in the evening (Wednesdays) and one class during a week day.  Each class is limited to six participants, so if you know anyone who'd like to get their doc started, sorted and wonderful by November - please pass the word along!   If you want to reserve a spot, the best way right now is to call (323)202-5645 or to email me at


Stephanie Hubbard
Documentary Insider. 

Monday, July 12, 2010


You know the saying:  Throw spaghetti at the wall, and see what sticks.  That in and of itself is not bad when you are making a doc.  But if it's your only approach, you will limit yourself.

I I do not believe you need every element locked down before you start shooting, but I do think the best is to really think about what you want to say, and who you want to say it to.  Are you following a character more or working to illustrate an issue?  The best documentaries do both, but in my experience, the filmmakers usually start with one or the other.

So here is my experience of the Spaghetti Trap:

It started with filmmakers whose approach began with an issue.  Their take on filmmaking was "Go shoot everything  you can or who ever you can about this subject"  Period.  Once they started on the hunt to get this one or that person to speak on camera, they were consumed by the hunt.  Once they started the shoot, driving around from state to state in a van, they were consumed by the shoot.

They showed up in my edit room with 130 hours of footage and no outline, no script, no real idea of what would hold all these ideas together.

I was able to eke out the semblance of an arc from tiny fragments they'd captured, almost by accident along the way - and though they'd captured amazing footage and interviews, and though they won awards with the finished film, they could have done better and gone farther with it if they'd had more of an ARC to their story.

Can you see the trap here?

If we could have gone back in time, they might have begun work with their editor (me perhaps) or someone else BEFORE they went shooting - why?  So they could really think about the key mechanism for tying this information together.  Are we going to follow one character on a quest for information?  Are we going to track one person through their recovery through the situation we are documenting with bits and bobs tangenting off to the side, but with a through arc created by that person?

The very act of considering the film as more than a list of interviews, would have raised their consciousness so that on the road, shooting, they would be able to stick around long enough to follow someone to capture an arc.  They could have included themselves as the characters on a quest.  Or do what ever they had decided wanted to do - from thinking about it BEFORE HAND. 

The point I am trying to make:  While your plan/script/structure can change as often as you need it to, building in the discipline of thinking about your film as a whole will give you a WHOLE lot more complete material for making your film operate at a much higher level.  You will truly optimize your shooing, and make your editor VERY HAPPY!

Stephanie Hubbard is an award winning producer and editor who teaches documentary at the Syracuse University Program in Los Angeles, and private workshops for filmmakers who want to make their best possible film. 

Monday, June 14, 2010

How to Organize Your Material

So, you are an assistant and you want to impress your new boss (the editor) with the material you've been asked to digitize.  Or, you might be an editor at the beginning of the biggest project you've had to date -

You're just starting out what could be a long project: How best to Organize it?

Well, let's go back a step, How to you label the materials as you bring them in?

I think it's always best to avoid wasting crucial information place holders with notations like:

Tape - 12

So Don't.  One option is to name it after the over all project - so a project about Bible Storyland might always be BSL - but even better - is the name of the person you are interviewing:  Pierce - 001

Why put extra numbers?

ALWAYS put 001, 002, 003 etc.  Why? Because otherwise, your single numbers get mixed up in your 20's and 30's etc.  so if you number 1,2,3,4,5, etc. when they are listed in the bin or on the drive it will be, 1, 10, 11, 12...2, 20, 21, and so on.  THUS the use of 001, 002 003, and everything ends up where it is supposed to be.

So let's presume you have everything properly labelled (no small feat)

You are looking at an empty bin in FCP - where to start?

Okay - you should have just five folders:

FOOTAGE, and within that, you might have two folders, INTERVIEWS and B-ROLL. And within those - particular interviews, particular b-roll divided by folder.  YOU CANNOT have too many folders at this level.

Though there will be shows that are strictly verite - you can use big categories:  MONTANA, FLORIDA to group the material.  You might use DATES:  SEPTEMBER etc.

But what should go along side FOOTAGE?

ARCHIVAL (if you have it)
PHOTOS (if you use them)
(or just Audio and split those two up)
And what ever other categories you might accrue.
But must importantly - you have a folder JUST for SEQUENCES.

Sometimes, depending on the size of the project - folders within folders of Sequences - but at least one folder.

And there you have it - the beginning of a well organized bin....

Please, if you have other suggestions or thoughts, post them.


Stephanie Hubbard.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Content vs. Capability

I notice I have two very different kinds of workshop participants/students.

Profile #1: A person has a very specific idea about what they want to do their documentary about.  It may be about gay marriage, or a spiritual journey, a lost story of LA.  Some do know how to make docs, and want an outside point of view to help them get clarity on how to proceed, others don't know how to make docs yet, but they want to, and they are starting with this story.

Profile #2: A person who doesn't really have a strong idea about what they want to tell, but has a strong desire for the skill set.  Something in them wants to be able to make documentaries, and they come to me to learn the skills so they can apply them as they journey through life.

What is interesting to me:
In the case of #2's I can help them look for good subjects. They can begin to know what it is they are looking for - essentially a story with a strong transformation - or the hope of one.  Of course, there is the idea of choosing someone who might be a good subject, and I would refer them to my interview with Kirby Dick  

In the case of #1's I help them see where the transformation is within the story they want to tell.  My favorite example is of a filmmaker that came to me with years of verite footage shot depicting people who went through the experiences around the subject he wanted to portray.  He came into my office in our first class, and told me he only had to get about 12 interviews of experts to tell the story.  But when we broke it down, we found he already head the story in his verite footage - ready to be a powerful compelling story.   

I also find #1's who become #2's.  They find they love the process of making films, and go on to make more. 

I personally, love working with all my students and clients whether it be helping them find the story they've already started, or learning how to set up an interview, or how to capture verite footage for a film they don't even know they are going to make yet. 

I just started a new workshop this week, there are spots still available.  The time is 12:30 Wednesday afternoon.  There may also be an evening slot open.  If you are interested, please email me at

Thanks for reading!  Stephanie.  

Friday, March 19, 2010

Structure Makes Your Improvisation Work!

So, going to see a performance of Improv at IOWest is amazing.  I suggest going Tuesday nights at 9 to see USS Rock and Roll and Local 132.  There have been several times I've brought friends fresh to improv and they could not believe that every word was made up - had never existed before this performance, and will never exist again (unless, the performance was filmed of course)   It is an amazing feat, as improvisors move, speak, emote, seemingly plot, and express theme, broader meaning, the whole deal, with NO discussion - nothing more than eye contact.  These teams I'm recommending do a form called The Harold.  This is a form developed at IOWest (when it used to be Improv Olympic) by Del Close, the original IOer.

What is the Harold?  An opening, three "first scenes" a game, three "second scenes" where the characters or locations of the first scenes come back, another game, and the final coming together of all three plot lines as they affect each other in often hilariously and profound ways.    A couple of details, the second beats may often be the longest beats in the piece, time to develop characters, situations etc.  The third beats are where everyone's story gets wrapped up. ; - )

Well what have we here?  Yes, we have structure.  What else might we have?  How bout a want and a need.  The way to have powerful themes is to begin with a callow character who actually changes in the third act.  The way I teach my students now is that this transformation occurs when the want collides with the need, and the Hero has to relinquish her want or "die".  In improv, it may be as simple as, girl who wants friends and tries to get them by being mean, realizes she should be nice.  But once we meet her in the first act, we want to see her come back in the second "beat" and see the consequences of her meanness.  It's only in the third act, as we wrap up in improv that we see our hero transformed, see her realize that because she needs friends, she needs not to be mean any more.  Okay, that's a super basic example, but improv CAN be simpler than Doc, but also can be more more challenging and complex.

Okay - so how does this apply to me and my doc you may be asking?

First of all, what this means, no matter how organic your doc (cause improv is the epitomy of organic) you will make it better by having a structure.

Let me tell you.....I always used to think that you just start shooting right?  Well after years of working on trying to edit docs for people who "Just Started Shooting" I realized that they had spent their valuable time and resources - and often the time of others - and even if the filmmaker started with a GREAT idea, if they didn't fully develop the structure for their film BEFORE they start - if they didn't think about who could take us into this world and have a transformation - then - unless you are INCREDIBLY f-ing lucky - you won't get that.  Sure, some people are in the right place at the right time, but you're too smart and too good to leave it all to chance.

So, number 1, step out on stage with all the players knowing the structure.
number 2, choose characters with strong wants, and strong needs.  Know they will stick to those through the first two acts.
number three, make theme - or saying something about something, more than the immediate scenario at hand - a goal.

If you can take these three things and apply them to your documentary BEFORE you start shooting, or at a far distant least, AS you shoot, then you have a shot to have the main elements that make a great film.

 To review - you want:

1) a hero who has a transformation   and 2) a film that transcends it's subject, that is about more than it appeared to be at first.

(What do Want and Need have to do with Structure?  That will be the next post! )

These are there things that make great documentaries delightful, and if you know about them, and are looking for them, even PLANNING where they will emerge BEFORE you choose a subject, or start shooting, BEFORE you're done shooting and start editing.

Some examples: Times of Harvey Milk and Unknown White Male along with When We Were Kings are terrific examples of Want Need, Structure and Transformation, and that delightful moment when you realize that this documentary you are watching is about more than what you thought.

So, take your check list, think about what you are doing, and really have fun with it, and make your film with more than "just" a good idea.

These are all the things we work on in the Doc Workshops - so please feel free to send an email for more information about the next workshops.