Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Decent Idea + Enthusiasm (only) = Maybe an Okay Documentary

As a professional working documentary film editor since 2001, I have seen many documentary "filmmakers" come to me with - literally - 40, 60 or 100 hours of footage, and really no sense of what they want to say past the initial idea that  started them shooting in the first place. 

They started armed with enough charisma and enough of an idea to garner support from various quarters - but most destructively - they started armed with a virulent case of  "Documentary as Discovery".  Now, these documentaries (because I always help edit them into the best film I can) may actually win prizes - and even have important things to say in the end - but they typically fight for distribution.   Why is that?  And what can be done to help the fledgeling documentarian with enough chutzpah to get it done, and even a decent idea to start - what can help them actually go the extra mile, to enable them to create a film that people love to see, that actually sells, that really works as a complete piece?

With this question in mind, and with my experiences working with such filmmakers in the past, and fresh from my own four year struggle to write a lengthy memoir under the guidance of writing teacher Al Watt, I started a documentary workshop this spring. 

Four filmmakers came - and what made them similar is that they each showed up with a lot of charisma, and a pretty darn good idea.    Here is what we learned about how to take a good idea to the next level.

1) Don't stop with a good idea.  Really work it through.  Keep asking yourself, "What do I want to say with this movie, and how do I want to say it." 

2) Pull it all in.  What is really making you excited about this movie is more than what it seems on the surface.  Really explore all the aspects of the material - where does this material REALLY take us. 

3) Things you need to have: 
    A way in.  This is how you are going to tell the story.  We are going to follow so and so.   We are going to mix verite footage with intense montages of archival footage.  But it's about more than the surface explanation you give for the funding - it's really about how we are going to get into the material. 

   A Kitty Hawk Moment.  Think of your favorite documentary.   Now think of that amazing moment when you realize this movie is about more than what you came to see - it is about "everything".  That's what you need to take your film over the line and make it more than you imagined. 

How do I find these things?

I can tell you what we do in the work shop - we get still, and really allow our unconscious to speak, then we listened to it.  And six weeks later, each of the filmmakers is confident that they each have their whole movie - and each of them know what they are looking for in that Kitty Hawk moment all along the way of their shooting. 

They will have plenty of room for discovery, but they have a road map, and a plan, a structure to take them there and an approach.  

I hope these suggestions help.  If you want to be part of the next workshop, email me at huranghu@gmail.com.


Stephanie Hubbard

Monday, July 6, 2009

Workshop open now

For folks interested in attending the weekly workshop, it meets Wednesday 1 pm to 4 pm at 5768 Pico, in my office just east of Fairfax.  


Find me on the web at
by phone (323)202-5645

Workshops for Documentary Filmmakers

Well it's month 2 of the Stephanie Hubbard Workshop for Filmmakers. 

I have so much subject matter I want to cover with people, but this particular series of workshops became about helping several filmmakers, each of whom had a great idea for a film.  I've seen so many people have great ideas for films, go off and shoot LITERALLY hundreds of hours of footage, then come to me with out a thought of what their film is about, asking me to make them a great film that will say what they want to say. 

SO - this workshop has been a way to work with filmmakers to enable them to work through their ideas, their approaches, to find the frame work for creating a documentary film that WILL WORK!  It is more than breaking down the synopsis, finding the transformation, discovering the structure.  It is finding that magical moment that exist in the best documentaries that make them great - that moment when you realize "Unknown White Male" is about more than a guy with amnesia, that "Times of Harvey Milk" is about more than Harvey Milk and the struggle for gay rights.  It's that moment we have come to call in class, "The Kitty Hawk Moment" when the film takes flight.  That is what this workshop is about - knowing what you need to know BEFORE you start shooting to have what you need to create that moment within your documentary - because that is what it is all about.  Don't you think?

I'd love to hear your posts about what you think that moment has been in your favorite films - please let me know!


Find me on the web at
by phone (323)202-5645