Thursday, August 20, 2009

How to decide where to put the camera?

Knowing what you want to say and how you want to say it.  That's the basics for Directing. 
Of course, there's much more - having a great idea, pitching it to people, getting them to believe in you -- but when it comes down to the actual DIRECTING part - actually being clear on what we want to say - we can be a little in the dark. 

But that's okay, because darkness can be a place where we discover what it is we want to say. 
We can get real quiet and start asking the questions which will reveal the answers - and once we have those answers, then we can direct with assurance - even as we are open to spontaneous happenings and all a matter of things that pop up when making a doc, writing a novel, or screenplay. 

But it's not alway easy to ask those questions.  Too often we have an idea, and then we start applying for grants, so instead of asking questions according to an artistic, organic process, we are filling out forms, trying to win grants, or making  a "work in Progress" to win grants.

Instead - and this is my opinion - I think it's important to let all the grant forms go, and allow yourself to ask the really creative questions as part of an artistic process.   Really start to imagine the world of your story, and what happens there.  Your story, your characters, they will tell you with startling clarity - but first you have to listen to them and really let them tell you. 

I was scheduled to start working in private session with a filmmaker not long ago.  She was a veteran documentary editor, but was working on the first doc she was directing also.  The day before we were to meet, she called me, ready to cancel, 

"I'm doing a writing pass on it," She was working on it for an application,  "and I'm not sure if now is the best time to get opinions of it."  As a long time editor, I knew exactly what she was talking about.  She had to let her own ideas come through.  But I knew I could help her.

"My job is not to give you opinions on your film," I told her.  "My job is to help you find out what it is you really want to say."  Fortunately, she came as scheduled, and we started work, and when we did exercises, she started to reveal the characters in her story.   But it wasn't until I reflected those revelations back to her that she could really start to see her story clearly herself. 

Every artist needs someone to bounce off of.  Make sure you have that built into your process, and it will help you again and again.  

     Happy filmmaking - 
     Classes starting in September Wednesday Afternoons - 1-4. continuing Tuesday night 7-10. 


Wednesday, August 19, 2009


It is hard sometimes to show up. Documentaries can be hard. They are expensive, they are dealing with the unknown and the unknowable. They force you to depend on the the unexpected. Who knows what will happen when you start shooting? Or worse, when you stop shooting?

Have you ever noticed, when narrative filmmakers use improvisation in their films (my favorites are Michael Leigh and Ken Loach) that every story about their film is all about their process. But their process is just what documentary filmmakers set out to do every shoot day - sometimes doing it for years.

But that is why it is so God Damned exciting to see a really terrific documentary. And that is what keeps us in the fight, shooting, and hanging in there with our subjects.

Sometimes, we need to acknowledge that it ain't easy, and then tomorrow start again.

I just want to acknowledge all the filmmakers out there tonight toiling away on bringing to light their wondrous stories to share with us.

Thanks to each of you for being of so much service by bringing your stories to light.



Thursday, August 13, 2009

Self Distribution 2.0 & The Character in Documentary

Independent Filmmakers Distribute on Their Own
Published: August 13, 2009
Instead of waiting to be discovered, aspiring filmmakers are paying for their own marketing and distribution.

There are so many ways to get your film out. 
Make sure you connect with your audience in a way that's satisfying to them, and fulfills your vision of what you want to do - and VOILA, just like a great character, you can take that movie anywhere and people will respond. 

In documentary, how do we create great Characters?  By telling the complicated truth. 
So often, we assume that if we show that someone is unlikeable we'll lose our audience.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

So often, we assume, that if we want to make an "issue" movie, we have to whitewash the reality of our subjects, only showing them as they fulfill positive expectations. 

We can see this in other works of art, but we must be brave, and have confidence in our story to do it in our own work.   

Try working through your story beats by really seeing the reality of your difficult characters, and see how fast it gets interesting. 

This includes "Abstractions" as well - we've had an earlier post on this, but more to follow. 

Thanks for visiting the Blog, I'm looking forward to your comments. 

Please know I am starting new workshops in Los Angeles in September. 

Stephanie Hubbard

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What structure can do for you?

Save you a ton 'o money - that's what.

When you get clear about what it is you want to say, and the best structure to provide the most satisfying experience for the viewer of your very real and organic "hero" then the gifts are many.

You know what it is you want BEFORE you start looking for archives, doing lots of expert interviews or travelling around the world. OF COURSE you are always looking for the amazing spontaneous moment, or that gift of footage you had no idea about - and your structure won't get in the way of that - in fact, your structure will help you burrow your way into what is most dramatic, and help you discover what speaks to the real struggle at the heart of your film.

By working your way through the structure before hand, you are free to know what to shoot and where, and how to be open to what is coming your way.

Students in class this week really immersed themselves in the process of finding out the main beats of their story. It's terrifically exciting to see them make such fast progress, and to see them really start to get how their structure is helping them.

Some are using what they've discovered to write grants, or as the basis for their fund raising trailer, and others will be starting their film with a clear eyed idea of what they need and how it will work.

All this is super helpful in the long run as documentaries can sometimes take a very long time to make - and often require a sort of stop/start relationship as we work out our funding, and work at our own jobs etc.

I will be starting an online version of this course in the first week after labor day, and starting another actual class in Los Angeles. I would like your feedback as to preferred class times - so please email me at to let me know your thoughts on attending etc.

The class is usually $349 per month - but for people emailing me from my blog, the price will be $300.

This includes 4 class meetings a month, with the option to meet privately if you would otherwise miss a session, unlimited email correspondence, phone calls, and a take home assignments each week to empower you to make quick progress on your project.

If you compare the price of $300 for one month's full access to your project on the part of an award winning writer and editor, to the price of a week of editing - you'll see that spending slightly less than a day of editing now, will save you on shooting days, archival days and may even help you get more funding due to your new found clarity on your production.

Okay - yesterday we practiced pitching. Here is what you need for your elevator pitch:

A quick description of WHAT happens, complete with terrific antagonist.
The Point of View of Your FILM
The STYLE of the film.

Practice with friends!

I look forward to your emails! Thanks so much! Stephanie.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Today in the Documentary Insider Workshop

I worked with two students today - always a pleasure. 

Here is what I learned: 

Even when you have your outline worked out - ESPECIALLY when you have it worked out - ask yourself this question:

What do I want my film to be about?

And listen to what bubbles up.  Just let it flow out of you, aid you, inform you.  

There in will lie what needs to be tweaked, changed added to your beautiful film. 

It is the sixth taste of your film, the Umame that gives it that extra something. 

Happy filmmaking!


Workshops starting now for Wednesday Afternoon in Los Angeles. 

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Want and Need and No Characters?

So, you want to make a documentary - about something quite abstract.  The fall of the Roman Empire perhaps.  What then? 

I think the tendency is to go out and interview a bunch of people around the project, and try to cut it together to convey a message - hoping to raise consciousness, even to tell the story.  

But what to do to decide what the story is, who to interview - how to integrate archival, what archival to ask for?

The Want and the Need.  First of all, who is the Hero?  Is it The Roman People? Perhaps the antagonist is the Roman Oligarchy.  Perhaps the Hero of your story is an place or a building? 
The Coliseum?  Does this place have a voice - what does the coliseum want?  To see complete peace between all peoples?  What does the Roman inner circle want?  To do what ever they want, no matter what the consequences? 

Once you've determined "who" whether rabble or inanimate object, then what they "want"  and then what they really "need".  I.e.  The Roman people need to learn to live on their own resources.  But then you have the basis for determining the beats of your story. 

More on that tomorrow!

To join the workshop - call (323)202-5645.  Remote participation available. Or email

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Want and the Need

So in last nights workshop, we really worked on the concept of the WANT and the NEED. 

Now I felt a little funny when I posted my three act structure post yesterday and someone said, "That's a popular approach"  I worried that it might seem I was engaging in a knee jerk embrace of a tired idea.  But I think not, and here's why:

The three act structure was first codified by Aristotle.   In the last 30 years, various script analysts have added all sorts of bells and whistles - the 22 act structure - the Reversal - etc.  All sorts of things that feel like mechanical impositions on your story.  What I like about the tradition of story that I have learned, (and it's source is Vicki King/Al Watt/Allen Zadoff all amazing writing teachers)  is that it is all about the Want and the Need.  Once you've established that, then you can move forward in a truley organic way secure in the knowledge that your film/memoir/script/documentary/novel will fulfill that essential human craving for story that makes the difference between an entertainment that is satisfying and not. 

Okay - so let's get to the meat:  What is want and what is need?  Sure a character can want a lot of things - but what is the capital W want of the story?  It needs to be the essential thing she can't have.  The essential thing that is keeping her from what she really wants. Now the flip side of the Want is the Need.  Now what I found with both of the workshop participants was that contained in what they wanted - their initial impulse for it - could actually be contained in the Need as well.  

For example - one filmmaker had a character that he thought wanted a bunch of things - but what became clear was that this character wanted the security of  for his children and he was trying to gain them security by fighting with outside forces.  The hero's need in this case is to pay more attention to his children, and thereby give them actual psychic security. 

So the key in finding Want and Need is to find something that is more thematic - and that really strikes at the core of what the character TRULY wants but can't have.  He might want everyone to agree with him to keep his children secure - but the fact is he can NEVER get everyone to agree with him.   And in fact, his fight to get everyone to conform to his point of view is only keeping him from his children. 

How he moves through the resolution of the Want and the Need will result in an entirely satisfying transformation for this film. 

In future blog posts:

 - how to apply the Want and Need in a non-character based doc. 
- what are the questions to ask to get to the structure. 

Want to run these principles on your doc?  Sign up now for The BeeKeeper Documentary Story Workshop. Email me at or call (323)202-5645. 



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

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Hero's Journey for Your Documentary.

Last week I had an exchange with another editor who was struggling with his client's film.  This is what he said:

"For most of the editing I've felt like I'm wandering in the woods, as there is no script and there wasn't even an outline until I made the director sit down with me and try to cook one up, and even then it's still very sketchy."

Sounded super familiar to me.  The good news is that in writing years of feature scripts, and then spending three years writing a book (all about true events)  I learned to ask these questions:  

What does the main character want?
When is it that the Main character is destroyed?
What does the main character need? When does he get it?
What is this film really about? (usually not directly related to main character - but some universal that he/she can embody)

What is the secret of this movie?
What do you want to say?

Then you can start to lay out the structure:  

Here's what my fellow editor replied first:

Sure, tell me how to lay it out structurally. :)

I have a good sense of the emotional arc of the film, just not of the structure of the actual material (specifically how and when to weave the interview segments into the events).

And here's what I replied:  

Okay - here's my rule of thumb for that: 

make it so one affects the other in a chain - sometimes that might be chronologically - but often it is thematically or something else. 

Okay for the emotional arc: Let's say we use a 120 minute film as our paradigm (knowing we change the proportions if it's shorter)

minute 1 - intro with an image that contains the whole enchilada
minute 3 - lay out the theme - often this is done in the first thing the audience hears.
Miinute 10 - inciting incident - what get's this journey started
minute 30 - hero makes a decision he/she can't go back on
minute 45 - has some success (but any success is usually out of frying pan into the fire
minute 60 - mid way point - huge set back - but hero makes new commitment but really the real descent has begun
minute 75 - mayham
90- hero CANNOT Get what they want - and knows it absolutely here - they're dreams are crushed once and for all. 
91 - okay - so if life is utter destruction what then
move forward with new purpose - living with what I need instead of what I want. 
110 - battle scene - old ideas come back to tempt hero away from new understanding , but they deal with it - they prove to the gods they are worthy. 

Denoument - and 
120 final image - of resolution. 

okay - so that's super narrativ-y - how do we add on the doc layer?

Okay - at 75-90 we add in other layers - what is this about (should be said first at 3) but the viewer starts to get it in here - this is where the viewer realizes this is about more than they thought - like in "When we were Kings" when you realize this is about EVERYTHING - or in Errol Morris - or in "Unknown White Male" in really good docs - this element is operating along side all the rest. 

SO What is this film really about - tell us in minute 3 - and start building the elements then really SHOW us by minute 85....

So that's the frame work I work with - but in a workshop we work specifically with your material.
One Key thing I want to add - is that each of these plot points up to 90 is about the collision of the WANT and the NEED.  

That will be tomorrow's post!
Find me on the web at
by phone (323)202-5645