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Shooting Documentary Short Films

Lesson 1 of 16

Recognizing Good Stories

Griffin Hammond

Shooting Documentary Short Films

Griffin Hammond

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Lesson Info

1. Recognizing Good Stories

Lesson Info

Recognizing Good Stories

Welcome to creative live this is shooting documentary short films with griffin hammond. My name is chris jennings, and I am going to be your host for our broadcast today. We are so excited to have griffin here, he's going to teach us all how to make some tremendous documentary films on a shoestring budget is going to be fantastic. Thanks, everybody for tuning in. Now, if you're not familiar with griffin, I'm gonna tell you just a little bit about him before we bring him on. He is a documentary filmmaker now, right now, he's actually working on some political news videos for bloomberg in new york city, he is the director of the award winning films. See, raja, if you're not familiar with this film, go watch it. Not right now. When we're done, go check out sir raja. Amazing, amazing documentary film! He has also produced a number of tutorial videos for aspiring filmmaker, so he knows this space so well and he's eager to bring all of his knowledge to you right now. So without further ado, ...

please welcome griffin hammond wear thrilled to have you here, we've got and it's excited studio audience here eager to learn from you. You've got so much equipment here is going to be a fun course, but before we get going, I just want to mention that it's actually a rare opportunity tohave that glimpse into the filmmakers world kind of going behind the scenes to see your process, and yesterday we actually get a pre shoot that this is something we don't normally do for creative lives. This is a special pre shoot that we did out in the field to give a sort of a different perspective on your process you want tell everybody a little bit about that? Yeah, yeah, we actually shot a short documentary yesterday, so I'm exhausted way air going tio take a look at that film at the end of today, which I'm looking forward to actually see how it all came together. We have all these behind the scenes looks at what we actually did so it's not just in the studio today, we have some field experience we can share with you. Wonderful, yes. So for all of you out there who are watching, you have the benefit of being able to see some of the clips. So as griffin said throughout the day today, we're gonna be showing some actual footage that we shot just yesterday out in the field to give you a glimpse of the process. And you're gonna want to stick around for our final segment our fourth segment today we're going to do the grand unviable reveal of our video that griffin shot we're gonna have the editor come up here we're gonna talk about it is good it's gonna be amazing it's gonna be amazing this is happening just yesterday, so within twenty four hours you're going to see what we came up with and we're really looking forward to showing it off, but we've got a lot to learn from griffin first, so griffin, I'm gonna let you take it away thank you arrest so this is really saying a lot of people watching we have a huge in studio audience. This is not what I'm used teo I normally make youtube tutorials is chris mentioned that are like five minutes long and one of the biggest things one of the questions I get is like griffin that tutorial videos fine, but it was only about one thing it was like five minutes long. Can you just walk me through the entire process of making a film beginning to end and it's like no, that would take hours that's what we're doing today way have ours and I'm going to walk through all of it from figuring out what story you want to tell teo how to shoot it howto edit it how to distribute it uh I want to lay out all of the tools that I'm familiar with at your disposal so that you can tell your stories whether it is that you want to have a career like mine. Maybe you want to be a documentary filmmaker as a job that's what I do, I work for bloomberg politics. I make documentaries, I made suraj I mean, if you have seen wow, thank you. We'll talk about suraj a bunch today we'll look at like, where it makes money and where the expenses were. I mean, we'll use that as a case study. We'll talk about the film that we shot owns here in final cut behind me, there's going to be so many cool things we're going to cover so let's, dig in let's, get this thing started, the first segment today, we're gonna talk about finding good stories. We're going to talk aboutthe science behind good storytelling. We're going to talk about the law of diminishing returns and how that actually helps you as a storyteller. And finally we'll take a look att the gear I use particular could inside my my backpack and talk about what I use in walk, and we have some great videos we're gonna we're gonna share along the way, so this all starts with recognizing a story many of you probably have a story that you want to tell that's me how many of you are here? Because you want to learn how to tell that story better? So there's stories all around you, you have a lot you could choose from, but it all really comes down to making the movie that you want to see that's why I made sir raja because I wanted to one make a short documentary. I like the formats and two I was just looking for something that I love like if I'm gonna spend eight months working on a project, there better be something that I'm in love with, and I really do love you, and it was fun. I mean, I was genuinely curious. I think those are the kinds of stories you should be telling something you're actually passion about. It really is a passion project, something that you want to find answers to and this, I think applies to documentary or narrative. I'm a documentary guy, and in this first segment today we're going to talk about recognizing your strengths and playing towards them. I know that's where I am, I'm a terrible screenwriter, so I'm not gonna I'm not gonna work right now on a short narrative film, and a lot of people ask me if I made suraj a because it was popular, like it's, a really easy documentary to sell. I got lucky a lot of press talked about it, uh, and they wonder if, like, I picked so raja, because because I knew what it would do well, and it really wasn't it wasn't because I was trying to make a hole with your money or something, and it hasn't made a whole bunch of money, but it's done all right, but it's, because I really just I love it on, I think that's probably why it did well, so I don't think you need to be searching for something that you think will be popular with an audience, I think focus on yourself first. What is going to make you happy as a documentarian? Don't worry so much about your audience if you love it, your audience is gonna love it, and this also applies to I mean, we're going talk today about whether you're shooting films for yourself as an indie documentary, whether you're shooting videos for clients, a lot of the work I used to do is a freelancer is essentially documentary it's just I was doing it because someone else paid me to do it, uh, and I also did corporate work, I mean, I work in news now, so all of this I think documentary applies to all of these fields so whether you're doing this on the side is a freelancer which I imagine many of you are or if you want to do this is a full time job all of these lessons we're gonna talk about today apply so this really starts with what do you bring to the table? I want all of you to think about your unique skill sets because I imagine in this audience right now we'd probably some people who are pretty advanced to this I'm looking for people that I know that no video really well and some of you may be brand new to this but these lessons we'll talk about today apply to all of you hopefully for some of you this is ah great refresher on some things for some of you I just wantto proved to you that even if you're just getting started you can do this regardless what camera you have going about cameras and gear and how you don't need the most expensive stuff to do it I'm a very d I y guy we'll talk about that but the starts with looking at yourself and saying what do you bring to the table? I don't want you to look at the stuff I shot today and say how do I do that because maybe you shouldn't maybe you should do the thing that you are way better than me at and that's, what I want you to think about, and I look a tte filmmaking this way because I actually think I'm not that creative. I love filmmaking because I don't I don't think of myself very much of it. As an artist, I think myself as an engineer, I'm a very math minded person, so I love f stops and shutter speeds and frame rates. I love the math of filmmaking and editing right on the right edit point that I want that's the part I love, and I love that that mathey thing can turn me into an artist in a way that I just couldn't get can't draw, so I need filmmaking to do this, but because I don't think of myself as very creative, I have to limit myself creatively to get started on a project if you just told me like, hey, griffin, go do whatever you want in the world film wise, that just scares me because there's too many there's an infinite possibilities of stories that you could be telling and most of them are probably stories you should be telling not stories that I should be telling, so I want to start with what do I bring to the table? What? How can I limit myself creatively and focus there if it's, a narrative film often suggest to people start with like what is the special location that you have access to that no one else does like what's the set you could shoot on uh like rather than thinking like mom is going to write a story about a space battle like you probably don't have ah space to go to but if you have that really cool creepy barn in your backyard like that could be a really great place to start likewise if you have a friend who's really talented a juggling maybe he should be in your film like maybe you should incorporate juggling think about the things around you your talents the talents of your friends the unique locations you have access to that might be a great starting point for your films um and I actually want to get started with our first behind the scenes video of the day we're kind of like jumping forward a little bit but to illustrate the fact that their specific tools in your toolbox that you should be using there's something I've been doing a lot of it's pretty simple I mean a lot of you could do this it's just time lapses timelapse videos we set up a camera on a tripod shoot a bunch of photos and it becomes a really quick video it's something a lot of people could dio I recently taught myself how to do it just a year ago probably but now it's become this thing where my bosses at bloomberg expect it in videos so like oh it's that griffin thing like it looks cool so let's take a look at a time lapse how I shoot it and think about it I mean this is just like one of the things that I in my toolbox now uh that I will bring on a shoot here we go right now I'm looking around the factory for a time lapse opportunity it's something I like to shoot I'll probably shoot with my second camera have a panasonic gh three here and I have a really wide angle lens on it it's ah fokina eleven millimeter eleven to sixteen so I could put it up close to something and it will see a really big picture uh because I'm shooting photos instead of video it'll actually be a little bit wider field of view well um I'm just trying to find where there's like some interesting movement that when it's set up to ten twenty x it'll be really compelling video luckily the gh three in the jail for cameras have a built in interval ometer that's the piece of software or device that tells the camera to fire the shutter at a certain interval so in the case of this I usually do like a one second interval every second it takes a new picture or every two seconds it takes a new picture and you just tell it to go and sit around for fifteen minutes while think about this video and then every photo becomes a frame of video one thirtieth of a second so it becomes a pretty fast shot when you piece it all together. If your camera doesn't have a built in interval armor, you just have to buy a standalone interval ometer it's a device that can sit on top of the camera has a little wire that goes into the remote and it tells the camera went to fire works the same way as like a wireless shutter, I think I might have found a spot for the best time lapse what I'm thinking about when I think that time let's is how is it going to change over time? I don't want the camera to move I need the environment that changed a lot then right here we have something's moving on a conveyor belt way have boxes that she's filling up so I know the box is there any build over time kind of thing that you wouldn't appreciate for thirty seconds? But over the course of ten minutes the box like completely filled up else have someone behind her so there's mohr movement I want to get as much movement as I can, so I think probably somewhere over here looking this way could be affected, right? So get this time let's go, I'm gonna go into settings turn on the interval ometer and I could set the shooting interval. I want to get this done as quickly as possible so let's do the quickest shooting interval one second is again and I'll just tell them I want two thousand images I don't really but let's max it out so that it doesn't end prematurely. That's good now, because I'm doing a shooting interval of one second I need to get a shutter speed that matches in film because traditional old film cameras had a rotary shutter that was open half of the time and closed half the time during a frame way generally have shutter speeds that are half is long as our frame, right? So in this case, if I'm shooting every second, I should have a shutter speed that's half a second um so let me drop it down right now. It's a sixty for video but let's drop it all the way down to half a second, which is actually to one every two everyone second now let me the problem is because I've opened up the shutters so much this is gonna really bright shot, so I need to compensate now I need to knock down my aperture I can't let my appetite be wide open uh, I already have my eyes, so his lows let go I'm going all the way up to f fourteen and here I'll take one example shot to see if it worked like a shot looks pretty good that should do the job, although I'm noticing that her head gets cut off a little bit. So I'm gonna move this just a little bit like another test shot that works, and I'm actually getting a significant amount of motion blur, which is what I want. I want things kind of blurry as they move, because when I speed it up, it'll look like a natural amount of motion blur for how fast it's going like things are moving that fast, they need to be a little bit blurry, so I think this is good to go. I'm going to see if I want to go a little higher if I'd be a little bit more interesting and start this thing and there goes every second it's taking into photograph, but I have to go for thirty exposures to get one second to go thirty seconds, just get one second video, so if I want ten seconds of video, I have to go for a three hundred seconds was that five minutes or something? So I just need to let this sit for a while, uh so while it does that all, take a look around and think about what I want to shoot next. Right now, I'm gonna shoot a time, lots of george working and it's kind of the opposite of what I normally look for in a time lapse. Normally, I want a lot of change to happen over time. That's the whole point, you speed it up and something really cool happened in this case, it might be interesting to look at him for a long time and see that not that much change is that he's doing the same motion over and over and over again. And so by speeding it up, you're gonna give the audience a sense of like, wow, he does that for twenty hours way and I would normally level the tripod. My camera even has a level on it, and I use it a lot to make sure I'm flat. Uh, but as I was messing with these legs, noticed it actually kind of cool to be a little bit tilted wrong, so I may go with it. Good it's been going for about seven hundred shots? Uh, so? Yeah. That's, that's. A few seconds of video. I turn this off now way. Yes. I don't often think about the number of shots I need, although it is a lot that you need. I mean, I had thirty two hours of video for a thirty three minute documentary, so I just I guess I generally understand the proportion of how, how much material I'm gonna need, uh, I don't know, probably one hundred shots for this peace is what we need way right now. I'm doing a sequential playback of all the photos, it's doing it kind of in slow motion, but I could speed up a little, and you kind of see what this is going to look like. It has a nice amount of motion blur when people are moving, uh, it's interesting, we'll get the full effect of it when we put it in the endings after and speeded up one hundred percent, but, uh, I think it's worked out pretty well, if, you know, you might find out with time lapse that someone came in and put a box in front of the camera for half of it, and then you don't review it, you realize, like, oh, I didn't know that the whole scene change, uh, during most of video like that, we've been on different first came in all right? So I love the fact that we just watch this is what I love about behind scenes, we just watched a seven minute video describing like a four second shot, and that piece gets to the idea of how much the proportion of video you needed that's like something. We'll talk about the third segment today about editing the fact that I needed thirty two hours for a thirty minute film for this five minute film. I was guessing we need about a hundred shots on we'll talk about how many, how many shots we actually did. You want to see the time lapse that resulted on I want to thank stephen cervantes, who shot that, and he's, actually, the guy who is editing all of the stuff I shot yesterday, I have no idea how this final film is going to turn out. We're going to see that in the final segment of today's class, and I also want to thank david from crate of life, who edited these behind the scenes videos. This is awesome that they did all this, so let's, take a look at the time lapse so I could have a timeline here of just like, a whole bunch of photos. That's really watch the so what? Maybe ten seconds of this is like all the get, um, and actually, so I was I was looking around this is we were shooting inside the imac factory, it's this factor that makes boxes on, I was looking for something to do with time itself there's actually not that much movement the factory so this was kind of like, well, I guess this is my best option, but I like to use this a lot for establishing shots like outside of a building, you know, get clouds moving and on cars moving outside this is the camera was using the the gh three with this really wide angle takina eleven to sixteen millimeter lens, which gives a pretty full field of view of what's going on uh so yeah, that is time lapse here's another example of some sometimes that I shot for ah bloomberg project this was like at cpac, this conservative political conference, but this it's just one of the tools that I've seen a lot of people could do time lapse it was something I didn't know how to do I liketo learn taught myself how to do it, and now I shoot these kind of things on a lot of documented projects and that's just one thing that I know I can drop in the timeline putting in the story that I'm telling you it's going to make it look interesting it's going to be one more thing that I could say, hey, look, I'm a cool stuff, right? And so that's what I want you think about it, maybe you don't want to time lapse maybe you will never learn how to do time lapse. But what are the little the little tools that you have that you could bring to the table that other people may not be able to do? Um, other things I've well, yeah, another thing that I've done that is kind of like a trademark of me is this weird over the shoulder gopro thing and, uh, let's, just walk around with a camera attached my back and it's become like the weird griffin trademark that's like third third person view over my shoulder, and the reason I do it is the gopro is an interesting camera, but I think it only really works when you like locket onto something you have to see, like an interesting angle that you'd never see. So let me pull up an example of what this thing looks like. Here's ah, a piece that I did from a tea party conventions easier. How about I just strap a camera on my back and I'll take you inside with south carolina has stores of you that you don't get normally. Let's, take a look at some other ones. This was, uh this was at a, uh, a concert I went, teo just made a personal video for fun, uh every time I feel like I rig it up a little bit differently like this is on this backpack that was on like a camel back I took it to south by southwest on different backpack this is fine it's something that I hadn't seen other people do and I built this little pvc rig and I get a result that's kind of interesting out of it that's another one of like my little I can always pull that out making interesting piece so I look for opportunities to do that um when I think about really interesting trademark looks I think about casey neistat how many of you familiar with him he's a really talented filmmaker in new york uh actually is really close to me and I sadly never met him. My wife is taking a selfie with him in tribeca and I'm jealous, but he has this really interesting trademark look to his films he I didn't go to film school, he kind of like bucks the normal conventions and he just like does his own thing it's really like d I y and he just embrace is who he is he's often shooting with like just a little point and shoot camera and it doesn't always look the prettiest but the energy he has amazing s o that's what you think about is what do you have what you bring to the table you don't have to be using the most expensive gear when it comes to me I've learned about myself what works and what doesn't is people tend to like my friendliness like it's kind of silly but like I've learned that through youtube that I should probably be a positive person so the kinds of films I make are like happy and energetic and fun and people tend to like my voice so I figure like well my voice should like that I could I could talk in the piece I could I should use that uh some people say that my voice is soothing puts them to sleep maybe but like that's good to know about myself that I that's a tool I can use there are things about me that I know I'm terrible that I told you I'm a bad screenwriter so I shouldn't be doing that I can't do animation I don't have to do it I don't have to do motion graphics I've never really learned after effects very well uh I'm also not good at comedy like I just can't write comedy I can performing very well so like those are things I still stay away from so think about that like you don't have to do what everyone else is doing just do what you're best at put your best foot forward pretend like there's on ly great things about you and hide all the bad stuff you know so, that's, what I want you to focus on when you're telling your stories. And these are stories when we talk about documentary, even though the real things, they're just a cz compelling as narrative films.

Class Description

Today’s media landscape is largely made up of regular folks who know how to spot a good story and use basic gear to document the world around them. Find out how you can join their ranks and make compelling, marketable shorts in Shooting Documentary Short Films with Griffin Hammond. 

Griffin made a name for himself with the ode to an iconic hot sauce, Sriracha. In this class, he’ll teach you how to identify, shoot, and share documentary-style video. 

You’ll learn how to:

  • Recognize and tell a good story
  • Capture high-caliber footage with low-budget gear 
  • Incorporate all the essentials for online and TV news
  • Produce corporate work clients love
  • Find your audience and monetize your work

Griffin will share tips on lighting, framing, and interviewing subjects so you walk away with lots of usable footage. You’ll watch as Griffin shares clips from a one-day shoot and you’ll learn exactly what it takes to turnaround a complete documentary-style short on a deadline.

You’ll also learn a handful of helpful editing techniques and get insights on the ethical and legal responsibilities of documentary filmmaking.

If you want to learn how to tell meaningful stories that look great and sell, while working on a shoestring budget, don’t miss Shooting Documentary Short Films with Griffin Hammond. 


Bruce Gruenbaum

First off, if you have not watched Sriracha, go and do that. The techniques that Griffin used in it are pretty incredible. This course expands on those techniques and what really surprised me about this course is how simple the setup is that he uses to make some absolutely amazing documentaries. The quality of what you can produce with the most basic of equipment is really mind-boggling. Some of the most interesting stuff was about B-Roll and how to use it to create a visually interesting presentation. The idea of a lot of small clips that show specific information is invaluable. The techniques he uses to create shots like the one where the camera was placed on top of a cart and pushed down an aisle was amazing. More than anything else, the ideas and tips I came away with have helped me find ways of making my own videos much more interesting.

a Creativelive Student

Griffin is a great storyteller and I was hoping to learn a LOT from this class. But I didn't. I'm an experienced corporate video editor/shooter who's always dreamed of doing a documentary. About half of the class is the very basics of video production (b-roll, rule of thirds, good audio) and the other half is interesting content that seems to cut off just as it becomes engaging. I'm not sure why Creative Live edited it that way other than to extend the number of segments? Although the next segment doesn't seem to pick up where the previous left off. I've never felt that way before about CL, but it seems like every segment is cut right as it gets to things I'm interested in. It did have some great information about revenue streams for a short form documentary, but I was left wanting to learn more. If you're just starting out... this is a great resource to learn the basics of non-fiction filming. If you already work professionally in the field I would pass.

Tim Greig

This is brilliant. Griffin is such a generous, self-deprecating filmmaker you just can't help but love him. He goes into great detail on just how he makes his documentaries and other work and is so inspiring, mostly because he is a one-man band and produces such interesting and wonderful videos. Thank you Griffin and CreativeLive for offering this.