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I came into this documentary class with grand ideas yet, in hindsight, also with narrow visions. This may seem like an odd statement. When I say grand ideas, I mean that I envisioned working on a spectacular documentary on either a topic I’m super passionate about or something incredibly important or controversial. I hadn’t taken into account the time limit (ten weeks of class, about five of which allotted for shooting and editing) nor my transportation limitations. When I say narrow visions, I mean that I didn’t realize just how professional this production really was going to be. I knew we were getting awesome cameras, but had no idea of the sound equipment and light kits that were going to be given to us to use in our work. It’d just never occurred to me. How silly. But looking at all the equipment we have, which I must say is too much to carry for one person, not because weight but because of bulkiness, I have only two things to say: that’s legit. And good gracious that’s a lot of new equipment I have to learn how to use.

Learning is exactly what we’ve been doing this past week. We’ve yet to actually get our hands on our sound or light kits, so it’s just been the camera and tripod that we’ve been working with. On Thursday I posted a link to our video for the camera handling assignment. It wasn’t too difficult as such, but I know we will need much more practice in order to capture great shots during actual shooting. I think our biggest issues will be with proper exposure, just because in the past our classes haven’t emphasized it as much and because it takes time to redo exposure for every shot.

Now as for sound and lighting. Sound is something I’m definitely more familiar with than lighting, even if I’ve never used a boom mic before. It’ll take practice, something we’ll get when we do our sound assignment on Tuesday and Wednesday. Lighting, on the other hand, scares the crap out of me. I’ve never dealt with lights before. While I am now learning how to create a halo around the subject without making him the archangel and about the necessity of using a filler light to fill in the person’s face, these concepts are still all so new to me that I have yet to fully come to terms with how we will use them. For one, it will now be necessary to find more time to spend with interviewees because it will take a while just to set up and take down the equipment.

I have no doubts though that with practice I’ll get a better grip on the equipment. I’ll admit right here that I read the manual to the camera. It was quite an experience actually. I can’t remember the last time I read the manual for anything except for repairs. Another adaptation I’m making right now, however, is adjusting my mind to think about documentary shorts versus feature length documentaries. As part of my grand ideas, I was envisioning a full-length piece. In reality, our documentaries will only be around seven minutes. So right now I’m trying to figure out and learn how storytelling is done differently with shorts.

As for ideas, my group has yet to decide on anything, not even the three treatments. (One of my concerns in working with two guys is in the planning differences between guys and gals: we tend to like more planning and the guys just want to talk about it as it approaches. Sigh.) Anyhow, I have some ideas of my own. Admittedly, they have not been vetted yet for possibility as a documentary short, but I’ll figure that out before Tuesday. Here they are, each with a short blurb about how I may approach the topic as well as thoughts on obstacles for each:

1) Single dads – what’s it like to be a single dad? What services are available to them? What are their lifestyles like? Finding this dad may not be hard as there are forums for single dads, but we would need to find someone with a super interesting story and personality for this to work.

2) Palestinians & Israelis in Chicago – there’s a group in the area that’s made up of Israelis who are in support of Palestine’s land claims. I want to also approach the subject from the opposition’s point of view. This is politically and in some ways also ethnically and religiously charged, so while there may be passionate subjects, the role religion plays in this may make it difficult to get access to people.

3) Amethyst Initiative – this initiative by college presidents to lower the drinking age as a way to reduce dangerous underage drinking on campus has been around for a couple of years. I want to investigate it on a local level with area colleges, hopefully telling the story through a college president who is passionate about it, for or against, or a student group working for or against it. Logistics of this may be difficult as college presidents are just about as protected by media representatives as corporate CEOs.

4) Independent bakery owner – it’d be especially interesting if they opened during the recession. Otherwise something like swirlz (the Sprinkles of Chicago) could be exciting because the four owners come from very different backgrounds (their incorporation is Four Unlikely Friends, LLC), even including an opera singer! It’d be a great human interest story and have a lot of good b-roll. And we’d eat lots of scrumptious cupcakes! Downside: too much sugar!!!!!! (Do you note the hyperactivity yet?) But seriously, downside would be figuring out a human interest story with conflict that can be told in around seven minutes.

5) The Silk Road Project – it’s theatre that showcases the works of playwrights of backgrounds from areas along the traditional “Silk Road” (although there was never just one silk road). I’d love to tell the story of one Asian American actor or actress to see if he or she felt like they were pushed into acting within the Asian American theatre or in stereotypical Asian American roles, or if they chose to go into Asian American theatre as a form of personal identity or else wise, what their decision to do theatre was like and how their family and friends reacted, or a multitude of other possible questions. Potential obstacles include finding a complex enough person to focus on without getting spread too thin on the topics covered as well as logistical issues.

6) Suburban homelessness (in colleges) – FAFSA this year included a new question asking students whether they had been homeless in 2009 or if they foresaw possible homelessness during 2010. It’d be amazing if we could find someone to tell this story of suburban homelessness through, especially if it could be a college student whose family went through or is going through that. It is a very timely issue but it is also very hard to find someone, especially a college student, who is not only in that situation but also willing to talk about it and on camera.

That’s it for now. Updates will come each week and hopefully in June when we post our final documentary, there will be a lot of people saying, “That’s legit.”

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