A breakdown of filmmaking job titles and video production crew positions for your documentary
By Caitlin Cooper
Understanding documentary crew roles and filmmaking job titles:
Are you ready to assemble a film crew for your documentary and not sure where to begin?
This is a great question, so let's dive in!
Not at all - you can make a documentary with just one person!
It is very common practice for one person to handle all the roles of shooting a documentary.
However, a one-person documentary crew is not always ideal depending on the demands of your production.
The ideal documentary crew includes these four positions: a producer, director, sound mixer and videographer.
Here's a breakdown of the four documentary crew roles that every production should prepare for.
The first person you’ll want to bring on your team AKA your film’s loyal best friend.
The producer is the person running the show. They’re also the person who sticks around to make sure that the show isn’t over until it’s really over.
From pre-production up through post-production, a producer organizes, plans, negotiates, and advocates on behalf of the film. Above all, a producer keeps the project on schedule and on target, depending on the goals of the director.
They take on everything from funding and PR, scheduling and rentals, to licensing and distribution.
This means that they are “producing” from day 1 until day 500; in other words, their job doesn’t end when the film is completed.
They also keep their eyes out for potential hang-ups and they excel in plan c’s, d’s and e’s.
A good producer is kind of like a fairy godmother when you’re in a pinch.
This is the film’s visionary…the creative fuel in the machine.
If you think of a film as a small company, the director would be its CEO. This person found (or was presented with…) an idea, developed the concept, and chose the collaborators.
The director decides how the story is told and designs the look, feel, and sound of the film.
So, think of this person as the official creative authority – all visual, audio, editing, music, and narrative decisions must go through a documentary’s director.
The director is also responsible for building trust with the film’s subjects, and giving direction to the videographer during filming.
The role of the director is to carefully choose what the audience experiences as they watch the documentary.
The technician you need that can make or break your movie.
The sound mixer is the audiophile that records every second of the story. They’re there for interviews, establishing shots, ambience, wild tracks and even SILENCE (otherwise known as a room tone).
In pre-production, the sound mixer plans with the director for any sound effects or atmospheres that a sound designer will need in post-production.
But once you start filming, a great sound mixer doesn’t need much direction from the director – they should adapt to the sounds of the story. They will, however, need to “sync up” with the film’s videographer – literally!
The videographer and the sound mixer should be in constant sync throughout filming so that every video clip has an audio track, regardless of whether you plan on using that sound.
The visual learner who captures the world that your story lives in.
A photographer/videographer must wholly understand the director’s vision for the film, paying special attention to the director’s preference for framing, angles, shot length, lighting, camera movements, etc.
This person is focused on observing the world that your story lives in and capturing it for a future public… but first, for a future editor!
Before filming, the videographer should know how the director plans on editing the story. That way, the videographer can record the perfect material for a smooth editing process in post.
We all know (and love) that documentary filmmaking is an unpredictable art.
With these four experts on your team, you'll be prepared to roll with anything.
Reporting by Caitlin Cooper
Caitlin Cooper is a documentary filmmaker and freelance journalist. She is the co-founder of the production company Cine Vita, whose work has been screened and workshopped all over the world.
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