Friday, October 31, 2008

The First Year of Production

3 1/2 years ago I started production on a documentary about my camp. I needed to make a thesis film to graduate film school. I had never made a documentary before but I liked the idea of the minimal pre-production involved with doc filmmaking and of course I had many documentary filmmakers I adored. I thought collegiate week at camp Ojibwa was a good story for a documentary. All the drama takes place within 2 weeks at Camp. I wouldn't have to follow someone around for many years, I wouldn't have to work on this documentary for many years, at least that is what I thought.

So I called the camp director Denny and pitched him my idea and he said yes. I asked my good friend Zach if he would do sound and help me direct and he also agreed. I rented a camera package from the film department and showed up at camp a month later for the last two weeks of camp. I had never shot a second of documentary footage before that. Zach had never held a boom pole. And the first thing Denny says to us when we get to camp is something like 'you screw me over and I'll cut your balls off.'

For two weeks we shot 12 to 15 hour days. We shot everything. We shot completely on instinct; if we liked something we'd shoot it. By the end of the two weeks we knew we had something funny, emotional and energized. We had 70 hours of footage. There were clear-cut characters with stakes, at least in my mind. There was also a clear ending to our story. We thought we had it in the bag. I went home eager to edit.

I got home and watched all 72 hours. It was exhausting, not nearly as fun as filming. Not really knowing what I was doing, I began to cut together scenes. I put together a 20-minute cut and showed it to my professor at school. I was hoping he would t0ell me how brilliant we were and how amazing the story was. Perhaps I could finish editing in a few months and graduate sooner than later. Film festivals were just around the corner, months away.

Instead he said I have a lot more work to do, I was getting a little ahead of my self. He didn't know who any of the characters were. He explained that the characters needed to be properly introduced. Of course, seems so obvious in retrospect but at the time I didn't know. He recommended I film the main characters at home kind of like in the documentary Spellbound. I called Zach and told him we'd have to do more filming. We would spend a month traveling around the mid-west filming campers in their houses and at counselors at their colleges. By the end we had accumulated 30 more hours of footage.

I cut together some more scenes and put together over an hour long cut with rough character introductions. I think I had over 6 main characters in the film. My professors and I worked on it until we thought it was satisfactory for me to graduate with. About 1 Year after I initially started filming I would graduate film school with this doc as my thesis. I was excited to graduate and almost be done with the film. I began to send emails out to campers and counselors explaining the film was almost done. I figured it would just need some fine-tuning and it would be all ready to go. I could move onto my next project in no time. This was a slight miscalculation.