Make something out of nothing
Everyday documentary storytelling
For this challenge, we want you to show us what your day looks like in 3 individual 1-minute films. Each of the 1-minute films has to be a one-take shot, which means no edits within that one minute (think TikTok). The competition is open for submissions 5th-20th December 2020.
Not sure how to get started with your film? We have put together a three-part online resource on how to make a short documentary film to get you going. You’ll learn about artistic, practical and ethical approaches to filmmaking, we’ll show you examples, give you some tools and prompts to get you filming.
How to use these resources
This resource pack will take you through the artistic, practical and ethical aspects of documentary film making, step by step.
You’ll find examples of films to watch, extracts from films, prompts to practice filming, and video-tips from Ralph and Lotte. By the end of the resource, you should have a good idea of what we are looking for in this competition, so make sure that you follow the resource to the end.
You can explore these activities alone, or with your friends and family to help you think about how you want to show your pandemic life on camera.
All you need is an internet connection and some sort of filming device. A phone camera is fine. If you don’t have one, maybe you can borrow one from a friend or family for this project.
1: The artistitic
What is documentary film?
In contrast to fiction film which uses actors and a script, documentary film tries to document what is happening, often for historical record. The camera is observing life. But that being said, the act of making nonfiction films is still very much a creative endeavour.
While you film, you also interpret the world. This is because you choose the frame: you choose what you include, and by including some things, you exclude many other things. But more on that later.
Diaries on film
In this project we would like you to observe your life, using a camera. One way of seeing this is recording things like for a diary, but using vision and sound rather than just writing. We would like your corona-diaries. By this we don’t mean you have to speak your diary into the camera. You can point your camera at whatever you want to show.
There’s a long history of Diaristic filmmaking, or films that use a mixture of nonfiction footage and personal reflections.
The Israeli filmmaker David Perlov made a series of Diary films from 1973-1983 which were screened on Channel 4. In this clip Perlov picks up his camera for the first time, captures scenes of his home life and ponders the vital question of documentary filmmaking: ‘Eat the soup, or film the soup?’
Closer to home, the young London filmmaker Ayo Akingbade uses a more poetic approach in her film Tower XYZ which she made in 2016: she mixes her own voiceover with shots of unnamed characters wandering the parks and estates of London.
Notice how Akingbade uses “establishing shots” of buildings to and streets to establish location, and then closer shots of people.
Life in a Day
Almost exactly ten years ago, Ridley Scott (director of Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator and Prometheus) wanted to document a day in the life of Planet Earth. The film team launched a call for people to film their everyday lives and submit them on YouTube. They received 80,000 submissions and 4,500 hours of footage from 192 countries!
Watch the trailer below.
For this 'Day in the life of Corona' film challenge, we would like you to document your day in South London. We will edit together your clips, and we hope that the film that will come out of this will give viewers some insight into how young people in South London are experiencing this particular point in time.
This is why we want all the competition entries to be shot on the same day!
Watching Life in a Day might give you some inspiration for what kind of things you might want to shoot. The makers of that film asked people around the world to film with three questions in mind:
What do you love?
What do you fear?
What’s in your pocket?
Ask a family member or adult you know these three questions and film their answer.
Think about: Where do you want to film them? Maybe while they are doing something else like cooking, playing video games, or walking the dog? This might give your footage a more natural feel to it. Or do you want them to be concentrated purely on the question?
Ask follow-up questions if they say something that grabs your attention.
Do you want to keep the camera still or might the camera move around while they are answering the question?
Watch back your footage and think: can you hear what is being said? Is it interesting to listen to? Is there movement in the footage? Does the lighting work, can you see the subjects properly?
What would you do differently next time? Now go to a different person and do the same thing again, applying what you have learnt from your first shoot!
For this competition we want you to submit three film clips that are one minute length each. This is because there is no easy way to edit footage using just a phone camera. But it’s not just about logistics!
The one-take shot is an art form in and of itself. If you look online there are tons of YouTube compilations of what directors can do in a single take.
One take shots come in all shapes and sizes.
Watch the next three videos.
Some action films use very precisely choreographed setups to cram a lot of action sequence into continuous hold-your-breath shot, like this one from ‘Children of Men’.
A long take can build tension. If it takes in a lot of different scenes the audience won’t realise there hasn’t been a cut, until there is one.
Notice the feeling of release in this Childish Gambino video when it hits 3mins, and the epic first shot cuts to a new one.
One-shots don’t need to be elaborate and action-packed to be engaging.
The Belgian director Chantal Akerman used long takes to slow down the viewers attention and focus on more personal human details.
In this scene from ‘Portrait of a Young Girl at the End of the 60’s in Brussels’’ Akerman holds on the disappointed face of a woman at a party whose love interest has been swept off her feet by a man.
Telling a story in a single take, even if it’s just the about how you brush your teeth in the morning, can be an exhilirating challenge to set yourself!
2: The one-shot
What new daily routines have you established since the beginning of the pandemic?
Identify one thing that you do everyday (it doesn’t have to be new since lockdown), take your camera and try to document it in one take.
Watch back your footage. What worked? What was difficult? Was there an emotion, feeling or detail you were able to capture using this technique?
3: Shooting on a phone
Shooting on phone cameras has lots of advantages!
They’re small, so you can be spontaneous, they shoot pretty good quality, and are great at conveying the sense of really being somewhere.
In fact, lots of professional feature-length films have been shot on phone cameras. Searching for Sugarman is an example of a documentary that was filmed only on phone cameras.
Tangerine is another example. It’s a fiction film that follows the life of a transgender sex worker in Los Angeles.
Shooting on a phone camera comes with a certain look.
Notice how everything in this shot is in focus: the characters in the background as well as the dialogue in the background.
Here are some of our top tips for shooting on your phone:
3. Establishing shots vs close-up shots
What do different shots do? Establishing shots set the scene and the mood, they let the viewer know where your film is set. Close-up shots are better for capturing details or people. You can do establishing shots and close-up in one single shot, as in the example here.
2. Shooting in landscape
Phone camera footage has created a whole new aesthetic of video shot in an upright portrait format. However, we would like you to shoot your footage in landscape format. That means holding your phone horizontally, which might feel a bit unnatural at first.
1. Getting good sound:
For really good sound, try to be about 1m away from whatever you are filming. The closer you get, the clearer the sound. The more noisy the background, the closer you have to be to the sound you want to capture.
4. Framing your story
Think about how much space is around a person or a thing you are focusing on. If you want people to really concentrate on the thing, it's good to not have much space around them. If you want to emphasise the context, maybe it's good to see what is around them.
What is your/your family morning/midday/evening routine? How can you capture this on film? Who is filming? What can be captured on film? What is the context? How can you set the scene?
4: The ethics
Because we are treating your film not only as an artistic product for the Timecapsule, but also as research data, this means we will need you to give us your consent to use your film as research data.
How identifiable do you want to be?
There are many ways that you can make a film, and how you make it will influence whether people will be able to tell who made the film.
You can choose to include yourself in it, or not.
You can film other humans, or not.
You can choose to not include any faces or voices; you can include voices but not faces; you can include faces and voices.
But even if voices/faces aren't included where you live or scenes in the film might still mean that you are identifiable in some form, especially as you will be making this film in and around where you live. For example, road signs or particular buildings might hint at where you live.
You can choose how identifiable you would like to be. Bear in mind that the final film might be put online as part of the Timecapsule. You will have a range of options on the consent form.
If your film is shortlisted for the Timecapsule, we will contact you and discuss how you would like to be identified/be recognised, and we can make appropriate edits if you change your mind about how visible you would like to be.
Getting permission to film in non-public spaces
When you want to film in a public or semi-public space, you will need to get consent. Charlotte and Ralph got consent to shoot in a shop by asking the shopkeeper.
Getting consent from participants in your film
If you want the film to be considered for the competition, you will have to send us a separate recording in which you film your documentary film participants whose voices and/or faces appear in your film, saying that they are happy for you to film them for this project, and where they say whether they are happy for the film to be posted online as part of the film capsule.
Make a note of different phrases that they can use to give their consent on camera:
I consent to being filmed on camera, for this film to be edited and posted online.
I am happy for you to film me, for the film to be edited and posted online.
I’m ok with being filmed, for the film to be edited and posted online.
Think of something you or someone you know does everyday like making a cup of tea or going for a walk:
1. Film it so that you are as unidentifiable as possible (no voice, no image of identifiable people or locations).
2. Film it so that you are semi-identifiable (include voice/identifiable locations).
3. Film it so that you are fully identifiable (include footage of yourself/other people).
Watch back the footage and make a note of the techniques you used. How did the different approaches impact your film?
The judges will be looking for content and creativity.
The mood: Conveying a sense of what in your life has changed because of corona virus
Visuals: Using dynamic camerawork, thoughtful composition and striking lighting.
A touch of the personal: Honest reflections, using the video form to let the audience into your world, this doesn’t necessarily mean filming yourself, it could just be about the things you notice.
Sound: Extra points for making good use of sound, even incorporating diagetic music (that’s music that’s played or performed within the scene).
Place and context: A strong sense of location, established. Make sure relationships between people in your film are made clear.
Emotion: The work should be gripping, build some kind of tension, and trigger a response, it could be laughter, sadness, joy, whatever you’re feeling right now.
Shoot landscape if you are filming on a camera phone.
Think about how identifiable you or your participants want to be and film your scenes accordingly.
Get consent from participants whose faces or voices appear in your films by capturing them on camera.
Complete the online entry and consent form.
Once we have received your form, you will be sent a link to securely upload your films and participant consent recordings.