Female Filmmakers (Ep.4 / Pt 2 of 4) - Directing a Documentary

Female Filmmakers (Ep.4 / Pt 2 of 4) – Directing a Documentary

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Maria Soccor, award winning documentary filmmaker, discusses her experience on how she directed “Lords of BSV”.

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say you know someone that that wants to make a documentary what is the thing that they should be thinking about before you dive into that you know to the story that they want to make I think I can answer that so i think i think my philosophy what works for me when i'm doing a project there was this great play called the days between by robert anderson and in this particular play the the character the woman she says tit to her husband or boyfriend in the in the place a she said that you cannot write from hate only from love and I think everything that I do has to have a foundation of love because why else would I commit to something for so long and a lot of people have warned me and they said Maria you're a woman in this industry focus on your acting career you have decades to be a producer you have decades to be a director you have decades just focus on your acting but I can't do anything unless there's a foundation of love so in my mindset there has to be something that I really love and I'm not talking about the superficial of I'm talking about something that's even more than me something that I can create that can really turn into something bigger and what is the best way than to tell a giant story but make a film so for me it has to be the foundation of love it has to be something that I can translate into images that can move people that can make them understand maybe something that we don't understand and I think those are my challenges in filmmaking and why I would do a project why I would do a character it has to be something also that's very challenging um I've always been one to get outside of my comfort zone and handle adversity on every single level so it's something that I feel that I can also handle so so the answer would be anything that I do has to have the foundation of love and from there I can really really devote myself my time my energy and everything I have into it so when I when I did Lord to be sv part of my frustration right now is that when people say oh well this is a black film but it's not a black phone it's a documentary made for the world and when they say well you know Lords of bsv is a black fill Maria right so we need to put in this african-american genre you should take this and put it into BTW i will disagree with them and i'll say well take all of these characters same situation same dialogues everything make them caucasian what type of a film is it it's a film so so i made a film for the world with a central plot and theme of where they live and how it's the real world so is more than just it's more than just dancing it's the it's the people's lifestyle and their dreams in in trying to just achieve something that's more than themselves now talk about how personal do you have to become with the subjects or we're in the very beginning we're in the mindset of having to be personal with them in order to get what you need I think whether you're doing a narrative feature or in this case doing a documentary feature you have to become very close to your subjects you have to know them because if Ike if I don't know you how am I really gonna tell your story you get personal and connect I get personal connected with people anyway I love people I'm a people person if I was doing a narrative I would want to learn more about basically Mike the characters and how we can I can talk to an actor and have them slip into fiction because that's important for documentarians I think what's difficult is that you have to become intimate with your subjects you have to you have to you have to know what they do every day you have to know what they're thinking you have to know more about the topic in narrative filmmaking i can say maybe if i was doing a documentary about South Americans South American teenagers I would probably have to hang out with them all day so I can really get a feel of what South American teenagers do I think it's part of the process and is hard to avoid and I think what's more or when we have to be truthful right and i think that's that's whether it's in all filmmaking and acting and everything you have to be truthful and you can't be truthful if you don't really understand what somebody is going through if you don't understand what they do on a day to day what was your approach to getting personal with the subjects talking to them spending time with them outside of filming going to visit them in Brooklyn listening to their stories they would listen to mind seeing what they do every day seeing where they live hanging out in bed-stuy with them the one thing I would never do though I would never drink or I would never you know I would never drink with my subjects or go out casually cuz i think that takes away something up i think when you do too many social things like drinking or things like that like I've never done that with my subjects I think maybe once shizz and I you know the manager and I and and my field producer we want to go grab a drink maybe once or maybe twice maybe twice to discuss things but I have a very strict rule where I don't you know dude drinking and partying and things like that that's not part of the process now if you're doing at something on partying maybe it is but for me it was always very professional it was me being there to get a better understanding of who they were and what they were doing so I could tell a truthful story because I wouldn't have told a positive story it just wasn't from my point of view it was also something that I felt that was really true that it was a positive story right and they had positive things to do positive things to say and they were saving lives by getting kids off the street teaching them how to dance as well as adults young adults so so when you're training for something or you're you're putting your your time into doing something constructive it's gonna keep you away from doing the bad because now you have a focus alright so you want to do something positive so I felt when I saw that I said well that's what you guys are really doing but I had to understand it I to understand why they met once a week to do sessions at fat boy's house they did sessions to sort of not just challenge each other and say well who's the better dancer because that's what it was more like peacocking and showing off and still trying to outdo each other but still working on their craft I had to understand why they were happy in bed-stuy I had to understand why in in a in a criminal community that that's so divided that's being gentrified that's constantly changing I had to understand why they were happy and I got it the benefits of knowing technology how does that help you with your filmmaking oh it helps immensely knowing knowing your technology is really important and I've learned that actually through you because see when you're working with their great DP I could say to you like oh I want this wide shot and how does this feel but if i say to you hey can we use an 80 millimeter lens and we could do this and and what you taught me which is really great which was i said well i wish i knew lenses better i know about lighting I know about Jose I know what certain effects could be you said just Maria go get a camera and put lenses on and it was the best advice you ever gave me because I had to learned it on my own I didn't go to film school but I didn't want to be overconfident either where I'm sitting with my DP and it becomes this painful experience because I can't articulate what I want to say right yeah the communications to your crew is extremely important and you could talk you could talk about the vision all you want but it does really help saying that you know can you get me a wide shot of this particular scenery or the action that's actually happening and then you know you're talking about lingos with your DP and it does it really does help put get division across sure and also slow motion right things like that we have to add in and and when I think about you know sitting with you and then being able to explain that a great DP you of course like you were you were able to get the shots that I needed but it's see if there's something added when you really can see it for what it is on a certain lens and you know how to articulate that so I think knowing as much as you can is also very helpful and knowing the technology and knowing your lenses because I had to learn like I said I didn't go to film school had to learn that on my own and I didn't feel when I'm sitting with my DP and I'm talking about what it is I'm trying to capture if I didn't know what a jib was I'd if I didn't know what handheld rack focus was how could I possibly understand how to style eyes my own document right that's right right it impossible or it would be more the DP style I in your document right and that's right and I think that you don't want people to do your work for you you want to at least be able to really say hey this is the way I wanted to look and and like I remember talking to you and say I want to shoot this like a dance and you're like well Maria how are you gonna do it and I was like well I want things to move you know we need things to move and they did and it was never and it was faster paced and things did move and so on and so so but it's about being able to articulate those things so for first-time directors who don't know lenses know some lenses know what these effects are know what type of shots you want I've seen a lot of directors go into films that have never shot a film to have no idea how to do anything anywhere they shoot it on sticks the whole time and it's like well it's just like so still or you know or or you're just like what's missing here or you don't if you can't articulate that you might want something really great you might want that jib shot you might want that drone but if you don't know about it how could you possibly do it but the job the job of the director is to be able to communicate the vision yes and the more you know from technical to and you being an actress and knowing how to communicate to your subjects I mean you get the best of both worlds why not try to learn some of the just a basis you don't need to know the whole thing you don't need to be expert at it but know how it worked you know what it does I want to be that but I want to be that director that can translate things easier to actors and I even do that courtesy like if I'm shooting something I'm like look this is a wide shot we're going a little bit closer here this is a close-up because I also think that in performance wise that's very important for to let your talent know even even documentary subjects because you know I would remember we would we kind of switch up like even interviews about that this is the frame this is what we're working with and that's another courtesy all right because you can't just you have to give an it's a give and take nobody can make a foam alone it's a collaboration so with that how do you how do you communicate with your subjects in a documentary how do you pull it out of them so I pushed my subjects because it's about performance so I see them dancing and like for instance Bobo we would do something and I'd be like okay this is where you have to super saiyan this part what I mean you really have to push your all into it and go off and also there were things I was conscious about with eye level looks like I didn't want them ever looking down or looking in a way where their eyes were off or when when Maria Conti was playing her violin I wanted to pick more flattering positions of her because when you play violin you know you get that you know you the face sort of gets distorted right so you always want to be conscious of appearance of the close of the picture of where they're looking how they're looking if they're looking down it better be for a reason and if there and if it doesn't serve then we have to do it again at least for me and it was difficult working with that particular choreography because they don't choreograph anything it's all free style it's all free style so I can't say could you please do this again or they'd only know what they did right or I'd say ok remember we had to do some playbacks for ghosts and ghosts is an amazing dancer and when he was gliding or he'd do certain glide let's say you see this I want you to look towards the camera and do this and I need your eye level here and I need you to you know this is let's do this again um things like that like the that really takes a lot of concentration because while i was looking at what they were doing and especially on the monitors which you have to really pay close attention because those there might be one grade dance move and then if something wasn't right you know you have so you have to be conscious of things not just getting shots we're making sure that that everything is placed right there close the way they look the way they move how we capture it you know what speed are we gonna do this again and so there's a lot of things in terms of when when you're directing with your subjects it's never about just point and shoot otherwise and you know you can just send out any crew to do anything and it doesn't it's not really it's not a phone to me don't don't make a film don't make a film if you're gonna have someone else do it for you cuz it's an insult right yes sir it's ridiculous it's like you really had and you have to work with those subjects so for me I want to be that director that actors can relate to because I've been in front of the camera so I give them the same courtesy you know again showing them the frame getting the I levels right being conscious of how would they feel on camera like if someone were to shoot me in a documentary I would want to have the best representation of myself and if my callers crook it and I'm it's my collar cricket now but if you know what I mean like a we if we can't give that courtesy to our talent then what are we really doing I mean are we really doing an art form if we're if we're tearing it apart by not paying attention to details so so direction for me is every single detail you know from movement to performance to making sure everything is visually correct you touched on so much I so many different levels because so many people think about documentary is like a point-and-shoot thing and it's not and it it's so much more goes into documentaries and this is another thing I learned about documentary filmmaking is that you may have the best intentions to go in with three weeks of a production right and three weeks turns into seven years because it's that's the nature of it you're better off saying I don't want to do it yeah because because now even going forward like with this documentary I have to let people know so here's what it is we're gonna start here we're gonna do a rough cut I'm gonna have to go back and add you need to be available I might need to add a little more something might change you know but I need you on board this way and if it can't be this way then let's not do it because I don't want to get involved into something anymore where it's just everybody's you know in this in this everybody's like tents or whatever it is because originally my shooting schedule was supposed to be about maybe a couple of weeks but because of the nature of the project and how it grew and how I did fall in love with the characters and how I realized that there was so much more there you know if you didn't see that or you didn't believe in what I was doing why would you even have gone forward but you saw how difficult it was yeah for sure you know zoli and and even though I had the greatest intent and I said to you know this is gonna work out because we're having this is not it got to the point where out to really confront you and you you know as my as it the whole camera camera crew and say look I'm calling here with the best intentions but this might happen and we may need another day yes and that's that's the other thing that a lot of things we don't we don't really address is this is just the humility of it you know saying please trust me please trust me I know I'm trying I'm trying my best because if you're doing a narrative and something like that happens then that's a problem then that's a really that's it that's a professional screw rope right we could say that but if I'm saying to you look I'm giving you my best I'm trying to tell you this is the nature of the topic and the subject and if it doesn't work out it will work out another day that takes in a tremendous amount of trust between two people because it's almost like you know right that was the part where I was so much shameful when things wouldn't come through but then I realized wait a minute this is part of the process and I'm sorry but this is what it is and let's just try to get it and that's the thing that always stressed me out the most was just you know making sure that people were happy and making sure people understood like what it was we were trying to accomplish which was get the right shots that we needed get the content together and fill it up and understand that when you're working with in certain circumstances it's not always gonna be perfect in documentary filmmaking you

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