Can You Make Your Documentary 'Without a Hollywood Budget and Big Crew'?
Is it possible to make a feature documentary that spans the globe without a Hollywood style budget? Mother/daughter team Gail Mooney and Erin Kelly did just that with their film, Opening Our Eyes -- a documentary that tells the stories of eleven individuals across six continents making an impact in their communities. As we've previously mentioned, Gail Mooney shared her experience pulling it off in an hour-long seminar courtesy of B&H, and an on-line video of that seminar is now available for your perusal. It delivers an informative (and inspiring) intro for anyone thinking of launching a documentary project on a small budget:
Mooney covers lots of ground -- from conception of your documentary idea and key elements you should have in place before embarking, to why you should start a blog, and weighing distribution options while expanding the project beyond the film itself. If you're looking for a broad overview of what this kind of project can entail, this is your ticket.
So how'd they keep costs from getting out of control, and can you follow their approach? Yes and no. The travel costs might be difficult to replicate -- through Mooney's regular job as a photographer for organizations like National Geographic, she had accumulated enough frequent flier miles to keep their trip's flight costs to under $300 (!) -- that's a lot of frequent flier miles. All the same, the rest of her strategy is doable, if at least in spirit! They were very smart and frugal. They limited the crew to themselves -- two. They slept where possible, and even bartered their video making services (i.e shot a web video in return for two weeks stay at an Australian hotel). They took the bare bones in terms of equipment and did much of the planning and production themselves.
Shot on a Canon 5D MkII, and with only enough gear to fit into two backpacks, the film looks great judging from the trailer, you can see how Mooney's experience as a professional photographer out in the field made her incredibly adept at working with available light. If you're curious about the rest of the gear they took with them on their 3 month trip/shoot, check out her blog post on just that topic.
If you're a no-budget filmmaker, many of these tips will sound familiar, but it's admirable and refreshing to see those strategies married with great ambition and put into action with very tangible results. I especially liked Mooney's advice about overcoming inertia with "forced accountability":
Everybody has ideas, right? But how many people really act on them? And I know I'm guilty of the same. I have ideas every day -- some of them are great ideas and I just don't act on them for one reason or another. So I find that when I tell somebody, you know, I gotta save face. 'Cause that's important to me. So if I really want my idea to happen and take off, I tell somebody. and then I'll tell someone else, and then I'll blast it to the universe on my blog, and then I have to do it.
If you have a DSLR, an audio recorder (Mooney used a Zoom H4n) and a decent enough shotgun mic (e.g. Rode NTG-2), you're well on your way to starting your journey. So what are you waiting for? Do you have any ideas burning a hole in your head? Share them below, that might be the first step towards making them happen!
- Opening Our Eyes Website
- Gail Mooney Blog
- "My DSLR Kit for a Three-Month Road Trip" -- Gail Mooney Blog