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Creative backdrops for documentary interviews

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Lillian Fidler
Creative backdrops for documentary interviews
on Sep 12, 2015 at 8:25:07 pm

Hi: I'm working on a doc and have alot of interviews to conduct. I'm realizing that going to each person and filming in their own surroundings might be a good idea but I'm concerned about the fluctuation of lighting, etc. I'm kind of a one woman show as far as setting up the lighting and sound and I'm thinking that it might be best to have a controlled environment to ensure quality throughout each interview.

Therefore, I'm trying to think of something more creative than just a traditional backdrop. Something that could add to the telling of the story (it's about a blind musician). For example, if I'm interviewing one of his past band mates, perhaps having a shot of the group behind but subtle, maybe even black and white shots. I am not sure how to acheive this and I don't really want a green screen. I'm wondering if anyone has ever done something like images transferred onto a cloth background then with a nice lighting, for example?

Any ideas or thoughts on this concept are welcome and appreciated.

Lillian

Lillian Fidler
Jillian Productions
St. John's, Newfoundland
Canada


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Rick Wise
Re: Creative backdrops for documentary interviews
on Sep 12, 2015 at 8:40:27 pm

Why NOT green screen? That way you can put anything in the background, provided you shoot everything correctly so you can pull a clean matte. Otherwise you will need to create backgrounds that work for each of your subjects. From your post, I gather you don't want the same background for each person.

If you are worried you cannot properly light green screen and keep the foreground clean, do a search on the topic in Creative Cow for lots of posts. Then, if possible, shoot some tests just to make sure you've figured it out correctly.

Today's green-screen software makes shooting green screen so much easier than it used to be. One critical matter: no green spill on the edges of your foreground subjects. That can be achieved two ways: pull the subjects forward enough that the intensity of the green bounce is nearly eliminated, and/or a soft, warm 3/4 back light on the foreground (1/4 CTO for example.) Distance and warm edging do miracles for post.

Rick Wise
Cinematographer
MFA/BFA Lighting and Camera Instructor Academy of Art University
San Francisco Bay Area
http://www.RickWiseDP.com


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Lillian Fidler
Re: Creative backdrops for documentary interviews
on Sep 12, 2015 at 8:51:54 pm

Thank you! Why Not green screen is a very good question. Perhaps I haven't seen enough good examples of this being done. I have in my head mostly bad examples I think :) Is this a way that you might approach this as opposed to going out to each individual in their own environment? I would like to have something creative and of course professional looking. thanks for your advise!

Lillian Fidler
Jillian Productions
St. John's, Newfoundland
Canada


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Aaron Star
Re: Creative backdrops for documentary interviews
on Sep 13, 2015 at 4:46:52 am

I personally happen to like abstracted backgrounds for talking head shots. Let the b-roll show more details and camera movement. Three camera with varied angles. Wide or MS, CU and one long lens for ECU if your material needs. If I had to do another doc, I would do more Steadicam and walk more with people. Driving and Bus tour shots are is nice too for those traveling though life sort of vibe.

For a blind musician, I would think sound would play greatly into an opening or some aspect of the story. Some attempt of what it must be like to play in front of people and see only blurry images, or nothing, and only hear sounds of the location and hearing peoples reactions.

Fog of War is a good example, with the way the DP varied camera shots with framing and tilt in a very nice way. I think they shot that 4K or 35mm and cropped to HD allowing reframing and more shot choices. If not, the editing and interviewing was amazing for single subject.

All this really depends on your story teller position.


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Mark Suszko
Re: Creative backdrops for documentary interviews
on Sep 14, 2015 at 2:47:56 pm

Green screen preserves all your options for post. You could do something very subtle or very wild, try many things.

But another way you could go is to use a powerful video projector to "paint" light in still or motion on the walls/background. This option would however commit you once deployed: it would be "baked-into" your shot, and you couldn't undo it without time-consuming rotoscope work.

It would be wise to spend a lot of time thinking thru and deciding on an overall aesthetic and "design" for your "look". What kind of emotions do you want to create or depict? Will you use color to tell part of the story? What if the subjects are all in color but everything else around them is monochrome? Stuff to consider.


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