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Behind the Scenes: Making a Documentary Film

Documentary films have arguably gained a new prominence in our cultural consciousness, with hard-hitting documentaries like Blackfish and now The Jinx being widely discussed. While some of you are already familiar with filmmaking, we thought it might be useful to share our own film-making journey from the perspective of the indie film-maker…and as help for those unfamiliar with how it works.

We’re still hard at work on our own film, but we can also look back fondly on Second Avenue’s previous work, and you can be sure we’re looking ahead to future projects even now. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the steps we’ve gone through to get our projects off the ground.

We come up with an idea. Every creative project starts with a good idea, and this one was no different. Of course the tricky part is finding a good idea to begin with: however, Jin’s previous experience as an art dealer meant she knew of Zakii and his work beforehand, and an idea soon began to blossom…

We expand upon the subject matter. Once the initial idea is settled upon, we begin to develop it further and think carefully about the subject matter: as a documentary about an artist it’s bound to be character-driven. But beneath that, what story do we want to tell? What do we want to reveal about the subject matter…and what do we keep back?

Above all, a documentary like ours has be built upon a foundation of trust: in an ideal world, a documentary gives its audience a brand new perspective on a topic, and both director and subject matter need to be comfortable with what’s being discussed if the aim isn’t to denigrate, but explain.

Material like the teaser trailer allows us to both inform and tantalise the audience.

Material like the teaser trailer allows us to both inform and tantalise the audience.

We think about the audience. Having settled on the subject matter and developed our ideas further (including meeting with the subject if possible) we begin to think about the format of the film…and who it’s aimed at. For instance, will we shoot it digitally or on film? How will we distribute it once it’s finished? Who are we aiming the film at? This last question can be tricky, but it’s a vital consideration for anybody wanting to make a film.

We create a teaser trailer. With many questions about the film resolved, we’ll put together a teaser trailer: you can see ours on the front page, if you’d like a refresher! A teaser trailer is useful for several reasons: it establishes the look and feel of the film, and hopefully serves as a neat encapsulation of the subject matter we’re exploring. It’s also a form of proof that we’re making progress on the film, and that we’ve gained the trust of our subject.

We look at our marketing. Naturally there will be some overlap between this and the teaser trailer, but this is where we start to reach out to you: the audience! We’ll be active on social media and keep you posted on this website. We will also have considered things like the look of the site, making sure it ties in neatly with the look we’ve established in the trailer and other materials. Above all we try and keep you informed about what we’re doing, where we’re going and the progress we’re making on the film as a whole.

Of course, this isn’t the be-all and end-all of the film-making process: there are other aspects like funding, and different people will have different methods of getting a film off the ground. However, this is what has worked for us in the past, and as we get closer and closer to the film’s release we’re confident it’s what will work for us into the future as well. Check us out on Twitter and Facebook for more information.

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Tom GibsonBehind the Scenes: Making a Documentary Film

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