Looking for a good way to begin missional engagement of a people group or population segment? Try making a documentary film.
Storytelling is a powerful communication tool. It can allow you speak truth to the audience. A story can serve as illustration, admonition, encouragement, lesson, history. Film is a great storytelling medium- it uses audio and video, it is increasingly accessible and inexpensive, and best of all, it is extremely portable and infinitely editable. Documentary films are unique in that they allow you to tell other people's stories in their own words. Through interviews, real-time footage, reenactments, or stream-of-conscious ramblings, you provide a platform for people who otherwise may not have a voice.
Churches are starting to look for ways to establish a presence in their own communities or in communities they're ministering to overseas. This is a great way to do that. If you're just getting started, here's a great how-to guide that breaks down the process of producing a documentary film.
First, you'll need a story to tell. Talk to people and find one worth telling. Without this, it doesn't matter what equipment you have. Casual conversation with random strangers in the neighborhood is good place to sart. Whether you're in San Diego or Stockholm, play up the whole "I'm a tourist trying to learn about your city" angle and ask lots of questions. As common themes, concerns, events, or histories emerge through your interviews, you can begin to shape that into a story that will translate to the screen. You may want to take note of who the good storytellers are. Or, you could just ask people who the good storytellers are.
Now, sit down and write a script. Not the words to be said- that's the job of your subject(s). Instead, consolidate all that you've heard into one coherent, essential message. What would be the best way to tell each part of your story?
the best style for your film. Will you have a lot of head-and-shoulders
shots of interview subjects? Will you be narrating or using voiceover?
Plan out your shots; scout out good locations for filming. The ideal is
something with an interesting background but minimal distractions. This
is especially important when it comes to sound. After you've shot the
"meat" of the film (the interview, the action footage), you can go back
and record ambient noises, voiceovers and narration, and shoot
establishing shots and cutaways.
In terms of equipment, you'll need:
- A digital video camera (cheap if you use now-old-school mini-DV tapes). HD is better, but file sizes will be big. I use a standard definition Canon flash-memory camera. They have HD versions as well.
- A microphone. If your camera suppports it, spring for a decent
mic that you can plug into your camera. Otherwise, use a separate audio
recorder. I use Griffin's iTalk stereo ipod mic attachment with my old ipod, and set it up close to the subject.
- A computer for editing your video. I'm partial to iMovie (actually the now-replaced iMovie HD, if you've got it).
As you advance, these things might be helpful:
- A tripod.
- A boom mic (you can make a boom out of a painter's telescoping pole).
- Steadycam attachment (buy a cheap one, or make your own).
- Lights (something that will illuminate your subjects without distracting them or washing them out).
I know of several churches that have sent teams overseas to shoot documentary films. The process helps them get to know people in personal, natural, and non-threatening ways. The end result is a great tool to help raise awareness and mobilize volunteers. The film itself can be a gift to the subject and her culture. Try entering the film in film festivals or competitions. Show the work in a local gallery, bar, or cafe. Send it to the local television station. Find ways to share the story.
Good luck. Let me know if you've out together a documentary film. I'd love to hear about your experience.