Anatomy of a Documentary: The Hardest Shoot

The reality of any film shoot is that it’s exhausting. I’ve “acted” in film shorts. I’ve done live TV. I’ve participated in more than one documentary, two of them within the past year alone. And my experience is that the documentary film shoot is the most exhausting.

Be sure to watch: The Butcher, Baker: Mind of a Monster on Investigation Discovery, September 2, 2020, 9pm/8 Central.

The reason you’re in a documentary in the first place is because you “know something.” You’re an “expert.” And you have an obligation to the truth, however slippery that is at any given moment. Even as the expert, you go in knowing your every utterance will not be brilliant. There will be many takes and re-takes.

The crew at work. Note the sound recordist at left. (copyright Lorraine A. Miller)

Question Hour

Not only that, but the well-prepared documentarian has lots and lots of questions. Questions about things you might have forgotten. Or misremembered. Or… wait, you can’t do this… changed your mind about.

Let’s stipulate that the Arrow Media producer, Alec, was extraordinarily well prepared. And since he’d already interviewed a bunch of folks in Alaska, he had new questions, ones raised — but not answered — by those previous encounters.

If my hands are like that, I’m probably talking. (copyright Lorraine A. Miller)

You Wrote the Damn Book

And, yes, it’s true. I wrote the damn book (twice, in fact). That gives me an end-to-end, global perspective most interview subjects lack. But the book was written more than thirty years ago. So, while I am generally able to keep an entire book in my head during the writing process… some details invariably slip away over time (which, by the way, is a core subtopic in my latest book, What Happened in Craig).

Thankfully, the producer remembered a few things I’d forgotten. In return, I was able to tell him things he’d never known. I’d call that a fair trade. But it was an exhausting exchange.

Leaning forward to make a point. (copyright Lorraine A. Miller)

My work was done by 5:30 pm. The Arrow Media crew had miles to go before they slept. And then, after an interview in San Francisco they, too, were finished. Except for the rough cut. And the edits. And the inevitable interruptions. Carry on, then. Carry on.

Copyright 2020. All rights reserved.

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Order my latest book, “What Happened In Craig,” HERE and HERE, true crime on Epicenter Press about Alaska‚Äôs Worst Unsolved Mass Murder.


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