Moderated by Lisa Hasko, Film Independent’s Director of Artist Development, Fi’s May 26 “Docs in a Time of Crisis” Zoom was put on in partnership with Sony Electronics.
The subject? A discussion of the myriad challenges faced by nonfiction filmmakers due to the current state of COVID-19. Four Film Independent Documentary Lab Fellows brought us up to speed on their new “normal,” the challenges of creatives during a pandemic and their favorite film cameras. Panelists included: director Jeff Bemiss (Missing in Brooks County), director Amy Goldstein (Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl), director Katy Scoggin (The Flood) and producer Fredrick Thornton (L.A. Roll).
Watch the full panel recording below and keep reading for more highlights.
Regarding what camera Thornton would select in working on a project, he said that it definitely would depend on the situation but, “I have to say since this is a Sony panel, the film’s that I’ve shot with Sony cameras have been actual dreams… the workflow is super easy, the production itself is very easy, there are tons of lens options… accessory options.” Mentioning that Thorton’s used Sony cameras across the board, from narrative projects to documentaries to music videos and beyond.
Scoggin chimed in, “The lens is the most important part [for me], so if I’m going to purchase a camera on my own, I want the body to be economical and affordable. The reason for me to go with Sony is the FS5 and the FS7 cameras I use as a doc shooter are pretty affordable, and I can get a really good glass.”
For Goldstein, she shared that she has come to have a ‘brand feeling’ regarding cameras. In shooting vérité projects and a music film, Goldstein says, “the camera I shot with, the a7 series, you could shoot in the dark, which was never possible before.
For now, it’s only Sony that has figured that out.” Noting that she likes to have multiple cameras—the a7 series—all over the room while shooting concerts and music-related scenes. “I don’t think I could run around the way some other people are able to with gigantic big cameras, so I really appreciate Sony,” Goldstein said.
Bemiss spoke to co-directing Missing in Brooke’s County, a process of shooting that took five years. He said, “The film is set against the missing migrant county in Texas and it follows two families who are searching for their loved ones who went missing after crossing the US-Mexico border.” Bemiss switched to the Sony a7S II a year and a half into shooting, noting that it became his go-to camera because of its compact size and ability to shoot in the dark. Making it easier to follow and document vigilantes in the desert at night.
Additionally, “The other thing I like about it is, I found that a smaller camera is not only lightweight and mobile but whenever we were with subject to interview them or… in our case it was the grieving families of the missing, they were less self-conscious when the camera was smaller.” Bemiss observed.
What are the main challenges faced by documentarians and especially coming out of COVID-19? Thornton said, “I think a big challenge facing the documentary world was trying to get onto a bigger screen with the last documentary I produced, L.A. Roll, we were trying to figure out a model of distribution where we could actually get a theatrical release… but now one of the things that we’ve pivoted to during production was thinking how do we make this more of a digital series, or a digital short.”
Thornton adding because of the (post) COVID-19 era, “a lot of filmmakers are considering that [online] distribution model for maybe the first time in their lives.” Which in his view, lends more opportunity to documentary filmmakers.
“We were never really going to fill a 500-seat theater or anything like that, however by having an online platform, an online model, we can maybe have an easier proposition to get seats,” Thornton said.
Scoggin highlights a different challenge of the filmmaking process, more specific to filmmakers of the United States. She says, “I think a lot of us get into this conundrum of just going out and shooting, not raising any money… You want to have money in order to start shooting. We tend to start shooting earlier I think, and just like go out and do it, but then we run out of money.”
So is COVID-19 going to make that any better? Scoggin is unsure but, “I’m having a lot of conversations with other filmmakers right now. I think there’s a hope that we can have more leverage going forward.”
Hasko stated that because of the shake-up, it’s required documentary filmmakers to be creative with how they think about their work and how to present it: “We were always struggling with broadening out beyond LA, being international, and going out to different regions in the US.” Because documentary filmmakers have had to adjust their process because of the pandemic, Hasko says, “…it’s allowed people to test ideas and to just learn how to pivot more quickly and be nimble and not hold on so tightly to processes we already are familiar with and have.”
To Hasko’s point, everyone’s workflow and creative approaches will be different now, adjusting to the new “normal.” And documentary filmmakers might be needed now more than ever, documenting the events of today and tomorrow respectfully and artfully.
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(Header: Missing in Brooks County)