Part 1: Getting Started in Documentaries
Daniel Junge is the latest Coloradan to bring home an Oscar, for the short subject documentary “Saving Face” (2012), which he co-directed with Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, a Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker. Mr. Junge was also nominated in 2010 for his documentary short “The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner”. Born in Wyoming, Mr. Junge has called Colorado home for many years, and has worked in the film industry here, in a variety of roles, for over ten years, and has been a member of CFVA for most of that time. During an interview at the Bug Theatre, he spoke with CFVA about his career, and about getting started in documentaries. This article addresses the young filmmaker looking for a way in. The next CFVA newsletter will detail more of his own techniques.
Getting Into Documentaries
Like many film school grads, Mr. Junge (NYU) at first intended to to pursue narrative film, but found a home with documentary filmmaking and has pursued doc ever since. For aspiring filmmakers he notes the relative simplicity and low cost of docs. “All forms of filmmaking are difficult, and documentary is not easy,” he says, “but there are lower thresholds; the barriers are lower with documentaries, because at the end of the the day, all you need is a subject, a camera, and some initiative.”
Though documentaries are unscripted, Mr. Junge stresses the importance of story, and basic story structure. Films are not simply about information, but about involving the audience. Any film has to have a beginning, middle and end; docs are no exception. “No one’s going to watch your film if you are just informing,” he stressed, “you have to tell a story.”
Documentary story ideas are everywhere, the trick is finding a story that grabs you -- the filmmaker is going to have to live with the project for a long time. Even shorts films can take many months of effort, from planning to shooting to post; both of his Oscar-nominated shorts took about a year-and-a-half to complete (the NATAS guideline for ‘short’ is “40 minutes and under”; both those films were on the long end of ‘short’).
For someone wanting to make a film, wanting to start in documentaries, Mr. Junge says, “Don’t wait for ‘yeses’....if you set up these barriers that you have to overcome before you start shooting,...then those barriers will always impede you from starting your film.” If the story is good enough, and you know how to tell it, then the film will have power.
New technologies - smaller and better cameras, YouTube and Vimeo - all contribute to a lower barrier to entry for new filmmakers. Mr. Junge pulled his smartphone from his pocket -- “This is now a filmmaking tool.” He suggested that having more appropriate tools was a better choice, but that making a movie with a phone was no longer a ridiculous idea. Learning how to make films, says Mr. Junge, is a matter of going out and making films, and learning continuously and from everyone.
Mr Junge stressed the importance of the CFVA, and other film organizations such as The Emerging Filmmakers Project (EFP) as a collaborative space, rather than just an association aimed at establishing incentives, or for job-hunting. Citing Austin, Texas, he stressed the value that independent film had in establishing Austin as a film center, “built on the back of independent film”.
For filmmakers, Mr. Junge suggests coming to CFVA with a project that they’ve started, rather than looking for jobs -- there aren’t any. “Our industry isn’t that way,” he says, “it’s made on the backs of hustlers and go-getters and people who are out building their own projects. Instead, come to CFVA looking for feedback and mentorship and insight.”
“What CFVA can ideally be, is a place we can get together, we can help each other out.” says Mr. Junge. “We can help make films at whatever level.”
Daniel Junge is an Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker. His films include “Chiefs” (2002), “They Killed Sister Dorothy” (2008), “The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner” (2009), and “Saving Face” (2012). He is currently finishing his next feature documentary “Fight Church”. Mr. Junge is also a director for the production company Futuristic Films. His website is at http://jungefilm.com
Nelson Goforth is an electrician and grip, and lately a director and cinematographer for his own short films. Projects and experiments at http://vimeo.com/goforthfilm