In the business they call it Run & Gun filmmaking. There’s no script. There’s no schedule. There might not even be a Director. There’s just what’s happening and you have to capture it on video / audio to the best of your abilities. It occurs mostly on documentary productions, news reporting, live television, and reality shows. You can’t be sure that you’re in the right place at the right time because there really isn’t a right place or right time. If it looks interesting then you stay on it until something else looks more interesting. You just “catch as catch can” and hope that what you captured pans out in post. Let me tell you, it’s a lot of fun.
I got to do some running & gunning on a little documentary about healthcare providers and healthcare recipients. A New York City film crew came out to our little hamlet to shoot this short doc and hired me as a local gun. It was a lean crew, just four of us total, which allowed us to fit into some tight spaces and get great shots. There were a lot of interview setups in small medical offices which were challenging. Then there were several large gatherings of healthcare providers & recipients where we had to run & gun it. They also needed general around-town shots of our community so we often pulled over to the side of the road and just started shooting stuff. It was a lot of work but also a lot of fun.
They brought their own gear which included a Sony PMW-F3 camera (so popular right now that stores can’t keep them in stock), some Kino Flo Diva lights, and a Sound Devices Mixer/Sennheiser Boom Mic package. And I got to work with all of it. I love it when that happens.
Tip: a small crew is essential for documentary filmmaking. Bringing a large crew into someone’s house or a working environment is just not feasible. Also, having conspicuous crew members hanging around the production will alter the documentary subjects’ behavior giving the footage a falseness. Having a light crew footprint will allow you to get some great candid footage that will make for an interesting documentary.
This photo shows one of the most difficult dolly tracks that I’ve ever made. The total length of track is about 20 ft. The ground was comprised of a thin layer of moss covering a thousand years’ worth of pine needles. Walking on this forest floor felt more like bouncing on a gymnastics spring board. So laying the track was plenty difficult. As you can see it took about two dozen apple boxes and a hundred wedges or more to make the track level.
This was last fall when I had the opportunity to work with Creative Differences, a production company out of Los Angeles, making a television show about dinosaurs to be aired on the Discovery Channel. There were a lot of static shots (they’re called “plates” in the industry) of old forests or empty beaches. After shooting a 30 second plate we’d “fly in” giant wooden panels painted bright blue and place them behind shrubbery, trees, or rocks. Then we’d shoot the same plate with these blue panels in the frame. Sometimes we shot the same plate a dozen times, moving the blue panels between each shot. These blue panels would allow the computer animators to “paint in” CGI dinosaurs in post. Pretty fun stuff.
Tip: Use a yardstick style bubble leveler to make sure your track is perfectly flat. You can buy one at any hardware store for $15. Be sure to level your track before you put the dolly on it.