Behind The Scenes on a Documentary Video Production for a Non-Profit Organization

During the last few years in Southwest Colorado, Wilkinson Visual was fortunate enough to secure a project for the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to involving the public in the study of archaeology and Native American cultures.

Fine details aside, we were tasked with delivering a series of interview-based videos, each under about five minutes in length. Four interviews and two demonstrations, plus a few pieces of b-roll as needed to cover up edits would need to be produced and shot.

While I worked with my client to scout locations and get talent lined up as early as possible, I also lined up writer-producer Eleanor Shelton to work on the script and interview questions. She was able to collaborate with the client to focus the message and control the content we wanted to get out of our interview subjects.

Our schedule ended up consisting of four days, with a first day of prep and three full days on-site at the client's location. During prep, my first assistant Jakob Skogheim and I went through all of the rental gear, double-checked batteries and memory cards, and cleaned lenses.

Gear prep before a 3 day historical video shoot in #southwest #colorado with @jakobskogheim rigging the #fs700.

A photo posted by wilkinsonvisual (@wilkinsonvisual) on

We originally planned to split up the interviews across the first two days, but ended up stacking them all on day two. So, we spent the entire first day blocking out the position of lights, cameras, and talent for each of the two locations we would be shooting in the following day. Why did we do this? During my scouting sessions, I noticed that the most quiet and interesting locations to shoot in were inside of a guest house. Audio (which is the most important part of your video) was going to be easy to control, but the lighting however was not, as there were windows everywhere. We used all kinds of flags, stands, and even resorted to blankets in order to keep the sun under control. By taking an entire day to block windows and see where the sun would be shining, we be completely prepared for it on the next day.

We used colored spike tape to mark floor positions, and then took measurements and made notes on the distance of flags and lights from the talent's chair. We then broke everything down, and did the exact same thing in location #2. When we had the second location blocked out, we broke it all down again, and moved it back to the first location, and put everything back in place so that the following morning we would need only minimal time to get rolling. It was a lot of work but it saved us many headaches and kept things very low-stress.

Here are a couple of pictures from the locations that we snapped during our scouting session.

The first shoot day went very well, and the owner of the house was very gracious and accepting of our crew completely tearing it apart for two days.

We used a reflected light setup by simply blasting our LED keylight at a piece of white foamcore pointed at our subject. This created a very soft "wrap" around the subject's face, while keeping a smooth falloff onto the fill side. A 5-1 reflector gave us just a touch of fill light, while a small LED fresnel added a subtle rim to separate them from the background.

They were mic'd with a single lavalier feeding into a wireless pack, and we ran a backup audio source as a Rode shotgun on a boom just out of frame.

Our main camera shot was with a Sony FS700 armed with a Canon 70-200 lens shooting at around 85-90mm, f/3.5-4.5 with a Red Rock Micro mattebox, follow focus, and a SmallHD AC7 attached as a reference monitor.

The second camera angle seen in a few places was shot with a Panasonic GH4 mounted on a Kessler Second Shooter automated slider. I did a review of that equipment for Resource Magazine if you'd like to know more about it, but to sum it up, it's awesome.

Here's an edit that contains excerpts from the different segments we shot that week:

Since the subject matter is very niche, it wasn't exactly something I nor Eleanor could pose intelligent questions to, or fact-check for that matter. To make sure we stayed true and informative, my primary client contact was on hand for exactly that purpose. She was very adept at suggesting follow up questions, or perhaps injecting comments for clarity so that our subject wouldn't go over our audience's heads.

Editing was pretty straight-forward, and the only hard part was deciding on what parts to keep and what parts to cut! Several rounds of a-roll edits were sent back and forth to whittle the final videos down to less than their five minute limit.

The final videos were delivered in multiple formats, not only to fulfill a grant deliverable but also to place online and in the client's archives for future use.

With a crew of five people and lots of gear, we really think we did a great job on these interview pieces for the client, and they were pleased with the final results. We hope to work with them again in the future!