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Jim Brennan
03-03-2005, 12:30 PM
Greetings,

Some of you already know me from the other forums, but I wanted to introduce myself here. After years of writing, and a couple of years of making short films I've been inspired to do a documentary. My son Ian has Down's Syndrome. Last summer we had the opportunity to take him to an intensive therapeutic camp called Adam's Camp. My wife and I were not only overwhelmed at the dedication of the staff and volunteers, but we were shocked that it is the only camp of it's kind in the country. Families fly in to Colorado from as far away as L.A. and Nantucket, spending thousands of dollars to allow their children the opportunity to gain whatever they can from this unique environment. Applications for staff positions are turned away regularly, with only the most qualified therapists allowed to participate, most of whom do so while on vacation from their regular jobs. It is an amazing place, and more amazing still is the story of it's founder, Karel Horney. A teacher whose son had CP, she began putting together a simple therapeutic program, which she shared with other parents and professionals. That was 20 years ago, and the program seems to grow exponentailly.

At any rate, I'm new to making documentaries. I've got my DVX, a good tripod, an AT-897, and some home-made fluoros and worklights. I imagine that most of the doc will be sit-down interviews with staff and parents, as well as whatever I can get of the kiddos. My hope is to find 2 families whose kids are on the verge of major breakthroughs and catch as much of that as I can. It's just a vague idea at the moment, but I hope to focus it in the coming weeks and months.

I'd appreciate any tips that you might have to offer, be they technical or artistic. I have no delusions about my experience. I feel like just a guy with a camera at the moment. And even though the subject matter is strong enough to be moving in less than capable hands, I want to give my due diligence and try to create something worthy of the ideals of the organization.

Thanks in advance.

XCheck
03-03-2005, 01:18 PM
Jim, this sounds like a great project. I think you have the right idea - keep the number of participants small so you can keep it in focus, but catch as much of them as you can.

You mentioned families fly in from all over the country - perhaps an opportunity to engage fellow DVXers in distant places? That would be the ultimate in bringing this community to live up to its purpose...

All the best - wish you're successful.

adaml
03-04-2005, 01:45 PM
Jim, if you haven't already I'd recommend watching "On the Ropes" as well as the commentary by the directors. It's a great movie, made by a two-person crew with limited experience. Although it's about boxers, there are similarities to what you're doing. The commentary is very candid. I think you may get some good ideas there.

Moonwind
03-07-2005, 10:05 PM
Get in touch with the different Down's Syndrome Foundations, Reseachers, and other organizations. Let them know what you are doing and ask for their help. I'm sure you will have a wonderful response! Some may even be able to help you with fundraising and expanding the doc. We are in the throes of fundraising for our documentary right now, so I know how overwhelming it can seem, but there are lots of things you can do.

I would suggest that you add more than just "talking heads". That can get pretty dull after a while. Getting some movement would help it greatly. Get footage of the kids doing things at the camp. Also, contact your local Special Olympics to see if you can get footage of the kids participating in this fantastic organization.

Chris Burke, who is an actor with Down's (Life Goes On), can be reached at:
Abrams Artists Agency
9200 Sunset Blvd., 11th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90069 USA
Tel: 310-859-1417, Fax: 310-859-0609
This may give you some additional help in getting your doc off the ground.

I hope this has helped some. I will probably post again when it isn't so late and my brain is working better. (My skull sometimes feels like a seive and my brains fall out <grin>). And feel free to ask any other questions or send me a private message if you'd like. I've had some experience with Down's since two of my best friends over the years have had Down's children in their families.

moe_snodgrass
03-09-2005, 01:54 PM
Get the book "Making Documentary Films and Reality Videos : A Practical Guide to Planning, Filming, and Editing Documentaries of Real Events" by Barry Hampe. Not only is this one of the very best books on documentary filmmaking, but Hampe's specialty is documenting human behavior. Hampe is a highly thoughtful and ethical filmmaker and you will likely gleen a very lot of valuable info from it. Hampe accepts email on his webpage and has acted as an informal mentor to me the few times I've emailed him.

www.barryhampe.com/index.htm

Luck,
Moe

J_Barnes
03-10-2005, 06:04 AM
Jim, while there's probably a lot of theoretical technique that can be used to make a documentary, in my mind...it is the filmmaker's interest and empathy with the subject that really makes a great doc. Obviously, docs are made in the edit room, but the hardest part is in getting something on camera you want to show.

I'm pretty sure you're probably in a better position then anyone else to tackle the subject and tell the story that is there to tell, so start out with that knowledge. You may not be the worlds most experienced filmmaker, but you're the best filmmaker to tell this particular story.

My only advice is to learn to get your subjects talking without you prompting them. Once they start telling you things, you no longer have to ask about everything, and that's when the story really flows onto the tape. Don't be afraid to let people go off topic, as that might bring some magic to the shoot.

Also, don't go straight for two families on the verge of a breakthrough. Their stories might not be as compelling as the families who aren't on the verge. Talk to the people working at the camp and get them involved as early and as deeply as possible...I'm sure they will see the tremendous value this project could bring to their institution and the cause at large.

The at the camp probably have the best information as to who would be a great subject for you to focus on, so I'd start there.

Finally, the only other thing I can say (and this is personal opinion)...is to focus on the people in the story, not the story. The disorder, the school and the work there will all be very present in the viewers mind, so if you focus on the people involved in the story, you'll add a human and empathetic layer on top of an inescapable framework.

Anthony_Gilmore
03-10-2005, 04:49 PM
i also highly recommend Michael Rabiger's book, Directing the Documentary. You can get it at Amazon.

Jim Brennan
03-10-2005, 05:31 PM
Of the 2 books recommended, I have The Rabiger one, and the other is on order from the library. Both seem like outstanding resources.

Moonwind, you offer some great suggestions. And Chris Burke is a terrific guy. I met him at the National Downs Syndrome Convention a few years ago. That community, and that of Special Olympics, are amazingly giving and compassionate people. They tend to subscribe (as do I) to the theory that a rising tide raises all ships. So they are always willing to help out. But my focus for this film (as it is currently planned) is the uniqueness of this particular program, as well as those families that benefit, and the people behind it.

J_Barnes, you are insightful as always. My only experience with this type of thing has been interviewing my wife's parents and my aunt to gather some family history. I did exactly as you suggest. I just let them talk. Tape is cheap and I got some killer stuff by just letting them take the lead. OF course, I was able to steer it back to get some specific info when necessary.

I meet with the staff next week to see what they have to say. This whole thing started when I volunteered to put together a 3-5 minute film they could use for corporate fundraising. But there is a much bigger story here. I'll have to rely on lots of research, time behind the camera and a little luck. But in the end I think there will be a film there. Whether or not it's the one I intend to make is annother story...

J_Barnes
03-11-2005, 06:15 AM
With documentaries (obviously this is pure theory), the story you wind up with has to be allowed to be different then the one you set out to make. Otherwise you're sacrificing the story that's really there with the one you envision yourself making.

A while back 60 minutes did a story about a camp for autistic children. The thing that made the piece so good is that instead of doing a profile of a unique camp, they profiled the people who attend the camp. Instead of ramming down the idea that the camp is doing great work and is an important resource to the familys affected by (aspergers?)...they simply profiled the kids going there, and through the conversations and pure happyness exhibited, it was obvious what an impact the camp was having.

It was just a very skillful way of portraying the importance of a physical place and a thereputic program without directly profiling the camp itself.

Anyway, keep us all informed. If I was closer, I'd love to help out...so consider me there in spirit.

Jim Brennan
03-11-2005, 08:47 AM
I will do that.

Your comments are taken to heart. One of the reasons I started in this creative field (first as a writer, than a filmmaker) was to manipulate people. I was drawn in to the idea of creating a universe that I controlled. Everybody did what I wanted, and through that I attempted to control the emotions and reactions of the viewer (or reader). Over time I have begun to yield control, and my work has been better for it. I have allowed my characters to be themselves within the framework of a story and their own attributes. I have also given actors more of an opportunity to give input into their characters and hence, the story as a whole. I still take responsibility, but I allow the story and characters to be what they are, as opposed to what I first envisioned. Provided, of course that the characters and narrative structure are not compromised.

Doing this documentary will be a test of that growth. I certainly have a vision of what I think this film can be. Hopefully I will have the confidence to allow myself to take what I see and hear and recreate my vision according to what IS there as opposed to what I think SHOULD BE there.

I will keep you posted. Thanks for your comments and support.

Moonwind
03-12-2005, 01:28 PM
Of the 2 books recommended, I have The Rabiger one, and the other is on order from the library. Both seem like outstanding resources.

Moonwind, you offer some great suggestions. And Chris Burke is a terrific guy. I met him at the National Downs Syndrome Convention a few years ago. That community, and that of Special Olympics, are amazingly giving and compassionate people. They tend to subscribe (as do I) to the theory that a rising tide raises all ships. So they are always willing to help out. But my focus for this film (as it is currently planned) is the uniqueness of this particular program, as well as those families that benefit, and the people behind it.

Glad you liked the suggestions. I did want to let you know that I suggested the organizations like Special Olympics and the Downs organizations as contacts to maybe help you fund the project. Since we are doing a documentary ourselves I've been delving into the "fun" realm of non-profit fundraising. WHEEEEE! I should have stated that in my original post - my bad. Anywho, since most of the Downs orgs and the Special Olympics are already 501(c)(3) organizations, one or more may be able to help you get some bucks for the project.

Hope this helps!!!!