View Full Version : Reality Check: One Man Crew/Call for Pitfalls

09-14-2004, 03:18 PM
Thanks in advance for looking this over. Iím planning a one-hour environmental documentary that I think I would have to shoot alone. I have experience with 16mm and video but my one page resume is really just a single page.

The question: in practical terms, can this succeed as a bare-bones doc with a one-man crew? The shoot will go like this:

1. I have two hardwired lavaliers, a shotgun and the DVX. I donít have the DVX yet so I canít do any tests for this hair-brained scheme but the mics have the needed zeps and socks.
2. About 10% of video shot will be interior interviews of experts in 6+ cities that I would have to fly to (assume all releases/permits etc are in order).
3. About 70% of video shot will be interviews of laypeople outdoors in daylight.
4. About 20% of video shot will be of mostly-static landscapes shot outdoors in daylight.
5. Edited the ratio will be about 20 minutes of each of the above, experts, laypersons, and static landscapes.
6. The outdoor locations (the 70%) will be accessed by light pick-up truck throughout the public lands of the desert southwest, that is, the National Parks, Forest Service and BLM lands of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

I think I need to do it alone because:
1. It will be easier on the pocketbook
2. I think it will better serve the invisible wall concerning the interview subjectsóI donít care so much about the audience in that regard.
3. Thereís no way to predict how long it will take to get the lay interviews Iíll need that will support the thesis of the film. Iíll get them but it could take literally six months. I donít have the $$ to pay a crewmember and doubt many would find it palatable or could hang through the process even if paid.
4. In this situation, a crewmember might be as much a liability as anything.

Iím an experienced desert traveler blah, blah blah and my truck is already outfitted for the journey. Logistically, my planning is rock solid. I have vastly more experience in the outdoors than in doc filmmaking.

Technically, a viewer will know itís a doc so if a mic cable shows Iím not really greatly concerned. Likewise if levels are slightly weak here and there, again, itís a doc.

As I try to do my own reality check I see the biggest obstacle as trying to light it alone. Even though 90% is outdoors in daylight, Iíd still need to bounce some fill and diffuse some direct sunlight here and there. As I think how I might improvise this alone I figured (for example) I could park my white truck just behind the camera to add some fill and maybe use a space blanket to either bounce or block some light here and there.

With resourcefulness my intuition tells me that it could be pulled off alone and have reasonable quality (for a doc). Do you think it can be done? Do see any other pitfalls?

Thanks again,

09-17-2004, 08:32 AM
I think it is always a good idea to have someone who can help out, especially if your are doing interviews. It takes a while to get set up even when you do have help and the more you can minimize the amount of time your guests have to wait the better. It is also nice to have someone along that you can bounce ideas off of. Even if they are just there to muscle equiptment around and know nothing about shooting interviews, just having that extra set of ears and eyes to help you think through things really helps, at least for me.

09-20-2004, 01:22 AM
I shot a music documentary a couple of years totally by myself. Now I spent 5 1/2 months shooting it on my days off or a few hours after work. I did all the lighting, and shot pretty much all of the interview footage in one session. The rest of the shoots was a matter of me going into the studio or on the road getting footage of the artist I was featuring. I entered my peice in a contest when I lived in Virginia and I won best TV Feature Photography for my work.

So it can be done. But it doesn't hurt to have some extra help there on the set.

You could even rent a second camera and have your extra person shooting cut aways or other pertinent b-roll you may need while you concentrate on other elements like interviewing talent.

09-26-2004, 12:59 PM
absolutely it can be done.

that is probably one of the biggest advantages of dv over film that is never mentioned.

i do agree that the interviews are the harder of all the tasks to do solo simply because you need someone to keep the person your going to interview busy.

i know the few interviews i've done without someone there to help distract them made me more nervous.

i have done pretty much everything alone but for interviews i did have a friend who was there to just sort of hang around and it did help solely for the pre-interview boredom to let me setup and not have to entertain the person.

the biggest problem of being a one man crew is the ego's it can be really tough putting up with the snobby cinematographer and the sound guy can be really moody, but other than that you should be fine.

also, post on here where your going to be, there are a LOT Of us out there who would be more than happy to help out.


09-26-2004, 05:04 PM
Thanks all for the feedback. I kinda knew it could work but needed some reassurance.

10-19-2004, 10:48 PM
Sure it can be done, but it will be much more of a challenge not having a crew. One thought, if there are times when having a grip/PA and or sound person is absoulutely neccesary, then consider strategically budgeting for those times.

However, I would spend some money and get a decent reflector or scrim Jim, not much money and it will make the one man band thing much more feasible than a space blanket reflector.You'll get your money's worth ,and the money saved by not doing so, may pale in comparison to the frustration. A scrim Jim, stand and a sandbag or two should keep the winds of the colorado plateau at bay. Good luck, sounds like a cool project and experience.

10-20-2004, 07:46 PM
Thanks Roger and everyone. I'm to the point where I will start doing weekend roadtrips to do some tests and will consider adding grippage and crew based on the results.

10-21-2004, 09:27 AM
I have experience with 16mm and video but my one page resume is really just a single page.

Whoa!!! A whole page!

I am in (sort of) the same boat, except the one page - I wish I had that much. I was thinking about opening a new topic, but thought this one was relevant for my situation, so here I go:

In three weeks I am going back to my old country (Czech Republic) to shoot a documentary that is 'basically' about my family back in fifties, when forced labor prison camps were used to dig uranium for Soviet nuclear program. It turnes out my one-time uncle spent eleven years in those camps. I say basically because really it's about two generations of people who had to learn how to survive the Communist regime. Some managed with a straight bakcbone, some didn't... so I am going to attempt to put a personal story into a larger context.

Most of the documentary will be talks with surviving family members, some old location shots, some just stock footage so it's not all just talking heads. And some of myself searching for the story.

There will be a crew of two (including myself). Larger crew is out of question because I can't afford to pay for another person's air fare and two week accomodation, although some help might be found locally - I am still working on that.

This is going to be my first doc, and pretty important to me as a subject. Some people suggested I get my fingers burned on something that's not so important, but since the survivors are getting quite old I think I cannot wait a couple more years until I am a 'seasoned filmmaker'. In fact, some have died already, which is real bummer, but whatever...

I have A LOT of experience with still photography, so things like exposure, lighting and composition should not be the biggest challenge - rather it will be the story, continuity, sound, etc.

The question is: Given the small crew, and a relative newbie in the world of film, what would you say I should watch for as 'traps' that I should avoid? (I know of the 'talking heads' syndrome, but anything else)

I appreciate ANY advice.


P.S. Did I mention DVX, and that want it to look like film, not video? :)

10-21-2004, 05:57 PM

Since I started this thread and because we're in similar circumstances, I feel like I should respond but given my own inexperience , I don't have much to add. My plan is to test my abilities in my real-world locations throughout the Winter, then punt. I don't have to start *filming until late Spring.

Jerry, this Journalism/Doc area is a bit of a sleeper. This problem really crosses over into the exerience of the many narrative filmmaker who shoot with 1- or 2- or 3-person crews. They could probably be very helpful.

I'd like to suggest that you start a thread in in Cafe or one of the other high-traffic areas. I don't think anyone would mind. "Tips and Pitfalls for the Micro-Crew" is of interest to narrative shooters and could turn into an active thread. I started this thread when I was new to the board and if I did it today, I'd probably choose Cafe for more visability and greater response.

Bt the way, the Doc author I always recommended wrote that of the many film he's made, the only films he's liked were the ones that were personal. The films for money were just for money. From what you and he say, I'll bet you'll make a good film.


10-25-2004, 09:25 AM
Moe, thanks for positive words. How about we try to get the admins to move the topic to another area?

On the 'personal' vs. 'for money' - I completely agree. I've tried the 'do things for money' route, and it doesn't do it for me. I think anything even remotely of value must be from within. Don't get me wrong, I try to keep my 'for money' job, but unlike just a couple of years ago, my mind is completely clear of it the moment I leave work until I get back to it the next work day.

It's a great feeling of liberation, think only about things and people you care about, no rat race, no sweat...

Anyway... I am ranting... I wish us both (all, actually) great inspiration for what we are trying to achieve.



10-25-2004, 12:09 PM
Just start a new thread.The monitors are busy with other areas.

03-03-2005, 05:14 PM
The only drawback of a one-man crew is that there is not one single woman. Do'h. "Oh, no she didn't." Just kidding. ;-)

I would add the following:
1. Never underestimate the value of lots of on-person pockets for extra tapes, batteries, etc.
2. As to the interviews, (worst-case scenario) perhaps you could get some bystander to be the eyeline. OR
4. Practice with the remote control device. You might find that you can see the LCD screen (or ext. monitor) well enough from a position where you could be the eyeline/questioner for interviews.
5. Have mobile phone handy and contact numbers on person.
6. Prelabel tapes so that you don't forget or lose track.
7. Have a cart or handtruck available. (I have one of these multicarts (http://www.basscentral.com/2003/acess.shtml) and it's great. Collapsable, easy to tote.)
8. Pee before you begin!

03-04-2005, 04:57 AM
you can buy a 5-in-1 popup reflector on ebay cheap, and that can help you with lots of outdoor lighting issues. A big one can be a diffuser too, and when it folds down will barely take any space in your truck. You can also use one of those windshield reflectors for extra bounce, in case you need two. But it will not have as many color choices (usually silver or white is it). Usiong truck as reflector will probably be areal nuisance or impossible. For indoor interviews, you will want some lighting equipment. A pre-fab kit will travel well. Bring extra extension cords and dimmers. Take an extra lav mic or two, even cheap ones as backup. A wireless or an iRIver might be cool for those shots of people talking WAY off in the distance. Lots of batteries. Clipboard. Talent and location releases. I did not see you mention a tripod. Glidecam for cool moving outdoor shots. Big plastic tarp to set up on if it is muddy, or to hide under if it is raining. Rope to rig tarp and reflectors (lots) and duct tape and some bungi cords. Maybe some poles of some kind too, in case there are no trees around. If you get a frosted clear tarp, it can also be used as a big diffuser to keep sun out of eyes of people being interviewed. Lots of batteries. Maybe an inverter to recharge cam batteries from truck while out in the desert.

03-04-2005, 01:36 PM
Jerry, I hope you're able to see that project through. Lots of potential there for something good to happen.