Flickering Images from Marcus Donner on Vimeo.
In this post I will once again explain my process while making a short documentary for the Seattle international Film Festival.
I feel that when doing a creative work it is best to place restrictions on one's self. These restrictions, or rules, give the piece an internal consistency. They also force you to be more creative. There is an old saying that goes, "Calm seas make a poor sailor". When you have something to challenge you, it's amazing what you can achieve.
In the heyday of Warner Bros. animation they developed rules about how to handle particular characters. For instance, they decided that Bugs Bunny would never just run around starting trouble, but that he should always be minding his own business when Elmer Fudd or some other antagonist would come along and start the trouble. Or in the case of the Roadrunner cartoons, the rule became that the Coyote would be hurt by his own incompetence and not through any malicious action of the title character.
Restrictions can be beneficial to any artist and if you have none, you should create them for yourself.
When I was selected to make a short for SIFF one of the first things I did (along with my DP and producing partner) was compile a list of rules and guidelines to follow. This list was written even before we knew our subject. Our subject would be pulled out of a hat a few weeks later. I called the list the Declaration of Principles. It is a reference to a list of ideals that Charles Foster Kane made in the film Citizen Kane. Here is our list:
Declaration of Principles
This document is to serve as a philosophical framework for the filmmakers of Brian McDonald’s Fly film documentary for The Seattle International Film Festival 2004.
1.) Always tell the truth. Meaning that nothing may be set up for the benefit of our camera or story. We want real people doing real things.
2.) The story is more important than the storytellers. In other words, we are not the story.
3.) The audience does not owe us their attention; we must earn it. We must have a point. Why should anyone care about our subject?
4.) People are more interesting than things. Just as in fictional storytelling conflict is more interesting than the lack of conflict.
5.) Style for style is sake will not be allowed. Our style shall be dictated by the needs of the story. This applies to all elements of the film: direction, photography, sound design, editing and music.
6.) The humanity of a story takes precedence over any technical concern. A bad recording of a great event is better than a great recording of a bad event. (This is courtesy of the director Mark Rydell)
7.) The old adage tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them shall act as our road map.
8.) Remember basic three-act structure.
9.) We can only tell one story. No matter how interesting another subject might be, if it has nothing to do with our story it must be cut.
Brian McDonald (Director) and Marcus Donner (DP/Associate Producer) compiled this list of principles on February 14th 2004.