Production Diary: 'A Social Substance’ Documentary

Roles: Co-Director of Photography, Camera Operator, Producer

Filming Dates:

16th March (9-5:30pm)

Location: Watts, TV Studio

20th March (12-4:30pm)

Location: B-roll around the city

‘A Social Substance’ is a short documentary that investigates how young adults are introduced to alcohol and drugs, the negative/positive experiences and the peer pressure they felt from others.

Pre-production: Day one

I worked very closely with Lauren as Producer, Co-director of photography with Milly and Camera operator. Day one: In preparation of pre-production, we booked a half-day session in the TV studio with the Media Central team to re-introduce setting up the studio; lighting, cameras, sound and vision mixing. During this session we experimented with a range of backdrops and decided on using a green screen that Lauren could manipulate as a psychedelic background to represent substance abuse.

Lauren wanted to use traditional documentary multi-cam set-up; one camera focused on the portrait of the subject, the second slightly off centre to the right of the screen and then a third for cut away shots, hands, feet, extreme close-up of eyes etc. In terms of lighting we started with a three-point lighting set up; key light, fill light and backlight then added extra back lights to produce a halo effect around the subject.

Playing with gels and shadows...

Lighting and camera test shots!

To finalize our pre-production set up, we recorded a mock interview with Lauren, Milly and I operating the cameras and Mike acting as interviewee. Lauren asked Milly and I to be co-directors of photography; Milly directed the shots from the vision studio, and I operated the camera shots on the floor. Both of us had worked very closely together throughout the month on other productions and therefore had established good communications and an ability to work well as a team.

Production Day: Day two

On production day as DOP I framed both shots on the floor cameras, checking with Milly that they looked ‘picture perfect’ from the control room. There were two of us operating cameras; me and Nicolas. I was in charge of two cameras - both the static shots; portrait of subject and slightly off centre to the right and Nicolas, the cutaway shots.

Milly, working from the vision room, was able to monitor all the shots at the same time and communicate changes with me. At times, some shots had changed between takes as Lauren was asking the interviewee to run through their answers to the questions a few times. Milly was really great at ensuring continuity was fluid and would ask the director to cut if the shots were off. As producer, in-between interviews I suggested further questioning, specifically around the subject’s answers, that Lauren could use to coax out further detail. Lauren was positioned right next to the camera and it was fairly easy to communicate without distracting the interviewee. We experienced a couple of interviewee cancellations in response to Coronavirus and this production commenced a few days before official lockdown. However, the two contributors who did follow through gave very strong answers around substance abuse. The television studio shoot was a success and we finished earlier than anticipated.

Production Day: Day three

The third day of production started with a meeting in Café Nero in the city centre, followed by a day of shooting b-roll. Lauren wanted to specifically highlight the drink and drug culture in Brighton & Hove, so Milly and I filmed a range of establishing shots; the Royal Pavilion, Brighton City beach, North Street and The Lanes. Lauren asked me to shoot a time-lapse of New England Street similar to one I had created in a previous project, (also with the Black Magic Pocket Camera) and I taught her to do to do this for her future productions.

B-Roll Time!

Final Documentary here:

Behind the scenes gallery...

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