First-Hand Adventures of a First-Time Filmmaker | Reports | Screenwriting

The First-Hand Adventures of a First-Time Filmmaker, Part 1: Starting Out

1 Aug , 1999  

Written by Lorre Fritchy | Posted by:

Live the low-budget challenge as NewEnglandFilm.com writer Lorre Fritchy takes her first step toward making her first film.

I’ve written for NewEnglandFilm.com before. But never with me as the subject. As a full-time writer and a first-time filmmaker, I thought it would be wise to track the ups and downs of making my first documentary. The goal of this article, and the series that will follow, is to share my first-hand experience in making the transition from deciding to shoot a documentary to the actual tasks needed to complete it. You are welcome to live the low-budget challenge with me during the next several months.

As I prepare for this undertaking, I have to remember the most important thing is telling the story. If I wait until I know everything about lenses and reflectors, I will miss this opportunity. You don’t wait until you have a six-figure deal to write a screenplay. You just have to quit talking and start doing.

Tentatively titled "Spinning A Basketball, Shaping A Dream," this one-hour documentary will focus on world-renowned basketball entertainer Sandy "Spin" Slade. Acknowledged throughout the industry, whether by name or by feats, Slade makes her unique living as a professional basketball entertainer and speaker everywhere from schools and camps to Final Fours and NBA/WNBA halftimes. Through her uplifting messages and pumped-up performances, she inspires both kids and adults to take action, face their fears, and follow their dreams, despite the odds. (A parallel here…) Slade’s enthusiasm is absolutely contagious. I know this is an ideal story for film festival play, but there is certainly a market out there in schools and in Slade’s existing fan base (thousands and thousands of people begging for more material on her) and other avenues. Basketball is her language, but her themes are universal.

After I obtained Sandy’s permission for her story, I started asking around for help. How Do I Do This? What do I do when I’m not a member of the BFVF, don’t have a degree in lighting and photography, don’t have any kind of budget, and don’t have much time? (Sandy Slade is based in California, and as I will be in California in August, I couldn’t pass it up. So the shoot will start before you’re even finished reading this paragraph.) On a related note, I will be staying with Sandy during the entire shoot. Some have said I should appear onscreen at some point if I am living with the subject during this project. Any thoughts on that? [Responses to this article can be posted in our Online Forum for First-Time Filmmaking]

My experience working on other shoots has never required my having to know lighting and camera specs. Part of the appeal of a documentary is the Just-Do-It aspect: Get your camera and shoot the story. At the same time, having sat through too many film festivals where the audio was so garbled I couldn’t understand what the subject was saying, I want to be sure I have decent audio. Keep in mind, I have no crew. Just me and my camera. Some have already offered the "if you’re not lighting it, avoid stripes and venetian blinds" warnings. Any others?! On one side, people have advised me to buy several thousand dollars worth of equipment and a crew. On the other side, people (who do very respectable work, mind you) have said, "Do you have a camera? Yes. Do you have a subject? Yes. THEN JUST SHOOT IT and don’t get bogged down in a techno wish list. Get a simple mic so you have audio, but you don’t need all that other stuff to tell a compelling story." Any advice on a Radio Shack mic to wire her with?

Meanwhile, I have been visiting every electronics store in the area, and have seen Digital 8 Sony videocameras for around $900. I can swing this, as it is also an investment for future projects. I am still fuzzy on the nuances between Hi-8, digital 8, 8mm. Where to download this digital video to and where to edit are questions to be answered later; however, I’ll take suggestions.

I am working on Release Forms for both the locations I’m shooting at and the people who will appear on camera. There will be lots of folks in the background, but not speaking on camera. Do I still need release forms for them? Where do you draw the line here?

That William Goldman quote, "Nobody knows anything," comes to mind as both a comfort and a curse as I push through this exciting and intimidating new venture of "spinumentary" filmmaking. Laughter gets me through anxiety, so for each one-liner in this essay, there is an equal and opposite butterfly in the author’s stomach. But I am committed to the story. Sometimes this feature will be stream-of-consciousness, sometimes it will be reflective, but either way, it’s sure to be a learning experience for both the reader and the writer.


If you've missed any part of 'First-Hand Adventures,' please check out the complete series below. All Parts to the Series: Part 1: Starting Out Part 2: On the Set Part 3: Wireless lavs.  Editing choices. Airport redtape. Time code hell.   Must be your first film. Part 4: Burnout -- Hang in There Part 5: Back in the Spin Part 6: Post-Production and the Discomfort Zone Part 7: Happy 'Adventures' Anniversary Part 8: From Gigabytes to Soundtracks Part 9: It Ain't Over Even When It's Over -- From Music to Film Festivals Sandy 'Spin' Slade: Beyond Basketball is now available on video at http://www.spinumentary.com.