5 Lessons We Learnt Making a Documentary Film in 48 Hours

In 2014 we were absolutely thrilled to walk away with best film at the 48 Hour Documentary Film Challenge. It was our first effort at Documentary filmmaking. The competition was part of the 5th annual Leicester DocFilm Festival and Documentary Media Month which took place between 1st-30th November 2014.  The process was intense and challenging and we learnt a few lessons along the way. I’d like to share a few of these things with you…

1. Collaboration & Creativity

I believe the biggest lesson I have learnt over time, is the importance of collaboration in filmmaking. Working with a team of people that you trust and respect both personally and professionally allows the process of making films to be quiet organic. Every filmmaker has a creative ego, but it’s how you manage those ego’s that go a long way to helping achieve a smooth and pleasant working environment whilst on set. We had two Creative Director’s working together, each of whom regularly shoots and directs their own work. We quickly established that I would lead they way on the Directing front and my filmmaking partner Joe would mainly work camera and editing. It’s important, especially during an intense 48 hour turn around time, that the team you pick compliments your own skill set. You must have trust in and respect for everyone’s ability.

2. Find a Great Story

When the theme “Heritage” came out at 5.30pm on the Friday night we set to work on identifying a story that we wanted to tell. We quickly established that we were interested in exploring stories that investigated the human condition and after looking up synonyms of the theme we highlighted the word hereditary as a different angle to look at. We were always confident we could make our film look nice in terms of production value as it’s what we both do to earn the bread, but finding the story was always going to be the difficult part. Luckily for us, Joe had remembered seeing a post on his Facebook wall about a young boxer (Michael Williams a.ka. “Duck Boy”). He had recently discovered that he had a Great Uncle who was a Welsh area champion in the 1930’s. As soon as I saw this I immediately got excited but our initial chat with Michael left us feeling deflated after he said he couldn’t film on Saturday morning. But with a little charm and persuasion Michael agreed to change his plans. We found a great story and the rest all just fell into place.

3. Research is Key

We can’t thank boxing historian Miles Templeton enough for giving us his time and for sending us the old documents that really gave our film historical context and helped shape the drama. We spoke to Michael about Miles and got his contact details and gave him a call early on Saturday morning. He gave us so much valuable information that we were able to use in our film and there was so much more we would of loved to do if we were not restrained to 48 hours! We found out where Griff Williams lived in Wales all those years ago and we would have loved to take Michael down to the house and really delve into his family heritage further.

4. Quick Turn-Around Forces You to Make Decisions

There is a real tendency with film editing to go over and over trying to re-edit and refine. With such a quick turnaround time there really isn’t much time to be too precious. We had lots of other ideas for the film. These included using several famous boxing quotes to contextual the piece further and set up each act of the film. But as it turns out we didn’t need these and the documentary film worked really well without it. We only really spent around six or seven hours on Post-Production all in all. This meant we had to be quiet efficient when building the narrative. Massive kudos goes out to Joe for the speed of editing!

5. It’s Infectious!

The process of making a documentary film was incredibly infectious! It has really made both myself and Joe want to produce more documentary films. There is a real sense of cultural importance in producing this kind of film. The stories you tell are personal and delve into people’s real lives. We were really excited to share the historical documents with Michael. To be part of that moment in his life when he read them for the first time was special.

If you haven’t seen our documentary film please do take a look below. If you have any thoughts and comments please do share them with us.