By Doug Gritzmacher
Creative Director, Z-Channel Films, Denver, Colorado
This week I was invited to guest speak at a filmmaking class at George Washington High School in Denver, Colorado (I know, a film course in high school? If only the rest of us could have been so lucky!). The students are working on their own short documentary film projects and educator Julia Ortiz thought they would benefit from hearing from a working documentary film professional in Denver. I was honored to receive the invitation and had a great time speaking to the students.
I started off by going around the room and asking the students what their films were about. I got answers that included war, teen rape, immigration — a lot of heavy topics to be sure! Then I asked them who their intended audience was and their intended goals, which are two things even seasoned filmmakers sometimes neglect to think about.
It’s important to know who you want to reach with your film with and what goal you want your film to achieve.
For example, one student was making a film about the misconceptions of female (video) gamers. We discussed his goal with the class and found that he wanted to gain more respect for female gamers among male gamers. Once you know your goal then your audience usually becomes obvious — in this case it is gender-biased male gamers.
When your audience is known, then you can start to think about how to structure your film. In this case, if the student’s audience was women, most of whom would likely need no persuasion, he would structure the film very differently. But because he is trying to reach biased males who likely have no interest in a film about female gamers, he needs to find a way to grab those males quickly within the first few minutes of the film. And everything after that needs to be geared toward keeping the attention of those males and persuading them to reconsider their biases.
It was fun getting to talking about documentary filmmaking and I think I even learned something. When you’re deep in the filmmaking trenches it can be easy to lose sight of the larger process at work.
Walking out to the parking lot after the class I remembered that it was about the age I am now when my dad, a horticulturalist, spoke as a guest speaker at my high school botany class. He came armed with an impressive slideshow and found a way to make plant biology pretty darn interesting to a bunch of distracted teenagers. Compared to plants, talking about making movies is an easy sell, but I was still happy to hear later when Julia wrote me to report the students really enjoyed hearing what I had to say and were hard at work revising their ideas based on the things we discussed. Can’t wait to see the finished films in May!