Making your shots look perfect is only half the battle; if they can’t be edited together to form a clean, cohesive sequence, they may not do you any good. Documentary filmmaking may sometimes feel like it’s all filmed on the fly with minimal planning, but that’s hardly ever the case. Do your editors a favor, and even before you get behind the camera, start planning how your shots will fit together in your final product.
There are two cardinal rules when filming for a sequence: first always prioritize your must-have shots first, and second, make sure you’re filming enough content to give your editor plenty of footage to work with.
This first prioritization rule will vary depending on the type of sequence you’re filming. Generally, you want to start with wide and establishing shots to show the action in full; if there’s a disaster on-set and you can’t finish your shoot, at least you have enough video to put something together in post. From there, move on to the finer details: close-ups, b-roll, and creative angles can all add dimension to a scene, but they aren’t valuable if you can’t first set up your sequence.
The second rule is all about patience and timing. Sometimes in the field, it’s difficult to know how exactly your sequence will be paced in post-production. It’s always best to play it safe and record more than you may feel is necessary; there’s nothing wrong with trimming a shot down later, but if you find yourself scrounging for extra b-roll, you’re in trouble. In their video, Travis and Slavik recommend filming at least five to ten seconds per shot — this is a great rule of thumb, but filming for longer can never hurt.
If you want to learn more tips on this subject, the University of Florida has a great resource on their ‘Five Shot Method’for building a sequence. Beyond that, try testing out some different methods in the field and see what works best for you!