As humans, we are naturally curious. Great ideas cross our minds often, but how do we know which thoughts should be acted on and which ones should not? When producing a nonfiction film, the basis for the movie has to stem from a solid, concrete idea. Antonino D’Ambrosio, Director of the documentary Frank Serpico, says he knew it was time to stop thinking, and time to start filming when “we went back to his [Serpico] old West Village apartment...he [Serpico] got up and started acting out scenes.”
Documentaries are vulnerable works of art. After all, you are filming someone day-in and day-out, tracking their every move. How does one determine the right time to film without crossing ethical lines? Antonino D’Ambrosio, Director of Frank Serpico, says that upon filming Serpico, he gained permission from Serpico to film 24/7. To prevent crossing ethical lines, take this approach. Ask your subjects what they are comfortable with, what filming hours work for them and keep communication 100% transparent.
Documentaries have the capacity to shed light on important issues and ignite social and political change. Antonino D’Ambrosio, Director of Frank Serpico, had a similar approach to his film. D’Ambrosio believes that we are in an era where “power trumps everything” and that as a result, people have a difficult time standing up for themselves. D’Ambrosio says that “you need those people in society who are going to say no because they show us the way.” D’Ambrosio saw a courageous characteristic in Serpico, which is why he felt making the nonfiction film was important.
Honing in on your craft as a filmmaker is an essential part of being successful in the field. Staying engaged with communities outside of filmmaking can help keep the fire for producing alive (and even spark new ideas). Antonino D’Ambrosio, Director of Frank Serpico, says that he feeds his soul by attending lectures at the Museum of Natural History. Documentarians, in some respect, execute the past in a way that reveals the present, in hopes of pointing to a new future, which is why D’Ambrosio loves learning about new discoveries from archaeologists and scientists. What do you do to feed your imagination?
As students, we know the importance of blueprints. Not only do they help organize our thoughts, they pave way for a clear, coherent path - whether it’s staying on track for an essay or personal goals, blueprints are there to serve as a constant reminder of what we want to accomplish. In documentary making, writers follow similar guidelines. While most filmmakers write as they go, almost all start with some sort of outline. Antonino D’Ambrosio, Director of Frank Serpico, writes essays before venturing out on a new project. He says that these abstracts remind him of certain touchstones he wants to convey throughout his film. Ah, the beauty of planning ahead.