This is a guest blog post by videographer Jude Charles.
As a freshman in college, I faced a tough decision – drop out of college or pass up on an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The city that I live in, Pompano Beach, Florida, was in the process of preparing to celebrate it’s 100th year anniversary and wanted to produce a documentary that would showcase the rich history of the city’s 100 years. They wanted me to film it. The problem was that I was going to school, working a part time job, and studying on my off time, which really meant there wasn’t any off time. In order to produce this documentary I would need to leave school for a year or two.Why was this such a tough decision? I’m the last of eight children in my family. Each of my other siblings attended college and earned their respective degrees. I never cared much for school, I was already in the thick of doing what I wanted to do with my life career-wise. Aside from my part time job, I started a small video production company getting video jobs here and there. So I knew that if I left college, even for a year, there was a high possibility that I wouldn’t return. There are certain decisions that change the course of your life forever. And this was it.
I dropped out of college to produce, film, and edit a documentary.
Fast-forward 2 years later, and I get a phone call from a friend. Model and soon-to-be entrepreneur, Keyshia Dior, has been looking for a videographer to travel with her to film and edit the events she hosts. She was also going to be introducing a new cosmetic line, and wanted to create buzz by posting video blogs. I wasn’t really interested in that, but I decided to pitch a different idea. Produce a 10-minute documentary, showcasing who Keyshia Dior really is, beyond just the pretty face, and film her preparing for this new business endeavor. With her quick rise to fame, there were many misconceptions to how she reached this level of notoriety, but it intrigued me enough to take on the project. Keyshia liked the idea so the project was on.
Going into this project, I knew the focal point would be on the actual building of the brand. What does it take to build a brand? How do you build a brand? I also wanted to present the mindset of what it takes to build a brand. Many people get an idea, talk about bringing the idea into fruition but do not commit the time and effort it takes to building the brand. Immediately when principal photography begin with Keyshia Dior you realize that she didn’t just carry the mindset but she embraced the mindset. She’s very hands on and very much involved in every aspect of her business. Lucky for me, she trusted me enough to film the documentary with very little scrutiny or oversight.
Building the Brand Part One was filmed early 2011. DSLRs were already the talk of the industry and I really loved the intimacy DSLRs provided when it related to documentaries / profile stories. So for this documentary, I decided to film with the Canon 5D MK II and the Canon 60D. The lenses I chose were all Canon, 16-35mm f2.8L / 24-70mm f2.8L / 85mm f1.8 / 70-200mm f2.8L IS II / 100mm f2.8L IS. For audio I used the Sennheiser G2 series Lavalier Mic with a Zoom Audio Recorder, and for stabilization, a Bogen tripod, Manfrotto 561BHDV monopod and a Glidetrack slider. For Part Two and Three of the documentary series, I would later minimize the amount of equipment I used for each part, eventually only using the Canon 60D (mainly for its versatility), 16-35mm f2.8 and 50mm f1.2 along with the same audio equipment and the same stabilization equipment minus the slider. I was the producer, cinematographer, and editor for the project and I realized at times, equipment can get in the way of telling the story. I wanted to eliminate that, and focus primarily on the story.
At that point in my career, I hadn’t realized how much I enjoyed filming real stories, such as documentaries, or even why these type of projects continued coming my way. I hadn’t found my voice yet. But that would soon change.
I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason – good or bad.
As a creative, you can drive yourself crazy when a project is complete thinking of the many different things you would change. I always thrive to make my work better and always ask myself the golden question: what can I do differently that I haven’t done before? For Part 2 and Part 3 here were a couple of things I knew I wanted to expand on:
- Showcasing Keyshia Dior’s large fan base and why they were so important to her.
- The cinematography and production level needed to step up. The framing, composition, and rhythm of the edit (amongst other things) all could be improved.
- Viewers have seen the the business side of Keyshia Dior, what about the personal side, away from the business? What is it that drives her to continue day to day?
Each of these goals also related to the story. I wanted to make sure I didn’t become selfish in my own ambitions and lose sight of the story. Before production for Part 3 of the documentary begin, I also reached out to a set of colleagues and friends to get their opinions on the doc. What could be improved upon, changed, etc., from a viewers stand point and from a professional stand point.
Aside from the goals mentioned above, I discovered one thing that I think was key to helping me produce Part 2 and Part 3 efficiently. A lot of the interviews with Keyshia Dior I conducted while the camera was off. In Part One, I spent a great deal of time asking every question that would come to mind when the camera was rolling, rather than focusing on a specific set of questions that related to each part of the series. By asking questions off camera, I knew what I wanted to ask while the camera was rolling and spent less time deciphering through unnecessary content in post. It also allowed Keyshia Dior to be more open off camera.
I look back on the decision I made with school in 2008 and I realize that had I not taken on the challenge to produce the 1-hour special documentary DVD for the City of Pompano Beach I wouldn’t have been prepared to film this documentary for Keyshia Dior (which as of this writing has garnered over 300,000 views). I also wouldn’t have discovered that my heart and passion lies deeply into documentary filmmaking and telling true, authentic stories (short/long form). I’ve filmed weddings, live events, birthday parties, dabbled in narrative filmmaking, but nothing quite excites me like a real documentary does. You don’t have time to light, block, change filters – you have to adapt! Life is happening right before your eyes and you have to take the skills you’ve learned, in either broadcasting or filmmaking, in order to change settings, change position, change angles – and film! Plus have the confidence to know that you’re doing it right. That is art. That takes skill.
Tomorrow, I will share with you the top 3 things I learned about branding while filming this documentary. In the meantime, when did you discover your “ah-ha” moment? How would your life be any different had you not followed your gut?
Jude Charles is a cinematographer / producer, specializing in creating new media content and documentary filmmaking. In his young career, he’s had the opportunity to produce content for NBC, BET, and MTV just to name a few.