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First Film Tips: Morgan Wilcock

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Along with the PBS broadcast premiere of Only the Young on POV on July 15, 2013, we’ve collected tips from filmmakers and media organizations for first time filmmakers. In this post, Project VoiceScape alumna and 2012 PBS Online Film Festival filmmaker Morgan Wilcock offers her tips for young filmmakers. Read all of the posts.

If you are ready to make a documentary but don’t have much experience, there’s no need to panic like you’ve just been haunted by the ghost of bad films past! Here is my advice to young filmmakers who, when handed a video camera like I was two years ago, might feel a bit terrified.

At risk of sounding like some sort of avant-garde biology teacher, I advise you to write out a hypothesis of how you think your film might turn out before you start collecting footage. My first film (This Gay & Age) was somewhat of a guinea pig, since I had never made a documentary. As with any experiment, I could never predict the end result. Still, it always helped to have a rough idea of what I was looking for, so I could keep the filmmaking process from running out of control.

As an interviewer, do not be afraid of silence. Our instinct in day-to-day conversation is often to avoid silence by asking extra questions, clearing our throats, humming a Top 40 song… But film interviews are a different kind of interaction. Give the person being filmed time to think, and once he or she gets rolling, try not to interrupt — unless what is being said veers completely off topic.

Be ready to take risks when collecting B-roll. One of my regrets was spending too much camera memory on scenes that felt a little stale — boring stuff — that I never ended up using in the film. I would often flick off the record button as soon as a bystander glanced at me with cold judging eyes, or even if they smiled at me, just because I felt intrusive. But you should never be afraid to point your camera at something interesting. If someone yells at you? Oh well! It was worth a shot.

I hope these pointers help fill out your filmmaking toolkit. Above all, good luck! May the best footage come to you, often where you least expect to find it.

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POV presents the national broadcast premiere of Only the Young on PBS stations on Monday, July 15, 2013. (Check local listings). The film will be streaming for a limited time on the POV website starting July 16, 2013.

For updates on the 2013 season of POV, subscribe to POV’s documentary blog, like POV on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @povdocs.

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POV (a cinema term for "point of view") is television's longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. POV premieres 14-16 of the best, boldest and most innovative programs every year on PBS. Since 1988, POV has presented over 300 films to public television audiences across the country. POV films are known for their intimacy, their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues.