Documentaries with a point of view

Mai’s America: Production Journal

POV: When in your shooting did you realize you would have enough of a story for a good feature-length film? You had so much footage–how did you decide what to cut out?

Poras: I know some documentary filmmakers who go out and shoot everything they can, and then come back to the editing room and make their film from that footage — and this works quite well for them. But I was fortunate to have David Sutherland as my Executive Producer. I loved the storytelling and the intimate portrait feel of The Farmer’s Wife and I went to him for advice when I began Mai’s America.

David encouraged me to try to make my film in the field, to think carefully about what I needed to tell Mai’s story, to plan my shoots around events in her life, to get releases signed before I shot a frame, and most importantly — to go with my instincts and not be afraid to change my plans if it felt right to me.

As a first time filmmaker, this really helped. He also encouraged me to bring Mai into the process so she understood what I was going after. And because I wasn’t using any outside narration, David pushed me to do my interviews as close as possible to the time that Mai was dealing with the issues she was commenting on. He encouraged me to not only think about the look I wanted the film to have, but to imagine and plan how the film would sound as well.

David never tried to tell me how to tell Mai’s story, but his belief that I could make this film was a touchstone for me. Concentrating on making the film in the field made the editing so much easier — I already had the story and was able to devote my time to making the film as seamless as possible.