Documentary filmmaking tips from Steve James

Photo via Filmmaker Magazine

In Toronto this past weekend Steve James presented a documentary filmmaking "masterclass" as part of the Documentary Organization of Canada's 2014 Masters Series.

Talking with Sean Farnel, James discussed his approach to the craft of storytelling and the ethical considerations of his filmmaking style.

Journalists from both Filmmaker Magazine and Realscreen attended the masterclass, and have recapped some of the best tips and anecdotes from the sessions. Here's Adam Benzine of Realscreen's breakdown of the key takeaways in brief (read them in full here):
1) It can take time to build trust
2) Being an insider has value, but so does being an outsider
3) Apted, Maysles and Kopple were early influences
4) Sometimes, turning the camera off can be helpful in the long run
5) Hoop Dreams has two subjects because the filmmakers were hedging their bets

Following the Masters Series Class, participants attended a reception and a special private screening of Life Itself. On the following day, James offered an immersive, full day "Masters Series Lab" to a select group of attendees. The Lab provided a forum for participants to constructively workshop and improve their projects, with guidance by James and encouragement from fellow participants. For Filmmaker, Allan Tong stated that "Life Itself, which premiered at Sundance and will be released this summer, is essential viewing for anyone who watches movies."

But neither recap included perhaps our favorite quote from the sessions, which came from Twitter, with credit due to Dana Kupper.

See more great twitter responses in this Storify recap.

The successful crowdfunding campaign for Life Itself also continues to be the subject of industry discussion. A Tribeca Film Institute TFI LIVE interview featured documentary producer Marilyn Ness (E-TEAM) and Indiegogo’s John T. Trigonis chatting about the impact of our idea to stream the film on VHX to Indiegogo backers simultaneously to its Sundance world premiere. Listen in and see if you think it might work for your film - it definitely did for us, and we have really enjoyed hearing the feedback of how well it went from the film's supporters. Thanks again!

This April 3-6, the Full Frame documentary festival hosts a tribute to Steve's work, presenting many of his films and a special look at the 20-year legacy of Hoop Dreams.