My friend emailed a question asking for ideas on producing the "one-person-crew" documentary. I sent back a few ideas, so I'm sharing them here. Note that these are not absolutes, just a few guidelines and concepts....
1. At each location, shoot:
a. a 60 second take of atmospheric sound or "room tone"
b. a wide establishing shot
c . a medium establishing shot
d. a closeup, generally signage
e. some shots of the subject entering the place and walking around the place
f. some shots of the subject standing in the place, as if you were saying, "and then I met this guy"
2. set up an interview:
a. with sound being the most important aspect
b. shoot cutaways of something -- hands moving, whatever -- so you can chop up interview bits
c. don't cut off the end of an interview segment -- keep rolling
d. with depth -- look at the space, set up so you can use its greatest dimension, then get your subject near the camera and anything significant far back but in the frame
3. get material that gets us from here to there -- traveling footage is the easiest material to gather
4. use a tripod when possible, or lock your standing position
5. when moving, only pan or move the camera if you have a plan for where it is going. do not "pan to nowhere"
6. think in terms of gathering a beginning and ending action / shot. that is all you are searching for -- you'll find plenty of middle
7. think in terms of needing a shot that shows one state visually that will be paired with something that reveals change visually at the end. what do we see at the beginning that we can show totally changed at the end?
8. use the camera for revealing. every shot should reveal. Here is this, here is this, the camera moves around the corner and we see this, this guy steps in the frame and we see this, this thing moves out of the way and we see this. reveal.
9. don't bother thinking wide / medium / closeup. Look at the shot you just took, and now get one that is significantly different -- different angle and different composition and different scale
10. consider early whether you are using voiceover or not, and if you are a character of not. if not, then you have to cover all the things that tell us what is happening, what just happened, and what is at stake while you are shooting.