The best thing about being a documentary maker is being able to tell stories often ignored by commercial media, a film maker for VICE says.
“You get to document people who are proud of their stories,” says Andrew Kavanagh, a producer for VICE Australia and New Zealand.
The distinguished documentary maker is revealing the joys of his trade in a lecture for Monash University Journalism students this week.
He says making documentaries is all-consuming and exhausting at times, but is often very rewarding.
“You can’t have much in your life other than doing this … I need a break, but that never seems to happen.”
Kavanagh invests most of his energy into developing documentaries.
Short documentaries generally comprise two days of shooting video, then four to five days of editing, he says, but there is much more than that involved in making a documentary.
“People don’t realise how many hours of research are behind a short documentary … and research is often the most frustrating part.”
Many people have ideas for documentaries, he says, but it’s only those who have “access” to a source that will see their vision turned into a reality.
“You’ll be met with dead ends and unreturned phone calls,” he says.
VICE recently hired a few production assistants, taking some of the load off producers and story developers, but there’s still a lot to do.
“Going through terabytes of footage is just part of the job,” Kavanagh says, referring to the 13 hours of footage he recorded for a recent documentary on teenage burnout enthusiasts called Rage In A Cage.
“If you click off, you’re going to miss something.”
An example of Kavanagh’s work for VICE:
It’s also important to keep the camera rolling to capture a story as it unfolds, he says.
The documentary maker’s job is to observe and document the story as it develops, but this can make planning frustratingly difficult, Kavanagh says.
Documentary makers often have a template of how an interview is expected to go but Kavanagh says they should not solely rely on this or things can go pear-shaped.
“You often don’t know which way a story is going to go,” he says.
When asked if the job could ever be dangerous, Kavanagh nods.
He recounts being confronted while filming a documentary in New Zealand by a man who was very unhappy there were “outsiders” visiting their town.
“I just said I’d been invited (by the talent) … you have to be switched on,” he says.
Despite the long hours, false leads and fast turnarounds required within the industry, Kavanagh says he vastly enjoys his job.
“I get to traverse the globe, meet interesting people, and I’m kept on my toes.”