How to Make a Mini-Documentary Outside the UK

As much as we love working with new people and businesses; nothing makes the Coolbox crew happier than receiving a brief from one of our oldest clients. 

Qufora, a medical device company based in Denmark (and their UK-based counterpart, Macgregor Healthcare) came to us with a fantastic new project. We were tasked with travelling to rural Ireland to create a case study film featuring two young men with spinal cord injuries. The crew would document their unique stories and unlikely friendship, who share common ground through their use of Qufora products.

Pre-Production

Travelling with filmmaking kit can be difficult at the best of times, however since Brexit, the rules and regulations around working overseas have become even harder to get your head round. Our production team spent (literally) days getting to grips with the necessary documentation we needed to be able to film abroad, as well as if any of our equipment could be ‘red-flagged’. 

Director and Camera Operator capturing b-roll footage in sunny Cork, Ireland

After multiple phone calls with various individuals, organisations and travel companies, we were advised that we didn’t need a carnet document (an international customs and temporary export-import document – essentially a ‘passport for goods’). Despite being given the green-light to travel with our kit, we were still on guard as a lot had changed since Covid-19 in terms of international travel. Fast forward a week, we arrived at the port, hopped on the ferry and over to the Emerald Isle without a hitch. Days of stress for nothing. But it’s absolutely better to be safe than sorry. 

Our main camera for documentary filmmaking; the Sony FX9

With all shoots, preparation is key! There were ferry tickets to buy, hotels for crew to book, equipment to check (and re-check), batteries to charge, call sheets to write, contributors to brief and a route from Manchester to Cork to plan. Another top tip is identifying parking for each location ahead of time; whether this is during the night stopovers or during the shoot. Including this information on the call sheet will save the whole crew a big headache when they arrive at each location, and ensure no one gets a parking ticket!

Production

Filming took place across two days; the first was dedicated to capturing the two interviews with Jack and PJ, along with any b-roll footage of them going about their daily lives (on their own). While the second day focused on the two young men exploring a few locations around the city of Cork together. 

Back to day one, each interview took place in Jack and PJ’s respective kitchens. The crew decided that this room worked best in both houses (re light, sound and visual interest) and it maintained a nice visual consistency throughout the film. The interviews were captured using a two camera set up; a Sony FX6 on a 24-70mm GM lens (covering the wide angle) and the Sony FX9 using the 70-200mm GM lens to shoot a tighter angle, positioned at a 45-degree angle to each interviewee. 

Camera Operator James and Director / Producer Calum

After a lengthy discussion between our Director and DOP, we opted to use a single light for both interviews; the Aputure 300D as a key light, with the Aputure Light Dome and egg crate to add in a little diffusion. We captured the audio from both interviews using a Rode NTG3 microphone on a static boompole.

Director Calum setting up one of our Aputure lights

On Day 2 of filming, we followed PJ and Jack to two locations; the ‘English Market’ in the morning, and a brewery in the afternoon. As our Production team are based in Manchester, it wasn’t possible for us to recce (site visit) these locations before filming took place. We usually like to have a nosey around, looking for nice angles to film from, and anticipate any potential problems. But not to worry, we managed to have a quick look around the English Market before it opened to the public early in the morning, to give us a heads up on any issues we may encounter in reference to accessibility, lighting and audio. 

The ability to adapt to a location and changing environment is so important in video production; with all the planning and goodwill in the world; not everything goes to plan. We’d planned for PJ and Jack to chat away to each other as they travelled through the market, however, the aisles weren’t wide enough for their powered wheelchairs to fit side by side. To tackle this issue, we altered the sequence so they travelled in single file, looking around the venue, and only began chatting, eating and drinking once they were stationary, and could sit aside each other. Again, it’s about being flexible, while still being able to serve the story as intended. 

Post-production:

Once we were back in the UK (again thankfully no issues travelling back on the ferry with the kit), we reviewed and logged all the footage, and began piecing the film together.

We were really happy with both interviews; both in terms of how they looked, and the responses that PJ and Jack gave. Structuring a narrative using their individual stories was working out well; the challenge we were having was including the b-roll (supportive visuals) in the film. The footage looked fab, it just didn’t quite fit with the guys’ story, as we’d originally intended. 

Our two contributors getting ready for filming in Cork

This isn’t an uncommon occurrence, especially when working with unscripted content. After much deliberation, our editor Connor began to look at the footage from a new perspective; we decided that rather than confining the b-roll to the originally planned chapters, that we’d pepper the relevant footage of PJ and Jack’s journey throughout the film, where it felt most applicable. Sometimes it’s best to take a step back when something doesn’t look/feel right, and try to look at things from a different perspective. 

Director of Photography James setting up the shot

Meeting and working with such unique and fascinating people was super rewarding and eye-opening; big thanks to Jack and PJ for letting us tell part of their story. 

You can watch the full behind the scenes video below…