The technical aspects of filming on your own on a tropical island should not be underestimated. (If you're not interested in the technical aspects, then check out the other blog post on the Manus Island trip). There is the problem where you might not get a visa to even get into the country, that you are on a tropical island, might have your film confiscated, equipment stolen, there is no useable internet, there are fans or air conditioning going and fridges, you film in hotel rooms, and there are lots of power cuts. No planning, not sure who will turn up, but also you do not want to record every conversation.
Documentaries in some ways are great in that the story is unknown, sets and actors are unknown, but real. I interviewed Dawn Barrington before we went to Manus Island, asking her all the questions I had about refugees and where they live, and what life was like there. Then on our trip we got some of those questions answered, meeting men who had to leave their country and had been brought to Manus where they had been kept for 5 years.
Filming was sometimes with a DSLR in 4k with an onboard mic and separate mic going to an old ipod touch (Rode app), sometimes without the lavalier, sometimes an iPhone with FilmicPro, sometimes inside, sometimes outside, in cars, on planes, in airports, sometimes just sound. The iPhone app FilmicPro was great because you can lock the frame rate, exposure and focus and also perform predefined focus pulls. This was just not possible with the standard iPhone camera app. The iPhoneX also has 2 lenses allowing analogue close-ups and also has image stabilisation. A small iPhone gymbal was used whenever space and time allowed. The DSLR was always shot handheld as there wasn't enough room for either a gimbal or tripod. We were trying to be stealthy and not have too much kit on us - everything had to fit on my back - both for security reasons to take everything of value with us and practical reasons so that everything could go with us no matter the situation.
At the end of every day, the SD cards were copied to the WD Portable drive bought especially for the trip. Copying is automatic, just insert the card and a copy of any new data is taken. Another copy was given to Dawn to store on her laptop and the SD cards were kept. The iPhone had 256GB of storage as well. Apart from filming, we also acquired photos and film from the refugees which again were stored in multiple locations. We couldn't get anything off the island via the Internet as we only had 2g or no-g. Messaging was fine (just), but anything else was either extremely slow or kept dropping out. Therefore we had to try and make sure that everything we captured was safe including protection from tropical rain.
There was around 180GB of film, some of which was in 4k. The majority was in high definition, due to concerns about how much storage 4k required, and also to ease editing. It was a matter of going through the film we captured, syncing the sound if it was dual sound, trying to fix the sound which needed quite a bit of work, colour correction and getting something ready for the showing in around 3 weeks after we got back. I used PluralEyes to sync the sound, keyworded the clips and edited in Final Cut Pro X. The trailer was first put together and uploaded to frame.io for Dawn to look at, comment on and download. Before we went to Manus, we thought anything we captured would be great and were thinking of a film of between 10 and 20 minutes for YouTube.
By the time we got back, we had hours of footage and therefore the final film ended up at the 40 minute mark.