(by Bobby Brill)
Producing a documentary film sounds easy at the start–just follow your subject around and capture what they do, and edit it all together into something engaging. But that’s just the start.
As award-winning filmmaker and instructor Marjorie Sturm explains in this Creative Mind episode, a documentary is a labor of love and an exercise in heartache. We discuss the different types of documentary and some best practices to creating a compelling story.
Sturm’s film The Cult of JT Leroy is a perfect example of documentary filmmaking changing direction in an instant. Her film explores the fact and fiction surrounding the rise and fall of JT Leroy, those caught in the elaborate web of artifice and the ultimate real-world consequences. Marjorie says, “Contradictions and hypocrisies–people can sit with them and that’s what’s going to make a good story.” The film is fascinating to watch and great example of reportage and documenting the world as it unfolds before your eyes.
Sturm goes into the process of how the film was made, the complications, lawsuits and the long hours just sitting there watching what you shot. “There is no way to edit without sitting through footage and really watching and listening and observing it a lot,” she said. But this is what goes into making a good film, fiction or non-fiction, as Sturm points out, “Sometimes stories are just entertaining so make the story you’d want to watch that you aren’t watching.”
Sturm, the Industry Insider
Marjorie Sturm is an award-winning filmmaker whose films span a broad perspective: narrative, documentary, and experimental. She was a cinematographer and Bay Area media wrangler for the 99% Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film that had its’ premiere at Sundance in 2013. She received the Grand Festival Award at the Berkeley Video and Film Festival for her short narrative “Smoke the Pipe Dream.” Her seven films are distributed internationally by Pax Recordings. Sturm creates social activism videos for the non-profit Consumers Union.
Previously, she worked many years as a social worker with the mentally ill homeless. Sturm has traveled extensively, living for periods in Mexico, Nepal, India, and Israel in order to study poetry, music, and comparative religion. Sturm received her BA in Psychology from the University of Michigan and her MFA in Cinema from San Francisco State University. She is the younger sibling of the graphic novelist James Sturm and the painter/photographer Ilona Sturm. Sturm lives in San Francisco with composer Ernesto Diaz-Infante and their two children.
Currently, Sturm teaches in the School of Communications & Media Technologies and her film The Cult of JT Leroy can be viewed streaming online and for Academy students in the e-library.
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Image by Eugenio Castro