Pin Me

Guerrilla Documentary: Making a Studio in Your Apartment

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/4/2011

When you are making your documentary you usually will not have the money to acquire a professional studio for your video interviews, but you can make a comparative one in your living room.

  • slide 1 of 5

    Do It In the Studio

    An interview studio has nothing esoteric about its construction; essentially it is just a place that you altered to look decent for your camera set up. Usually you will not have a specified location that is designed for your film production, you may even be lucky to find an apartment you can use. As long as you have a few feet available in a room you can easily turn a small living quarters into a video interview studio for your documentary.

  • slide 2 of 5

    Prepare the Location

    The first thing to remember is that professional studios have the advantage mainly because they can get rid of outside noise and light. The light is easier to deal with because you should try to find a room in the apartment that has the fewest possible windows. If only one room is available then you will just have to make do with what you have. Black out the windows easily with duct tape and heavy blankets, which are the kind of things you should be bringing with you when you are makeshifting a space like this. The noise can be a problem that is hard to remedy. Unplug any noisy equipment or appliances that may be in the house, as well as making sure that nobody is moving around in the space while you are filming. If you can, talk to the neighbors and ask them to be quiet for a certain specified time that you will be doing the interview. If you need to, you may want to bring a bunch of blankets to lie on the floor around the subject to help further reduce noise and echo.

  • slide 3 of 5

    Positioning the Equipment

    From here you just need to position the camera, lights, and background perfectly. Interviews look great if you follow the three point lighting set-up, which keeps one light on the short side of their face, one on the back of their head, and one on the background. If possible keep a white reflecting card somewhat close to the long side of their face to soften the image up. You want to keep the camera around six feet from them, but keep them as far as possible from the background. This can be difficult in limited space, so you have to be creative. Try positioning the camera in doorways or in other rooms to get more distance between the subject and the background.

  • slide 4 of 5

    Background Concerns

    You are going to need to make the background somewhat interesting, especially if they are far away from it. The best way to do this is to use a gel or scrim with your lighting kit and make the background look as though it has some sort of artificial color or design, but you may not have these at your disposal. Think about what they will be talking about and plaster that in a little display behind them. For example, if they are there talking about evangelical Christianity it may be appropriate to make a table full of Christian books behind them and a crucifix on the wall. Either way they should be just slightly out of focus, unless it is very important to see the objects.

  • slide 5 of 5

    Be Professional

    Remember that houses are not built for the kind of electrical power you are going to need, so spread out the plug-ins. Make the set up look professional and the subject will not even think about how you really just set up a quick studio in someone’s living room. As long as it’s ready to go before they get there you should be in great shape.