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10 Ways Run-And-Gun Style Filmmaking Creates More Real Conservation Videos

Nature documentary filmmaker

10 Ways Run-And-Gun Style Filmmaking Creates More Real Conservation Videos

Tripod, tripod, tripod! When I first started doing conservation filmmaking years ago it was kind of an obsession. It seemed everywhere I looked or read, filmmakers were always setting up tripods. From a gear standpoint it looked impressive. A few years later I realized something else though. The footage, although awesome and steady as a rock, didn’t make me feel as much as I hoped when watching a story about actual field work. The footage was so steady that I didn’t ‘feel’ like I was right there, in the field, moving swiftly through the forest or grasslands with wildlife researchers.

And that began my journey of slowing eliminating a tripod most of the time for conservation filmmaking assignments in the field. Oh, and at conservation conferences too.

Power of DocumentaryMy filmmaking style has evolved to being about 80 per cent run-and-gun style. That means rather than hauling a heavy backpack on some assignments, I may look more like a police officer with all kinds of gear dangling from my body. Having my gear always at the ready and easily accessible means that I can capture far more footage and miss far fewer shots in the field when trying to keep up with fast-moving biologists using geo location technology to track wildlife, or keeping pace filming nature events full of participants, etc.

In the pursuit of creating impactful and authentic conservation films, “run and gun” filmmaking is a technique that has gained considerable traction. I especially love it because it helps me capture raw, unfiltered moments of nature and conservation efforts.

Let’s look at the ways this style of filmmaking can really benefit your next project:

filmmaking style of filmmakingSpeed, flexibility and resourcefulness

Run and gun filmmaking is like the MacGyver of the filmmaking world. It’s a style of filmmaking that emphasizes speed, flexibility, and resourcefulness. Instead of meticulously planning every shot and scene, run and gun filmmakers embrace a more spontaneous and on-the-fly approach. They often work with minimal crew, lightweight equipment, and without the luxury of a controlled environment. It’s all about capturing the action as it happens, no matter where or when it occurs. Run and gun techniques allow filmmakers to be nimble and adaptable, ensuring that they can capture unpredictable natural behaviors without disturbing the subjects. The ability to quickly adjust camera settings, move freely, and react to unexpected moments gives conservation filmmakers an advantage in capturing authentic and compelling footage.

Less emphasis on scripts and more realism

While the term “run and gun” may sound like a style born in the age of action movies, it actually has its roots in the world of news reporting. Journalists covering breaking news or conflicts often had to work quickly and adapt to unpredictable situations. They would grab their cameras and rush to the scene, capturing footage on the move without the time for elaborate setups. This approach eventually found its way into documentary filmmaking, where it became a valuable tool for capturing real and unscripted moments.

Helps better convey urgency of causes

Conservation issues are often urgent and time-sensitive. By employing a run and gun approach, filmmakers can capture the raw emotions and actions as they unfold. This immediacy helps to convey the urgency of the situation to audiences who may not be familiar with the threats facing our environment. It’s one thing to hear about deforestation or the illegal wildlife trade, but it’s another to witness the destruction and its impact firsthand through realistic and unfiltered footage. Conservation work is not always glamorous or easy. Run and gun filmmaking allows conservationists to showcase the raw emotions and challenges they face in their efforts to protect the environment. By presenting the unfiltered realities of conservation work, audiences can develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the dedication and sacrifices made by those working on the front lines.

Engages audiences through authentic storytelling

Audiences are more likely to respond emotionally and intellectually to stories that feel genuine and relatable. Run and gun filmmaking allows conservationists to capture real moments that reflect the challenges and triumphs of their work. By presenting conservation issues through authentic storytelling, filmmakers can connect with viewers on a deeper level, fostering empathy and a desire for change.

Viewers feel like ‘witnesses’ to your goals

Realism in conservation filmmaking has the power to spur action and inspire change. When viewers feel a personal connection to the issues and witness the impact firsthand, they are more likely to take action, whether it’s supporting conservation organizations, changing their habits, or advocating for policy changes. Run and gun filmmaking plays a crucial role in creating these transformative experiences by bringing the realities of conservation work to life. While traditional documentaries are valuable in their own right, run and gun filmmaking offers a more spontaneous and immersive experience. It allows for a more honest portrayal of the subject matter, with less interference from the filmmaker. It’s about capturing reality as it happens, rather than constructing it.

Capture more of the moments

Run and gun filmmaking is all about capturing the moment, no matter the circumstances. It involves quick thinking, adaptability, and the ability to work with limited resources. The focus is on spontaneity rather than meticulous planning, with filmmakers ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice. This style often involves handheld cameras for mobility, minimal equipment for convenience, and a willingness to embrace imperfections for the sake of authenticity. Filmmakers aim to be present in the moment, observing and documenting without interruption. The goal is to create a film that feels immediate, unfiltered, and true to the experiences of the subjects. It’s about breaking away from traditional documentary approaches and embracing the unpredictable nature of the world being captured.

Cost-effective in remote or challenging environments

Conservation filmmaking often takes place in remote or challenging environments, making it difficult to transport heavy and elaborate equipment. Run and gun techniques are advantageous in these situations, as they prioritize lightweight and portable gear. Filmmakers can quickly set up and break down their equipment, allowing them to capture critical footage without being burdened by excessive equipment or logistics. This accessibility and cost-effectiveness enable conservation filmmakers to venture into remote areas and bring back vital stories that might otherwise go untold.

Building trust and rapport with subjects for genuine storytelling

I can tell you from experience that is so true! To create genuine storytelling in conservation films, building trust and rapport with subjects is crucial. Whether it’s animals, conservationists, or local communities, taking the time to establish a connection and earn their trust can result in more authentic moments on camera. This happens because run-and-gun style filmmaking helps me stay engaged in the field. I’m not always having to take a backpack off my back and root around for gear. Run-and-gun keeps me focused on the client and giving them my full attention. By understanding and respecting their perspectives, filmmakers can capture the true essence of their stories and convey them in a relatable and impactful way.

Utilizing natural lighting and sound for immersive experiences

In run and gun filmmaking for conservation films, natural lighting and sound play a significant role in creating immersive experiences. Filming in natural light not only enhances the realism but also allows for a more organic representation of the subject’s habitat. Similarly, capturing ambient sounds and the natural environment adds layers of authenticity, transporting viewers into the heart of the conservation story.

Balancing spontaneity and planning in storytelling

Balancing spontaneity and planning is a challenge faced by run and gun filmmakers in conservation films. While it’s important to seize unforeseen opportunities and capture unexpected moments, some level of pre-production and planning is necessary to ensure essential elements are included in the storytelling process. Finding the right balance between flexibility and structure allows for a more cohesive narrative without sacrificing the authenticity of the film.

Gregg McLachlan
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