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Chris Kenneally: The Making of "Side by Side" Documentary (video)

Writer/Director Chris Kenneally talks about Side by Side, the process of making the film, working with Keanu Reeves, gear, lights, shooting locations, matching schedules & more.

Side By Side (2012) investigates the history, process and workflow of both digital and photochemical film creation. The documentary shows what artists and filmmakers have been able to accomplish with both film and digital and how their needs and innovations have helped push filmmaking in new directions. Interviews with directors, cinematographers, colorists, scientists, engineers and artists reveal their experiences and feelings about working with film and digital. Side by Side is available on iTunes, Netflix, Amazon & Vudu.

Interview / editing: Alexandros Maragos

Transcript: Side by Side was a documentary I made with Keanu Reeves and probably we first started discussing it in the Summer/Fall 2010. We were working on a movie called Henry’s Crime, Keanu was in the movie he was the producer on it, he helped develop the script and I was the post-production supervisor. One day Keanu says to me “Hey we should make a documentary about where the film business is right now.” So I said of course, I’ll make a documentary with you.

We interviewed 140 people for Side by Side, 70 people ended up making it into the final film.

Keanu did a lot of the interviews, I did a lot of the interviews as well and we would have questions that we would prepare and Keuanu and I we would kind go over those before we went into the interview with people. When I was doing the interviews I kind of stuck to the questions and Keanu also did but he was more conversational, so the conversion could drift, you know, of one question could lead to something else that was eventually we would cover all the questions but it was kind of around about way which I think it was excellent and put a lot of the interviewees in a very relaxed attitude. You see people who are, you know, Scorcese, James Cameron, David Fincher and they seemed really relaxed like you are seating in their living room with them and having a conversation with Keanu because pretty much that’s what was happening.

A lot of the people we were interviewing are very busy, they are working directors, DPs, and to find even a small amount of time for them to sit down and give an interview is difficult. Most people we reached out to were interested in doing the project but it was just a matter of matching up schedules.

For instance Christopher Nolan was very difficult to get and we knew he was important person to have in this documentary, he has some strong feelings about film. At first when we reached out he was not available we said we can meet with you anytime, anywhere on planet earth we need half an hour, they said he doesn’t have half an hour. Keanu actually sent him a typewritten letter telling him about the project we are doing asking can you please spare some time which he did, which was very generous of him. We went to the set he was working on, went in his trailer, set our cameras up really quickly and got a great interview.

The Wachowski's hadn’t given an interview I think in 10 years or something like that. They were in Berlin, they were working on "Cloud Atlas" and they said sure. They love Keanu, he loves them, it’s a true friendship and respect so we flew out there we set up the cameras in their apartment and shot an interview. So it was a lot of moving fast, setting up quickly, never knowing when someone was going to be available, just have to leave the edit room and “hey this weekend we are going to Los Angeles, we are going to London”.

Our set up was very light, very low cost and pretty easy to operate and use. We used little Panasonic AG-HPX170 we had two of those for the interview. One would be locked off on the subject, the DP Chris Cassidy would have handheld and he would shoot the subject in different angles and also turn to Keanu for the questions and things like that. So we would be able to cut back and forth in editorial between those two cameras.

Lighting dependenting on the situation. We interviewed people in all different types of rooms, interiors, exteriors, back rooms in a theater in Poland, basement in England, literally all different locations and as I said these people were very busy so when they showed up, or if they were available we needed to be able to travel there quickly and also need to be able to set up and breakdown in locations very quickly.

For editing we have shot a number of interviews but we hadn’t cut anything together yet. The guy we chose was a great editor named Michael Long, he came in and started cutting things so we didn’t have a script necessarily but we did have a kind of a rough outline. Really for me I wanted the documentary to be tight, I don’t wanted to be just educational, I wanted it to be also engaging and entertaining. There was a lot of humor in the interviews, David Fincher telling a little funny story or someone else swearing or some being really passionate about something. Anytime that was that kind of sort of juicy human bit to it I would try to include that so wasn’t again that very dry encyclopediac type of documentary it had some human feeling and emotion which I thought it would be pretty hard to find in a doc like this but I think that we tried to squeeze out everything we could.

[Clip from Side By Side - David Fincher]

We do have some animations and graphics in the movie. I felt for a general audience who I wanted this to appeal to, they needed to have even the most basic understanding of what was being discussed. I think sometimes I think of my parents, do they know what a cinematographer is? Do they know how a piece of film works? Do they know how digital chip works? Things like that, there are certain moments where something needed to be explained. I wanted to be brief and I didn’t wanted to be too technical and I wanted to be simple so that people could “oh that’s what this is, that’s what that means” and then they could move on and enjoy the rest of the movie.

Music naturally has emotion to it and when music has emotion to it, it makes you feel a certain way when you are watching an image.

[Clip from Side By Side - Keanu Reeves]

A lot of times the tricky part of this was to kind of taking the emotion out of the music for the majority of the clips we wanted something that was just sort out of, driving it, or giving a rhythm or a beat but nothing that was sad or triumphed, all those things that score normally does in a movie, we wanted kind of the facts to speak for themselves. So we hired the Ryan Brothers, Billy Ryan and Brendan Ryan. They would send me music, stuff they had in their library or we would sometimes edit in a piece of music and when we wanted something like this or something that illustrates the same thing.

There are so many different types of documentaries. Documentaries that follow a character, a story, there are documentaries that are about just a subject or a scientific thing. I think you want to make, if it’s a subject or a scientific, someone that was interviewing me once said "judge it or credit whether it’s three Es. Entertaining, Engaging and Educational." So if you can hit those three things with a documentary that’s trying to inform someone of something I think it will probably be successful.

I think when you are young documentary filmmaker, if I had advice for them, don’t be afraid if you have a good idea that you feel like it’s a story you want to tell, and you feel like you will do a good job at telling it, you should go out there and do it. I mean there is the technology that is around today that you can do it very inexpensively. You can do it all on your own, you can shoot it, you can edit it, you can post it, you can market it. You can, if you have the time and I think young people do have the time and they have the energy and don’t be afraid to reach out as far as you can. If you think who would the best person be ask this question of. Say that to yourself and then go out and try to get that person. If you don’t, you don’t, but you tried. Who would be the best person to do the music for this? Reach out to that person. There is other like minded people I am sure who are just dying for an opportunity to edit something, to shoot something, to help you out. The harder you work the luckier you get. Once you get something in motion as well once you “hey this guy has a camera, he is shooting, he is starting an interview” things start to snowball. You have a few interviews in the can, you have some footage together it starts to become real and other people notice that it’s real and are attracted to it and want to be involved. So it’s getting out there and doing it, and not being afraid.

Transcription by Yiannis Papanastasopoulos

Chris Kenneally: The Making of Side by Side Documentary