Week 3 Reading

Week 3 Reading Log

The Readings:

  • Rabiger, M. (2004) Directing the Documentary, London: Focal Press. Ch.22: Location Sound
  • Chapman, J. (2009) Issues in Contemporary Documentary, Cambridge: Polity. 1: Definitions: Issues and Influences
  • (with references from https://www.videomaker.com/article/c06/18423-six-primary-styles-of-documentary-production )

Are less than usual for this particular week as it was more a practical session to record a professional interview including professional audio recording. I shall address recording sound in a brief post after this one. (Brief as the recordings of audio testing were not saved).

Rabiger – Location sound

Rabiger opens with the describing the necessity of proper audio recording in a documentary film, requiring forethought among other things. He also raises a point I may not have considered, that sound should dictate a certain location choice, the acoustics of a room etc.

Camcorders and sound

Rabiger begins by warning against automatic sound level recording and goes onto a section I found it hard to fully comprehend if I’m honest, “professional machines use balanced line mike cables that have sturdy XLR sockets and noise-cancelling three wire connections between mike and recorder.” pp.313. This whole section confused me with technical names and little detail but for my purposes, I am equipped to record audio accurately, thanks to the workshop this week.

This subheading is split into sections titled: automatic sound level, Mike input sockets, StereoThree or more sound tracksSound level metering, and single- or double-system recording. These are all in-depth sections on recording sound, which I shall revisit if recording sound with different equipment, but as the equipment I have access to is all the same, only needing to learn this standard is all that is required. This sub-heading then goes on to Discrete sound recorders, which again would be a good in-depth section to read up on in the future.

The sound level metering and mike input sockets are the only sections I really need to revise.


This section goes through microphones, things to consider in audio recording, and possible issues a filmmaker may run into.

Camera-mounted Microphones, are for the solo filmmaker, recording all aspects of their film alone. They can pick up sounds from the camera such as the motor or bumps in handling the camera.

Power supplies. This brief section is on reminding a filmmaker to bring additional power supplies for a microphone (as you should too for a camera obviously), but also of ‘phantom power’. This is power delivered by the recorder via a mike cable on some more professional audio recorders.

Sound pick-up patterns goes into the types of microphone pick-up areas including; Omnidirectional mics, directional mikes, shotgun mikes (or hypercardioid mikes) and lavalier (lapel) mikes. To describe each one and its use would be pointless as it would be plagiarising the book, and I only have access to the shotgun and lapel mikes. These will be the only two mikes I will be using for my documentary, the shotgun mike for its directional capability to target noise and the lapel mike for recording dialogue in a noise situation. (and in actuality I will only use the shotgun mike as the interviews I have set up are all inside, set-up, locations).

There is other information about the practicality of using these various microphones such as sound perspective, radio receivers, wiring issues and mounting, however, this was all covered in a practical lesson in a workshop and so is of no use to me. A lot of this section would only apply to a crew with a budget and the ability to choose equipment for each day of filming. I am limited to what the university is able to supply me with, and thus a lot of this section is not applicable to me.

This chapter concludes with a section about aspects of sound design that do not apply to me such as shooting on a set, automatic dialogue replacement (ADR) and atmosphere loops etc. This chapter is a great place to learn about the practicality of recording sound. Week 8 of my film studies module, on sound and music, focuses around the ideas and meaning created by the sound, how it must be planned in pre-production, whilst filming and the palaver of sound editing in post-production, whereas this chapter of Rabiger’s book focused on the actual practical recording of sound for a film.

Chapman – Issues in Contemporary Documentary Ch.1

This is the first chapter of Chapman’s book which is titled ‘Issues and influences‘. I am concerned this section may have been better suited to Week one’s reading as it is an opening chapter, alas this is the reading set by the course and I shall read it accordingly.

It begins with a summary and an introduction. The summary opens by describing what the genre of documentary is, arguing it is a difficult genre to define, but does say documentary is a “very engaged sort of cinema.” The summary also states how the filmed events have “not been controlled by the filmmaker.” This concludes the summary which is immediately preceded by the introduction. This section is mainly Chapman defining the term documentary, as I have previously covered in my Week one reading log with Rabiger, McLane and Ellis. The rest of the introduction describes documentaries survival in the United States of America and in Europe. (Not very useful for my reading purposes this week and neither is the next section on the evolution of the genre!)

I have skipped forward to the section on the journalistic documentary as I feel this section will apply to my purposes of this weeks reading.

The journalistic documentary

This section describes how a documentary is able to be journalistic (I know, surprise surprise), but this concept is fascinating to me. Chapman talks of an observational documentary being the only sub-genre of documentary able to be categorised as journalistic, an observational documentary being a documentary shot unobtrusively, a ‘fly on the wall‘ as it is sometimes called. This type of documentary style I will try an replicate in my own work partially to capture the true feelings of the public and of my films subject, but for some of my film, I must be intrusive for example, the interview, which is what this week is about. This section is in-depth as it describes the history of documentary journalism which is interesting, but not useful for the practical purposes of this course (I am marked on this blog, pre-production work and the final film product, not on the history of documentary.) This section finishes off by describing how it is difficult to capture unaltered reality as a person with a camera being there is, it’s self, intrusive. It is also important not to construct reality to best suit your filming needs; ‘the camera cannot lie’ and to best entertain and retain authenticity for your audience, you must show as honest a truth as possible. (Unless alluding to a presumed truth you later debunk, as discussed in the previous Rabiger post under ‘Locating the story pressures and “Raising the stakes‘).


This section is a lot of the same, trying to remain authentic while filming and intruding. However, it does hit on some interesting points as seen in the following quotes:

  • “Documentary representations are as constructed as fictional ones”
  • “The documentary genre has always been predicated on perceived authenticity”
  • [Hand-held shaky cam and grainier footage] “Such techniques create an impression of fidelity to the pro-filmic event that is in fact being constructed and interpreted by the very act of recording.”
  • “Realism gradually became an essential tool for documenting the daily experiences of ordinary working people”

Chapman also talks of techniques ‘proving’ authenticity such as long-takes, the lack of editing a sign the footage is legitimate. There is also a large quote which I found could be used as a summary of the subject of veracity in documentary works:

“The concept of realism has itself been much debated: MacLennan and
Hookham refer to a differentiation in the past between ‘naïve realism’,
‘where the film is deemed to offer an unmediated relationship with reality’,
and what they call ‘irrealism, where the emphasis on the mediating
properties of the film was such that the reality itself was called
into question’ (MacLennan and Hookham 2001: 1).”

So realism in film is based on two aspects, “the relationship between the film and the pre-filmic reality” and the “role of the filmmaker”, but the real issue is the audience’s perception. In my own work I shall do all I can to film reality unobtrusively, an observational documentary style, and only intervene to get the information from my films subjects that I need to. I want to best portray my subject of choice and best convey the information through my documentary. (The next section arguments about truth runs down a similar vein of thinking so I won’t discuss it in depth).

(In conclusion for this peice, just on presenting reality, nothing else of interest for this week. I may come back to this source in later documentary filmmaking as its good, but for this week and interviewing, it is crap.)

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