Week 1 reading

Week 1 Reading log

Rabiger – The director’s role

"True documentary reflects the richness and ambiguity of life" pp.7

In this first chapter, Rabiger discusses what documentary is, how to be objective and fair whilst making a documentary, the so-called, ‘Directors journey’ and the ‘contract with the audience’.

He begins by defining the actual term ‘Documentary‘, saying how the term is debated still by documentarians over issues of:

  • What any given actuality is
  • How to record a subject without interference
  • How to convey something that is “more spirit than materiality”

Rabiger talks about what a documentary can be based around, the past and the present can be documented as there is evidence to support the films, but he also talks about how the future can in some ways be documented too. This concept confused me initially until I read on to his given example; War game (1965). This film uses the World War two bombings in Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “to hypothesise a major nuclear attack on London.” pp.4 I found this compelling. A documentary can focus on known facts of present and past, but can also serve as a ‘warning’ of sorts to project the possibilities of the future; to extrapolate from the knowledge we have now as a method to hypothesise the future.

The quote which summed up the first Chapter of Rabiger’s book, ‘Directing the Documentary‘, was, “documentary always seems concerned with uncovering further dimensions to actuality and at the same time implying social criticism.” pp.4 Rabiger is trying to relate the purpose of a documentary film here, not just about telling facts to its viewer, but to also raise moral and ethical dimensions on human life. Rabiger amends Emile Zola and Grierson’s statement, “a documentary is a corner of actuality seen through a human temperament.” pp.5  These two quotes I believe introduce documentary film perfectly.

Rabiger describes the narrative elements of a successful documentary film, very much as a regular film, with; “a good story … engaging characters, narrative tension, and an integrated point of view.” pp.5 At the end of the day, although a documentary film must be informative and should “seek to persuade” pp. 5, it is a film. Being a film the work needs to engage its target audience, keep that audience engaged throughout to work and tell a satisfying story overall, as well as make a point and inform. (Quite difficult!)

The media as a whole must be unbias. Newspapers, reporters, factual films, the news etc. must present a balanced argument and can not be seen to give an opinion, but does this apply to a documentary film? Rabiger puts it simply, “the documentarian’s responsibility is to be fair.” pp.8 Not to cover both sides and not to cross-check is the making of a bad documentary. This is because things are not usually as they first seem, it makes your work easier to defend and gives those against your film less ammunition to attack you with factually. You must also anticipate your audiences first time viewing your content so you are able to show the film as truthful, as it should be. A large section of being fair is to attempt to remain objective. Rabiger asks how this is possible, “What, for instance, is an objective camera position…? How do you ‘objectively’ decide when to turn the camera on and off?” pp.9. These editorial decisions make a documentary:

  • What to shoot
  • How to shoot it
  • What to use in the film
  • How most effectively to use it

Rabiger says, “every decision involves ethical choices” pp.9. I agree with this statement as editing is always a lie. The best a documentary can do is to attempt to relate the gist of a subjects argument, to make sure their point comes across even if sections of there speech is cut out. (Much the same way I am relating Rabiger’s points but not plagiarising his entire work.)

Documentary directors I always assumed was the person driving the work, the person with the knowledge or drive to find out more about the topic, but Rabiger defines the job in a few bullet points, as the person:

  • Engage with the audience
  • Does what is necessary to record essential footage and meaningful sections
  • Pieces the footage to make a story that is cinematically and dramatically satisfying
  • Investigates people, topics or aspects of life that are significant

Finally, Rabiger talks about a ‘contract’ you should have with an audience as a documentary filmmaker. You must respect the audience’s intelligence. This came on to a section in his book that I couldn’t quite grasp, the idea of a “binary communicator” who provides equal coverage of both sides.” I suppose Rabiger is suggesting a neutral base character within the film to act as in intermediary between information and simplicity for an audience, (to dumb information down for a common audience). A film should not patronise or manipulate its subject or its audience. Audience anticipation is the ‘contract‘ you sign with your audience, as a documentary filmmaker.

McLane and Ellis – Some ways to think about Documentary

McLane and Ellis begin by separating documentary film from that of fiction film. They introduce documentary film in this way to define it, going on to say how “documentary filmmakers limit themselves to extracting and arranging from what already exists rather than making up content.” pp.2 McLane and Ellis disagree with Rabiger in a small aspect of documentary narrative, however, where Rabiger says documentaries are films too and narrative structure and characters must be established to engage an audience, McLane and Ellis argue the contrary, that this is a purely fiction film convention. I side with Rabiger in this argument, as I believe to keep an audience engaged, a narrative must be established and what McLane and Ellis are talking about is not a documentary but a factual film.

After this, McLane and Ellis go on to talk about production method and technique. In this, they talk of ‘nonactors’ who they describe as “real people’ who ‘play themselves” pp.2. I found this to be contradictory to what they argue only the paragraph before of documentaries not having narratives, as they describe here conventional characters in a documentary narrative!

A key part of this reading I found to be the methods for filming they described. In accordance with their nature as honest and informative, focusing on information, documentaries film with: on location light, no sets, no actors and little to no post-production film manipulation. (Any work effects, be it physical or after effects, is done only out of necessity.) McLane and Ellis explain the very roots of even the word ‘documentary‘, always about “what is factual and authentic” pp. 3. In the section Intellectual contexts, McLane and Ellis go on to describe documentary as “intended to achieve something in addition to entertaining audiences and making money” pp.4. They confirm statements made by Rabinger of the purpose of documentary film, to be informative, but more than that, to imply “social criticism” pp.4.

A lot of what McLane and Ellis talk of is irrelevant information to me. They discuss all origins of documentary, such as the etymology of the word to newsreels before films as an initial form of informative documentary in mainstream culture. They too, as I have discussed Rabinger does, bring up that the term documentary is argued over, “depending on how one defines documentary…” They are far more ambiguous in their description of this however. They do bring up the idea of a fluid definition of documentary film, but they don’t personally define the term and only raise questions of the limits of the genre. Rabinger, for my own knowledge and understanding of the origins of documentary film as well as defining the term, was much more accessible a read, Rabinger also gives his opinion after laying out the facts.

To Conclude

I found the Rabinger, Directing the documentary (1987) Ch.1, to be a more informative and accessible source of understanding the basics of documentary video, whereas a more comprehensive knowledge of the history of Documentary video would be gained from McLane and Ellis’, A New History of Documentary Film (2005). In establishing an interest in Documentary film, I would recommend Rabinger’s first chapter. (As this course refferes to a different chapter of this book every week, I assume the entire book is good for learning about Documentary film!)

Cutaway/B-roll footage

Filming cutaways

Learning from one’s mistakes is the only way progress is made in all walks of life. I believe this to the max, but I hate it. I’m a perfectionist and will never be happy with something I make. That said, going in to film my first documentary cutaways, I knew they would suck. I knew I would look back at them and think why did you choose documentary, you’re rubbish. So, let’s start at problems I faced.

Problems I faced and how I got around them

Knowing what to film:
As a group, we were told to film cutaways before filming the intercut interview. This meant I had no idea what Sam was going to say, what his problems at Sussex were, what he enjoyed etc… So I thought about what I struggled with, (being bored initially) and filmed according to that.

The shots of my window I hoped would signify boredom. This also gave me an opportunity to try out the equipment by myself, which I will come on to.

I also guessed what Sam would say. Like most students I observed within the first few weeks at university, I assumed Sam would say cooking and/or washing up. (Luckily I had the perfect ‘dirty kitchen’ set only next door!)

(A slight lie as the film implies the dishes and Kitchen are Sam’s but isn’t that the beauty of editing.) This comes on to my second struggle and my biggest criticism when this piece was assessed.

The equipment/my ability:
As these clips show, my white balance is all over the shop. This came about from a lack of attention to detail in filming and time constraints. Watching the footage back, I saw the issue glaring me in the face but like I said at the top of this post, we learn best through trying, f**ing up and trying differently until it works.

This I believe was the purpose of the initial interview test, to see our ability to work effectively together, film properly, edit but most importantly to get stuff wrong. That how humans learn best in my opinion.

And that’s how I overcame the issue of being bad at filming, just be bad a lot, learn from each mistake, and make sure to never make it again.

Accessibility and location:
This was an issue I did not anticipate. (What are first-year film students doing all the time?) And yet finding a good candidate to film was more difficult than I thought it would be. Finding Sam was luck of the draw. Another film studies student?! Perfect. He knew how to answer the questions, where to look to make me look professional and most of all he had a typical student room.

Editing saved me here, but you wouldn’t know. In actuality, these photo’s are not of Sam, nor are they in Sams room, they are photos in the room of my second interviewee who couldn’t make out arranged time. Of course, I had her permission to use her photos in my film, and I feel they added a personality to Sam, (who didn’t have photos from home on his walls!) The lie of editing allowed me to create a world around Sam that wasn’t, in fact, his own. And that’s how I got around that issue.

A big worry I had in interviewing a participant was if they didn’t fit a student stereotype. For me, I had to establish a character relatable to the target audience to keep them engaged, perhaps this is wrong in documentary, (could just be my feature film brain taking over). But in my mind, another plus to Sam (sorry Sam), was the state of his room.

The untidy shoes on the floor, parallel the dirt table tops perfectly, construct an image of Sam with only three shots. Without having any text inform the audience Sam may be untidy or have a different, freer, life at university, this message it coded with only these shots, (that one I just got lucky with).

These problems and overcoming them I am sure will make my final, actual documentary film, that much better! (Hopefully). Up next is the interview, filming and techniques, and how my team and I approached tackling that daunting task!

My first Interview

Interviewing Sam

This post will describe the filming techniques I used to film this talking-head interview, what I learned from the experience and my struggles. I will also talk about the actual interview, questions, answers, and how I was able to get the interview I wanted. This post will include clip examples my interview with Sam, but the editing of the interview will be concerned in the next post.

Filming techniques

Before even beginning the interview, I had some ideas of what I wanted the scene to look like; a mid-shot, stomach to head, with the participant looking slightly off camera, (indirect interpolation.) Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 11.31.18

This technique I gained from the workshops, but also from simply re-creating documentary interviews that I have seen, such as in 13th.

13th interview13th Behind scenes interview

(Slightly higher budget) but you can see the subject is looking at the interviewer, not down the camera. I believe my framing matched that of a much more professional shoot, keeping the interview formal but not unnervingly direct to the viewer.

Like all interviews, in fact all films, the mise-en-scéne had to match the tone and subject of the film. I chose to have the interview with Sam in his bedroom. This creates the personal tone I wanted to achieve, so the audience can relate and feel as if they understand his issues, but it also relates to the filmed cutaways addressed in my last post. The interview is made informal by the colloquial language (which I will address later in this post under questions and answers), as well as the casual outfit Sam is in. His body language is relaxed for the full scene to work. All of these choices make the film seem as if I ambushed Sam with questions in his room, which is always messy, on a day where he was relaxing, however everything in the mise-en-scéne has been designed to create a specific effect on the audience, (the fact that it is unnoticeable shows what a good job I have done.) Sam is relatable to a student audience and fits the convention of his ‘character‘ he is ‘playing‘.

That’s the camera angle and mise-en-scéne explained, but what about the audio? I used a gun mic that I gave to Sam to hold. Giving the microphone to the interviewee may seem an odd thing to do, but it is clever for a few reasons:

  1. It means Sam didn’t fidget with his hands giving him a more relaxed persona
  2. The microphone was as close to the interviewee as it could be giving the best audio of his answers, which is what I needed for this video
  3. (Arguably most important) None of my team had to hold it. Really taxing on the arms it is holding a gun mic or a fishing pole

The lighting was something I put less thought into. Not shooting in a studio and not having mobile lights on stands, we had limited options. In order to match the white balance of the other shots however, I decided to use natural light from the window as opposed to the bleak yellow lights in Sam’s room. I feel this gives the shot a natural professional light, whilst matching the cutaway/B-roll footage.

Questions and Answers

Out of the entire interview process, the questions were the most simple part. I wanted to come up with simple questions that were broad enough the Sam had the freedom to fully describe what he wanted. We were creating a one minute film, so I had planned the interview to last around three minutes of raw footage, this gave us the ability to cut out dead air, only use the best answers to the questions, hit all the relevant points and still have room to wriggle within, better to have too much footage that you don’t end up using than to not have enough footage to fill the time. I settled on having Six questions:

  1. What’s the hardest thing about being independent?
  2. Do you cook by yourself?
  3. Are you getting on with your flat?
  4. Do you miss home?
  5. Are you enjoying your course?
  6. How are you managing your budgeting?

These questions I feel gave an overview to the first few weeks of student living, covering typical issues or feeling that students face when first coming to university.

One aspect of the interview process that I feel really boosted Sam’s interview was how he answered the questions. During the editing process, I was unsure whether to include the interviewer’s questions so the audience knows what was asked. However, this proved to be unnecessary as Sam, who himself studies documentary, answered the questions be repeating them first and then giving his answer. For example, to the question “are you enjoying your course” which he answered, “I am enjoying my course” meaning I was able to cut out the question as the audience know what was asked due to Sam’s reply.

I feel this technique helped my interview flow as there was no pause to hear the question being asked. Some interviews have multiple cameras to the interviewer is seen asking the questions and reacting to the answers. This is usually done for comic effect or if the interviewer is a well-known star. In my case, all I wanted to convey to the audience was Sam and his answers, the interviewer as not an important character, all that mattered to me, and thus to the audience, was Sam’s responses to the asked questions.

In Conclusion

I feel the interview section of my video look professional and flowed well in the video, however part of the this is down to editing which I will address in my next blog post! In this I will talk about cutting around dead air, mistakes in the filming and how I was able to get around them through editing and the issues I had/Mistakes I made! (Editing may have been my favorite part of this entire exercise!)

The Edit

Editing the Film

I edited the film in Adobe’s Premiere Pro CC 2017. Other options were available to me such as Apple’s own Final Cut Pro, however I am more used to Premiere Pro for video editing, so decided that would be faster and easier to work with.

The timeline

 

This was the timeline of the final cut of my interview. It may look simple, but a lot is going on here and a lot of thought went into this one minute. the three separate layers are cutaways (on the top layer), the actual interview footage (on the middle layer) and the audio of the interview (on the bottom-most layer).

Cutaways

Just from looking at the timeline, you can notice a common theme, on most cuts in the main interview there is a cutaway. Why is this the case? Because the cutaways do more than just reveal more information about the interviewee and set the scene, they also hide little cuts in the interview that I have made. The raw interview was three minutes for this one minute clip so obviously, I had to trim down the interview, as is always said, editing is a lie. The cutaways I used almost too much to disguise the edits in my interview. This was one aspect I feel my film faulted in, relying too heavily on the cutaways to make my video flow that it did the opposite. (I have discussed the use of the cutaways and why I chose to feature what I did in its own blog post so I shan’t repeat these points here). The sequence was simple as I only really had to work with one clip, the interview, and simply show the additional footage, the cutaways, when they were relevant.

The audio

I have used only the audio from the room with no added ambient sound effects and no cutaway audio either. This was due to the brief I was given for this film, to understand filming and cutaway techniques as well as what worked best in presenting them, not on sound. In my actual documentary film, I believe I will use sound more to get across the tone of the piece as well as fill dead noise where I need to show a clip but do not want to use the clips original audio. For this interview clip however, I did not record or edit the sound in any way. (Again I have discussed recording the interview audio in a previous post on filming the interview, so shan’t repeat myself here).

Camera

I edited the look of the film slightly to ensure the look of professionalism I desired from the film. Part of this was to cut out the gun mic that was sometimes in shot due to the interviewer holding it: Holding Gun mic in shot

The cropping and re-framing tools within Premiere Pro allowed me to simply edit out this discrepancy. This was a valuable tool as it meant I didn’t have to re-shoot the interview as the issue was able to be solved within my editing software. (Obviously, it would have been easier to just not have the mic in shot at all), but it’s good to know that if there is a minor discrepancy within the filming, instead of scrapping the whole thing and having to re-shoot, or just leaving the issue in and having an unprofessional product, it can be edited out with little hassle.

Another filming issue that was solved through editing was camera changes, shown in the raw footage.

The camera zooms in slightly, overcompensating to cut out the gun mic as the interviewee also moves the microphone down. This change in camera position issue was fixed in editing. I was able to mirror the previous position of the subject and camera zoom level giving the effect of no change in camera angle, and retaining the professional overall look of my interview.

Effects

There were only two effects in the film, as it is supposed to be a documentary relating information and not a flashy video promote any point to the viewer, the effects being a fade from black to introduce the interview and a fade to black to conclude. These two effects I achieved through keyframing.

These effects I feel gave my interview video a feeling of relaxation matching the colloquial outfit and surrounding mise-en-scéne in the film. The process of keyframing is an easy technique to change the features of a clip quickly, choosing a point and effect, in this case opacity, a fade is an easy effect to accomplish.

Order of shots

This would be a better section for a film with more than one long interview with only cutaways, but I did move the order of the questions to best fit the flow I desired for my interview. Initially, I was happy with the order of the questions, but upon hearing the answers of my interviewee, Sam, I decided what the best order of the answers would be and what questions to cut out entirely. The questions were asked in the order:

  1. What’s the hardest thing about being independent?
  2. Do you cook by yourself?
  3. Are you getting on with your flat?
  4. Do you miss home?
  5. Are you enjoying your course?
  6. How are you managing your budgeting?

But in the final film the order was:

  1. What’s the hardest thing about being independent?
  2. Do you cook by yourself? + Are you getting on with your flat? (with sections cut out)
  3. Are you enjoying your course?
  4. Do you miss home?

The question of “How are you managing your budgeting?” I feel didn’t flow with the rest of the film. I also felt, along with my team, that the better note to end on was of missing home, so I switched the questions “Are you enjoying your course?” and “Do you miss home?” These decisions, along with cutting out waffle and pauses, made my interview flow as well as keeping the film within the time restrictions.

To Conclude

The editing was the most enjoyable part for me as I was able to see the clips I had filmed coming together, but also because I was able to fix the issues in my filming. Editing should not be for fixing these issues, it should be more about narrative and making sure that the interview flows properly, as well as getting across: A.  what you want to reveal and B. what the interviewee wants to reveal about the subject of discussion. I also feel I was able to make my interview look closer to industry standards without access to a high  production camera or more advanced video editing software!

Week 2 Reading

Week 2 Reading Log

"With every source, you have possible characters, situations, plots, 
and meanings to be found" pp.129

Rabiger – Developing Your Story Ideas

Chapter eleven is all about coming up with an idea and the development of this story to best fit the documentary format. In my experience as a story writer (and all around fun person), a good narrative can come from any origin. As long as one is open to interpret all angles of a subject and have the creative ability to develop an idea, any idea can spawn into a great narrative. There are differences between Story, narrative and plot I feel I should address before continuing. To quote a film analysis course I took in the past, the three aspects are defined as:

  • Story: ‘the set of ALL events in the narrative, both ones explicitly presented and those the viewer infers, comprises the story’ (Bordwell & Thompson, 1997: 92)
  • Plot: ‘the term plot is used to describe everything visibly and audibly PRESENT in the film before us’ (Bordwell & Thompson, 1997: 92)
  • Narrative: ‘a chain of events in cause-effect relationship

Rabiger does not initially recognise the difference between these aspects of film, whether he comes on to, uses them interchangeably or doesn’t mention the difference, I feel its best to define them at the top of this blog post.

I will be splitting this blog post into the subheadings that Rabiger uses in this chapter.

Coming up with an idea

Collecting raw materials

Rabiger talks about the seeker, a person who is “committed to searching for meaning among the many baffling clues, hints, and details in life.” pp. 128 (I feel I can relate). I hadn’t before this considered how other people would collect data for an upcoming task. I have always taken the approach of attempting to look at everything in life as a joke or an opportunity, perhaps this technique may too spontaneous to be reliable.

Journal

Rabiger recommends keeping all your initial ideas written down (Neat new idea), no matter how terrible the idea. Another, more modern idea, is to create a thematic database to note trends/related ideas.

"Rereading your journal becomes a journey" pp. 129

Newspapers and Magazines

Maybe showing how the times have changed since 1987, Rabiger talks of collecting articles from magazines as well as newspapers as they show real life and real people’s struggles/triumphs. He concludes this section with a quote which I feel applies to modern technology too, “With every source, you have possible characters, situations, plots, and meanings to be found” pp.129. This quote summarises the question of how to find an idea.

History

Right out of the gate Rabiger is getting philosophical, “History is all about point of view,”  and, “you see not objective truth but someone’s interpretation and wish to mark or persuade” pp.129. He then goes on to describe why this is useful to a documentarian, explaining how human history is a “full canvas of human drama”. This is perfect for a documentary on past events. Everything has happened and the facts are on changing if new information is discovered. (The discovery of new information in historical fact has made many good documentaries).

Myths and legends

Rabiger goes on from history to discuss, “inauthentic history,’ in this section. I believe what he is trying to get across in this section is that different cultures all over the world have characters that are hyperbolised to the level of a ‘Myth’, be it good or bad. Rabiger concludes this section by arguing within documentary “every character of magnitude … is re-enacting one or more myths” and thus to find out the “mythical role” of the character is a key part in discovering “thematic trust”. This section was, and still is confusing to me, and will be a part of the reading that I will investigate further.

Family stories + Childhood stories

The section on Family stories I feel wasn’t necessary in this book. Aside from being hilarious, the only advise on making an idea out of this is if your family have interesting tales… WELL OBVIOUSLY. This can go for anyone, friends, friends of friends, that one bloke on the bus who doesn’t shut-up, anyone. I feel the concept of ideas coming from all aspects of life covers if your family have interesting tales. (Again with Childhood stories, the next sub-heading).

Social science and social history

This I feel links to history aside from one section which was intriguing to me, about observation and interpretation. “Case histories… usually include both observation and interpretation, so you can see how your interpretations compare with those of the writer” pp.131. This concept I feel is integral in creating a documentary.

Fiction

In Rabiger’s final section on creating ideas for documentaries, he describes how fiction should not be ignored as a wealth of ideas. Often narratives in fiction are rooted in actuality. As I have discussed in my previous work before studying documentary, fiction is based on the contextual societies issues, fears and bias’, even if portrayed through metaphor and allegory. It is thusly perfectly reasonable to look toward fiction as a place of ideas for a documentary, even though documentary film focus’ on fact.

Developing/testing an idea

Developing an idea, testing the Power of an idea, begins with one question, “Do I really want to make a film about this?” pp.132 But it makes sense to consider before you attach yourself to an idea you don’t know about and don’t care about. Rabiger goes on to say how “good documentaries go beyond factual exposition,” that a documentary should tackle the ambiguities in life. Rabiger lists the questions one should ask in choosing a topic of a documentary as the idea goes into further development:

  • Is there an area I am already knowledgeable/opinionated
  • Do I have a strong emotional connection to this subject
  • Can I do the subject justice?
  • Do I have the drive to learn more about this field?

One major issue, especially I will face, is accessibility. Without any budget, the subject of my documentary will need to be local; as well as this, I have a time limit on this project, so long process’ such as getting permission to be in an area or permission to film will be off limits to me. I also must consider what I want to show, not just what I am able to show. These limits will shape my developing idea, as Rabiger concludes this section with, “think small. Think local. There are many good films to be made within a mile or two of where you live.” pp.133.

Locating the story pressures and “Raising the stakes”

This section is the main part of any compelling story, the twist. A film without a gimmick or twist doesn’t have a narrative and is the reason people will watch your film over others. “Raising the stakes” in a film is to create conflict within a narrative, creating a compelling story for the audience to engage. Rabiger also discusses how this twist can occur naturally, issues you see in your subjects film possibly happening, but usually the twist is set up by the filmmaker. This section lays out a guide to follow in creating a narrative twist:

  • “What obstacles your protagonist will face
  • Whether it will happen spontaneosly
  • What you may need to do if your camera is to be in the right place at the right time
  • Whether you can legitimatly arrange things to optimize your chances
  • How to film appropriately and with the greatst credibility”

pp.134

Rabiger stresses how you are able to construct the reveal of this twist, as a filmmaker, but not to fabricate the twist. The issue occering in the documentary should be an actual issue within the subject of your docuementary’s subject.

In Conclusion

A documentary, at the end of the day, is a film. It must have a compelling story arc, characters, and their development, and risks/stakes. The film needs to be compelling throughout, especially now in an age of media where attention spans could not be shorter, the film must play as a film throughout. Choosing an intereseting subject matter that you will enjoy filming/researching is imperative. You as a filmmaker must be the most interested in your subject, and to portray this subject you are to passioante about to an audience, you must follow the guidlines set by Rabiger here in choose a story, test the subject matter and nailing a compelling narrative twist.

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.

Microphones

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‘).

Realism

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.)

Featured

My Idea

My documentary proposition

So, the big reveal.

In week three, our class had to present an idea each that we had thought of, how we would have access, when it could be filmed and how the film could portray a place or an individual. This was one of the hardest, if not the hardest, section of the course.

My idea is to record the life of a particular ‘busker’ (Busking is the act of performing in public places for gratuities … People engaging in this practice are called street performers or buskers. From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Street_performance ) This will entail following a particular busker who I have selected on the basis of his locality, he lives in Brighton, and his extraordinary story of success. This is the twist of the film, to show the opposite ends of street life, the divide between busking and begging, and whether busking is a sustainable way of life and whether the art form will die out. The issues of social media and internet fame I feel threaten more classical ways of making money through music. I have talked to BBC radio Sussex presenter Melita Dennett who puts on the ‘BBC introducing‘ section of the station as she deals with another method of finding musical talent.

What I wanted to do was ‘cover all bases’ as it were to try and find the most exciting documentary on Busking and Buskers I could. I am excited to learn more about the subject! Hopefully, coming at this subject from as many angles as possible will not only give me the ability to see the best angle to approach the documentary in how I present facts but also cherry pick all the best information I have that is relevant to my subjects of the longevity of busking as a career in 2017.

There turns out to be a good reason for all the reading we are told to do because it all factors into our final film!

There are always difficulties in filming and creating a documentary that is unforeseeable no matter the amount of planning put into a project, so I’m sure the original idea, storyboards, shot lists and narrative patterns will change as the idea is further developed, but isn’t that the joy of cinema? Buskers readily available as they are all over the streets of Brighton, where I am currently based, and they want to be noticed so are easy to find and ready, and excited, to be filmed.

In the creating of this idea and its development, I have looked over the reading set in week two of this module by Rabiger, chapter eleven on ‘Developing Your Story Ideas‘. But as with any idea, there are issues that will arise such as being in contact with a busker efficiently to plan an interview and so on, but I will cover this in my next post on the presentation of my group’s idea in week six.

I will discuss any developments in my idea in later blog posts. Although I am able to edit this post after publishing it, I think it is important and interesting to see where my films idea was at this time in my project.