"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.
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!)
"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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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, Stereo, Three or more sound tracks, Sound 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.)
Rabiger, M. (2004) Directing the Documentary, London: Focal Press. Ch.16: Research Leading Up to the Shoot
Bernard, S. C. (2010) Documentary Storytelling: Creative Nonfiction on Screen, New York and London: Focal Press. 2 Story Basics
This week was the easiest workshop, at least for me, as it was about screen etiquette and the theory of editing. This was somewhat mundane for me as I have spent a considerable amount of time studying film and teaching myself editing composition and aesthetics, however this course takes all students and so I understand the need for this weeks workshop, even if I already knew. On the other hand, the readings this week focused on research and the basis of the story.
Rabiger – Research leading up to the shoot
This chapter focuses on how to research, developing your narrative and ideas and how to give yourself the most help for production before filming anything.
This was a difficult section for me; I love my independence, so the idea of collaboratively researching was a difficult proposition to consider. Rabiger opens the section with, “An ideal way to research is in partnership with a second person” pp.225, Right off the bat. I am not a big fan of group work because, in my experience, there is often one or many people in the group that do not desire the highest grade possible, as I do. It is often difficult to find a collection of people all with the same determination and drive to complete a project well. The group I was placed into for this particular project are amazing. Driven, keen, available, and most of all we all desire to achieve the same goal, this is the best kind of partnership, and so when it comes to research I am comfortable my group will only help me. (I will discuss the presentation of my group’s research in my next blog post.) Rabiger discusses how films are made collaboratively and that with like-minded people, partnership in research can really boost a production. Having a differing point of view may even prove as a positive as it reveals more options for the direction of a film to go, directions one person may fail to ever think of. This section has not made me change my mind fully on collaborative group work as the positives only apply if the group you are in are also productive, keen individuals, but it has opened my eyes to the opportunities considering someone else’s point of view may give.
A sample subject for discussion
“Before shooting anything, find out whether such an idea is feasible.” pp.226. This is the basic idea of this sub-heading, once you have an idea, find out if it can work and how to make it work. In my own idea, the largest stumbling block will probably be the availability of buskers to interview. I am filming on public ground, as that is where the buskers are, and so permission to film in a location should not be an issue, (I have discussed this in depth in my presentation blog post). Rabiger does raise a good point here, that one’s research will prove any logistical or monetary difficulties that may arise in filming one’s documentary.
This is to merely keep an open mind in listening to other’s input into your film. When describing the film idea be specific, Rabiger says, but allow room for thought, the person you are talking to may have a better idea or a different angle you had not considered. (Thanks Rabiger!) This is again an aspect I find troubling, not due to ability but due to personal lack of people skills! To openly discuss what I am doing is difficult but I understand the need for input from other people in my group or just other people n general. Rabiger spends the remainder of this sub-heading describing how to talk to a subject about your film, common knowledge to some, but I shall be sure to follow this closely.
The value of assigning metaphorical roles
This is the best section so far! In this section, Rabiger addresses the narrative side of the production by suggesting to assign roles to characters in one’s documentary. “You want your story to contain the characters, passions, atmospheres, and struggle proper to any human tale” pp.229. I have touched on this idea before in the week 3 reading log from Chapmans Issues in Contemporary Documentary, Chapter one. At the end of the day, the film is just that, a film, and thus needs engaging characters who play a role in the plot in order to keep maximum audience engagement. It is also important for the characters to portray the purpose of the film. For example, if I wanted to make the audience pity a child, I would use all aspects of cinema to make them look vulnerable and upset, through a high-angle shot to minimise the subject’s size in frame, mise-en-scene to indicate his isolation and so on… This child would play the metaphorical role I have designed for them to play at the point in the documentary where I wanted to elicit a feeling of sympathy/pity from the viewer.
How people alter in front of a camera
This was an odd sub-heading I thought on first glossing over the chapter but it is an important aspect of documentary to address. This is something we covered in a workshop during interview techniques, how to interview a subject and get the best footage from it. My documentary tutor described good posture and an open/inviting body language is the best way to make your interviewee comfortable. As Rabiger says interviewees may come across as a show-off or instead clam up from sheer nervousness.” This is obviously a big no-no. Having questions ready and being confident in asking them is not mentioned as a way to relax an interviewee, but I think these actions are integral to evoke the best interview from somebody you are able to.
The necessity of a working hypothesis
I have explicitly stated in the ‘My idea’ post that the idea for my documentary will be one that is subject to change and will be ever adapting. This could be due to new discoveries if the subject of a film is contemporary, something could affect it such as an ongoing war, a bomb could drop which could not be known beforehand by a documentary maker. Most of all a documentary and the filming f it is research into the subject itself and with new information, a filmmaker may have discovered an entirely new direction for their film previously not even considered. Rabiger does say something here that I disagree with, “write out the minimum your film must express.” pp.234. To me, this is a silly idea for the reasons I have described above. New data could drastically change your own perception of the subject you are filming and influence you to take the film in an entirely different direction! (One of the rare occasions I find myself disagreeing with Rabiger!) But I do agree with the idea of a working hypothesis.
Rabiger then goes on to talk about narrative structure in a documentary film which I feel could be its own chapter.
The need for development, conflict and confrontation
I feel like I have discussed this in week two’s reading log, in the same book but chapter eleven, under the sub-heading, ‘Locating the story pressures and “Raising the stakes”‘, but it is a key to a narrative. In fact, it is a narrative. From Edward Branigan, Narrative Comprehension and Film, London: Routledge, 1992; p. 3
“Narrative is a way of organizing spatial and temporal data into a cause-effect chain of events with a beginning, middle and end that embodies a judgement about the nature of events as well as demonstrates how it is possible to know, and hence to narrate, the events.”
This is quite a long section but it easily summed up by the dramatic curve or through Todorov’s theory of equilibrium (as I learned previously).
The Dramatic Curve
This is a simplistic diagram of the narrative arc one should hope to achieve in a documentary film, or any film for that matter. I have previously used Todorov’s theory of equilibrium which follows the pattern: Equilibrium, dis-equilibrium, realisation, restoration of equilibrium and a new/re-established equilibrium. These two are generally the same principle, however for a documentary I do prefer the dramatic curve. This is split also into three acts; act 1 the exposition to the inciting moment, act 2 the rising action and climax and act 3 the resolution and re-establishment of an equilibrium.
I feel the diagram expresses all I could explain about the theory but I shall need to consider this structure when drawing up my own narrative, this will make editing and story construction that much less taxing.
Dramas in miniature
This is a small sub-heading in the narrative section of this chapter explaining the dramatic significance of a scene. This is a concept I have been taught through my study of fiction film, that a scene must have this dramatic curve structure in order to keep viewership and entertainment at maximum. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5V-k-p4wzxg ‘Who wins this scene’). What Rabiger is trying to communicate here is the fact of cinema, that if a scene has now dramatic curve, it has no resolution and thus has no purpose.
Looking for beats and dramatic units
Rabiger describes a beat as “when you see someone go through a moment of irreversible change of consciousness … you are seeing a beat” pp.238. A beat is a seminal moment in a film that changes the audience’s perception of the narrative or of a character. For instance in my film about a busker, the set up could be the reinforcing the belief that buskers are poor and asking for any change they can have, so a beat in my film would be to reverse this stereotype and present a busker working for the love of music, not because they have to work, but because they are following their passion for music. I could reveal this in a number of ways through a dramatic unit. Defined again by Rabiger as including:
The initiation of a new issue
Complications that escalate pressures
Apex of confrontation
The beat – a change of consciousness in one character that initiates a new issue and the onset of a new dramatic unit
A scene can contain one or many dramatic units but I believe too many units overload the viewer with information, and force narrative upon them too quickly without an opportunity to consider the film altering information that is in front of them. This is a small dramatic curve and you wouldn’t have multiple entire dramatic curves in a film, would you? Of course not.
Exposition, facts and narration
The final sub-heading for this weeks Rabiger chapter is the conglomeration of narrative and how a film’s story and plot is built. Compiling facts about your subject: important dates, names of locations, names of important figures, ages and relationships will not only help you in pre-production to plan filming, it will also make the use of narration in a documentary void. This makes the outcome all the more professional as the information is not force fed to the viewer, they are given the opportunity to comprehend information without explicit spoon-feeding. Rabiger finishes off the entire chapter with, what I think, is the purpose of research, “Images and characters may supply all vital information that is needed”. pp.239. With the proper amount of research into a subject, one can plan, produce and edit a film with only minor hassle.
Sheila Curran Bernard – Story basics
This is a relatively short chapter on composing a story, the relevant information to include and how the narrative should be laid out. It goes into the history of story describing it’s Greek theatre origins as well as define some story-telling terms. (I shall try not to repeat information I have previously stated).
Bernard describes exposition as the establishment of character and plot in a story. A lot of the information she describes I have previously stated, but one point of exposition I have not covered is the when key information should be given out which she describes, “there is an art to giving out key information at the right moment … offered at the right time, exposition enriches our understanding of characters and raises the stakes in their stories” pp.16. I will have to consider this heavily when making my film. It is only going to be around 4 minutes long, but this means I shall have to plan when I want to reveal the twist and at what point I want to establish new characters into my narrative. As Rabiger describes in the previous log the idea of beats in a production (see above).
This seems a simplistic point, even to someone who does not study film, but in fact I think it is the most important. Knowing the themes of your work, as Bernard is not speaking specifically about documentary here, is integral to any filmmaker in how a scene, a sequence and even a single shot is filmed. For example in my own work, to convey the themes of isolation a busker may have, I would need to shoot to reflect this. A single long shot to isolate my subject, a telephoto lens with a shallow focus to separate the busker from passers-by and make them stand out from everyone else etc. These are all aspects I would need to think about before going out to shoot, to make sure I had say a lens with a low f/1.8 aperture to create an extremely shallow depth of field. Knowing key thematic points in one’s documentary before shooting is the only way to plan to film these which is integral to convey your purpose as a filmmaker and get across the desired effect.
Plot and character
Bernard describes a films story as, “either plot or character driven” pp.19. Plot driven films being films in which the plot directs the story and the characters are simply there reacting to the changing circumstances, whereas a character driven film is derives action from the wants and needs of the characters. Bernard goes on to describe how documentary rides this line not favouring one or the other, so as a filmmaker I was allowed to choose and I found it a difficult choice. I feel I did not want a star busker in my film as busking is a community, anyone can busk, so I suppose my story would be pot driven, but the issue here is that, what plot. In the end I decided on character driven but the most varied characters I could find. I want to capture the variety of busking, that it is an inclusive community activity, and thus my story will be character driven, not by one person, but by many buskers.
Point of view
This is the perspective from which a story is told. This is key in directing audience interpretations, as I said in the previous paragraph, to make the audience feel a certain way is the goal of a documentary. I will need to plan and film according to the point of view I want the audience to see from, in my case seeing busking as a surviving from of entertainment and the community around busking. This is why I will shoot and edit my film from the point of view of the busker and not of the public, as the public will be watching the documentary and do not appreciate having their view forced upon them. The audience want to create their own opinions on all topics but they have not see the point of view of a busker before and this will make my film unique and hopefully re-watchable.
All aspects of filmmaking define point of view from camera angles, lens type, lighting, framing to editing and all aspects of post production. This means when filming it is integral that I know the exact point of view I need to convey in each section of the film to create my desired meaning of the film overall. I believe a good effect to establish that I want to convey the film from the point of view of a busker is to first establish the character with familiar shots, from the point of view of the public, and then transition into shots from the point of view of a busker once this character is firmly established. This shows the shift in perspectives and gives time for the audience to adjust to the new point of view, the one from the busker. I believe this will be the least jarring and most effect method to convey the purpose of my documentary film.
This is merely a section on mise-en-scéne (the process of setting a stage with regard to placement of actor, scenery, properties, etc. from http://www.dictionary.com/browse/mise-en-scene). This is how an audience understand a character purely based on scene. The props, body-language, facial expressions and clothing all signify facts about the characters in a scene/shot. This is something I have to consider less, I am not setting up any shots as I want to capture buskers as naturally as I can on the streets. Still I must be aware of what is included in each shot e.g the collection of donations, if they have any social media links, the state of their clothing, which can say a whole lot about a subject, etc.
A satisfactory ending
A lot of the rest of this chapter was either repeating what I have already discussed on this blog or only applied to stories in fiction films, but this section I feel applies to all film narratives.
“A satisfactory ending, or resolution, is often one that feels both unexpected and inevitable. It must resolve the one story you set out to tell” pp.30. This is true among all cinema I feel. The final point of the narrative curve must be satisfactory resolution, if the film went no-where then what would be the point of making it? The story must be like a conclusion to an essay, wrap up all points of the story told and pose questions the audience must consider, (a good conclusion anyway). This is perhaps different to a fiction film conclusion where an audience may what all points clarified, because a good documentary should pose questions for the audience to consider they may not have in the past. I would never argue the point that there should be no conclusion and the audience have full power to decided on all fronts what meaning they take away from the film as there is no direction here. Instead offer a conclusion to an argument while leaving questions that give further thought into your subject matter. As Bernard argues, “ending a film … does not necessitate wrapping up all loose ends or resolving things in a way that is up-beat” pp.30.
Follow a narrative arc, establish characters, remember point of view and always consider what you want the audience to consider at every second of your documentary film, and after. Convey the purpose you desire at every turn.
This was reading week for all disciplines. There was limited reading material as there was no workshop or lecture to read on and so this week was used to get me more prepared for actually shooting the film.
The chapter opens with describing that “good documentaries can still be made with modest equipment” pp.287, and this is a sentiment I have always agreed with. The most common excuse for not filming is ‘ugh my equipment can’t do X’ or ‘Isn’t good at Y’. As long as one has a device that films, one can make a film. This chapter will hopefully cover all of the technical sides to the practicality of filming and not simply the variation of equipment (as I only have access to the equipment provided to me). It is also important to note that this book was originally published in 1987, therefore some of the detail and modern advances may be out of date for 2017.
This section describes the shoulder mounted camera is the best for documentary shooting as most documentary films are shot hand-held, Rabiger cites the Éclair NPR film camera here, “The last models designed by Eclair in the early-1980s came too late to save the company from bankruptcy and were hardly produced” (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eclair_(company) ). This is obviously out of date but some of the ideas are still useful to note, such as the inclusion of a fold-out colour screen which can be tilted vertically to frame a subject from where ever the camera operator is. This is an aspect of the Sony xdcam pxw-x70 camcorder 1080p, the camera I am filming my documentary with. The addition of this fold out screen is perfect to frame shots in the exact way I choose.
This section is again full of interesting information about the size of a lens to remove instability, how to use focal length to a filmmakers advantage and so on, but I do not have the option to change out the lens of my camera for each scene or shot. In some ways, this makes filming easier as I do not have to worry about disorienting changes in a shot which can happen with a constantly changing lens, however it does mean that I do not have the range to get an effect I may desire. For instance, if I wanted to use a wide angle lens in a small room to show the audience as much as possible, I would not be able to do this. I understand the importance of lenses and focal lengths, but I am unable to take advantage of this feature of a camera for my documentary.
Exposure control, Gain & Colour balance
Rabiger stresses the importance of manual exposure in this section, how f-stops should be used to maintain a shot’s exposure, this is an important note for focus too. Automatic focus and automatic exposure will attempt to adapt to a shot as it changes, the example Rabiger gives is of a woman in a white dress walking through the scene. The exposure should be kept steady throughout the shot to maintain audience engagement, any noticeable change in the films exposure will take the audience right out of the film.
Rabiger notes the importance of white balancing. This is to resent the camera’s knowledge of true white in a scene as the warmth of two locations may differ, cold blue white in one location is opposite to a warm yellow white in another. He does admit automatic white balancing may be useful when tracking a subject “walking through different colour zones in, for instance, an airport.” pp.291
Gain on a camera is another way of getting light into an image. An increase in picture noise is a by-product of adding gain and so if this is not essential the feature should be avoided. This I don’t think will be an issue for me however, as I am shooting outside or in set-up indoor locations, light should never be an issue for me in my documentary.
The Sony xdcam pxw-x70 camcorder uses a “DC In: 8.4 V, Battery: 6.8 V / 7.2 V” according to its website. ( https://www.sony.co.uk/pro/product/broadcast-products-camcorders-xdcam/pxw-x70/ ) The shooting time for this battery I believe is around 120 minutes. As I am only allowed the camera overnight, I am not concerned with battery life.
Camera support systems
One camera support system I do have access to is a tripod, yay! This will give me the ability to film static shots, choosing the hight and angle of the camera to frame my subject how I need to exactly. I do not have any high-tech equipment such as a hydraulically damped tilt heads so tracking shots may be ‘wobbly’ as they will all be human controlled. Rabiger has tips for the budget filmmaker in here too such as using a wheelchair as a dolly or simply shooting outside of a car when a track-dolly is out of the budget. (As my film has no budget I may utilise some of these tips).
I do have a spreader or a spider which is a bracket attached to each leg of a tripod used for stabilisation and for preventing the legs spreading out or “denting an expensive floor” pp.292. I again do not have access to a wide range of equipment and have no budget to spend on the film at all. I am limited to the equipment I have and my imagination for how to use it.
Rabiger gets into how to shoot effectively and get the shots you need. He lays out two types of log:
A Camera log, to get the shots in order and ensure all the shots needed are filmed
and a sound log, to do the same, but for sound
Logs in action
Rabiger discusses a higher budget shoot than mine with multiple cameras. For my shoot, the log will be used to check the shots I have already filmed and those shots I still need to film as I have only one camera. The sound log will be an interesting exercise to take part in as I have not used one before, previously I have used the sound in the shot, used music over the film or recorded all ambient sound to use over what I need to. I have never used a sound log, and am excited to be so professional.
A lot of this section did not apply to my film in particular as I have no budget, cannot choose my equipment and am limited in the amount of my film I can alter. However, I this section fascinated me as the procedures and choices Rabiger lays out in this section apply to professional shoots. In the future when I have more control over the technology used in my film, and a budget, I shall revisit chapter 20 of Rabiger’s Directing the Documentary. Next week is back to full reading and getting into production of my documentary film. Finally!
Rabiger, M. (2004) Directing the Documentary, London: Focal Press. Ch.9 Critical Writing
There is only one short chapter this week as presentations were set in the workshop, to see this, see my post called ‘my presentation‘. I was also told to start filming shots to be used in my final documentary film, (Very exciting) and so began doing this also this week, to see more see a future post on ‘Filming the documentary’.
Rabiger opens this chapter by discussing the importance of critical writing, how it makes you pay attention to all aspects of a documentary film and provides the opportunity to learn from that film, what it does well and what it does not. Critical writing should not just be reporting on the film in question, it should be to view that film again in an analytical light and to inform the person you’re addressing with new information as so they can view the film in a new way. The style should be “in clear, direct, formal, active-voice prose” pp.114.
Rabiger lays out the guidelines for critical or analytical writing on page 114, that it should;
“Give detailed examples from the films or texts to illustrate your views, but doesn’t assume the reader knows the films in any detail
Seek support for its views from other critics but take issue with aspects with which you disagree
Give citations, either as footnotes or endnotes, for any ideas you borrowed or any quotations you have reproduced”
The next two sections are tasks Rabiger has set for the reader to complete as an introduction to analyse documentary film. Rabiger lays out his ideal for analysing first film structure and style and then the director’s dramatic vision.
Analysing a documentary for structure and style
Stop after each sequence to record the details most important to one’s analysis, such as mise-en-scène, lighting, audio etc.
Define the beginning and end points of each sequence giving it a tag description and calculating its length
Write a description of the documentary’s content
After compiling these, the film’s structure will be an easy trend to locate. Pointing out the integral sections you can divide the film into its acts
The film’s style should also be an easy trend to spot after tagging each section of the film
Finally, Rabiger discuss’ mentioning “the thematic impact of the film and its overall effectiveness” pp. 114
Analysing a director’s thematic vision
This section is quite a detailed method to analyse a director’s thematic vision which I shall attempt not to simply plagiarise while describing the method Rabiger discuss’.
See a wide variety of the director’s body of work, this will reveal trends the director follows
Note the feeling evoked by these films
Assemble relevant articles and essays on the director’s body of work
Re-watch the chosen few films from the director of your study this time taking notes of each sequence (see above.)
On writing this thematic case study of a director body of work, add in biographical information that may have influenced them,
The director’s personal and professional past
The director’s intended influence for the audience’s, perspective
The level of social awareness of the films in question
The degree that the films anticipate the audience’s reactions to their sequence’s and the success of the director’s use of this information
How successful the visual and aural aspects of the film are in conveying the director’s purpose
And finally, how the viewer’s (your) own attitudes to the subject matter influenced their (your) understanding of the director’s thematic vision
This weeks reading was very short, for reasons laid out in the opening of this post, yet this is an important aspect of documentary filmmaking to cover, especially for someone who desires a future in film journalism. Critical writing is something I have covered in my Film analysis course and Issue in European Cinema course, but it is still something I struggle with in my film career and hope to get better at in the future. Critical analysis and critical writing are endevourse I will likely puruse going forward in film as these are the aspects of cinema that I struggle with the most. (I love a challenge.)
Rabiger, M. (2004) Directing the Documentary, London: Focal Press. 29: Post-Production begins
Kerrigan, S. & McIntyre, P. (2010) The ‘creative treatment of actuality’: Rationalizing and reconceptualizing the notion of creativity for documentary practice, Journal of Media Practice, 11:2, 111-130
This week was a brief workshop on getting to terms with Adobe’s ‘Premiere Pro’. This was not too difficult for me as I have used this programme for some years and am capable when it comes to editing using it. This week was a good time to storyboard and get shot-lists done.
Directing the Documentary – Postproduction begins
This chapter should address the importance of postproduction, the role of the editor and the importance of preparation.
Editing: Role and responsibilities
Rabiger begins by relating the difference between big and low-budget documentaries editing. Big budget films have the luxury to edit from the start of shooting so the film is edited while more is being shot but for low-budget documentary films as mine is, cutting the film together will all be done once all the scenes have been shot. There is a risk here that errors in the shooting are only revealed after shooting is wrapped, and thus there is no way to rectify these problems.
Rabiger stresses the importance of an editor to the technical and creative process. Editing is the final place for a project to alter before it is released and this can cause conflict if the director and editor do not understand each other’s visions. Films can be made or lost in the edit. “The good editor is articulate, patient, highly organized, willing to experiment endlessly, and diplomatic about trying to get his or her own way” pp.408.
This section is quite interesting as I have never thought about it before. Rabiger says how editors can see the true potential of a cinematic piece as their ‘eyes are fresh’ to the footage, they see the film with an “unobligated and unprejudiced eye” pp.408. I have always edited films I have directed in the past. The closest I’ve come to not having total control of my own creative vision is when I have been working with one other co-editor. This documentary I am directing and editing myself so I am still not giving up directorial power, but this idea is scary to me going into more filmmaking. I like having the power!
I am working in a team for this exercise so not all of the decisions in the edit will be down to me. This is something I shall have to get used to going further into film production, as Rabiger says, “the editor is really the second director” pp.408.
Coming straight after my inability to give up creative power, this is quite fitting! This section is an important one for me in particular as it addresses the obsessive director who watches the editors every action. Luckily I am in a small group of only 4, including me, and have good editing experience. I shall allow my team to input as I am aware my ideas are not always going to be the best, having a group of people on the edit will allow for four times the original ideas. Rabiger also discusses the nature of editing scrutinisation. “every scene, shot and even cut is scrutinised, questioned, weighed and balanced” pp.408. I feel this will only be exacerbated by having 4 group members all over the same film, but I’m glad to get a variety of input to my film.
This chapter now seems aimed at me. “Often the real reason is a fear of sharing control and the conviction that no unified film will be possible” pp.409. This is important to note and as I have said above in partnership I am excited to have outside input and to give control slightly to those in my group as their filmic experience has differed from mine and thus they will have different ideas to me. Rabiger has an interesting idea here, that the editor is the first proxy between director and audience.
This section highlights the importance of giving up creative power and allowing a fresh-eyed editor to make his or her mark on a piece of work, an intermediary between the director and audience. I am in a small group so I cannot simply hand over editing to someone else, however I shall be open to all of my group’s ideas for the edit as I was for filming the documentary.
Editing: Process and procedures
This sections opening is a sales pitch for ‘Avid’, a video editing software, however I am already versed in Adobe’s Premiere Pro CC and that is the software on the computers I am editing my documentary film on. As Rabiger says, Premiere Pro CC is ‘backed by a large company’ and is modestly priced to suit its low-end consumer market.
From my own experience, I would also recommend Premiere Pro for a few reasons:
There are plenty of online guides that make it easier for a beginner to learn how to edit
It has the functionality to be used by those starting to edit but also those well versed in editing
It is in the Adobe product line so works well with other Adobe products such as ‘Illustrator’, ‘Photoshop’ and ‘After effects’
For non-linear editing (NLE) I am happy to use Adobe’s Premiere Pro.
A Postproduction Overview
This section is very detailed in its description of the post-production process. To try and summarise would be difficult without overtly plagiarising the entire thing.
The section discusses the stages of the editing process and warns of possible complications such as the difference between PAL (phase alternating line) and NTSC (National Television System Committee). Since I am filming on one type of camera there shouldn’t be a format complication. From here straight to viewing.
It is important that the crew, director and editor all see the raw dailies. This helps all learn from their mistakes. This is also a good opportunity to sit back and try and view the footage as a first time viewer. Any little slight issues you have noticed and maybe tried to overlook, see now, as these will be the big segments of the film that stand out to an audience.
I definitely understand Rabiger here. From the filming I have been doing so far, I can see that I need to have more ambient audio. Not only does this give the shots more presence, but it gives me more options for cutting around and using the backing audio from one shot into another, creating and audio-bridge. This was only revealed to me in post on reviewing the dailies. To attempt to rectify this I have since gone back to the locations and re-shot scenes or simply recorded ambient sound audio. Upon coming to edit my film, ‘the more footage the better’ as my A-level film teacher always said.
A lot of this section is seemingly quite obvious for example taking notes and reactions. However, this is somewhat new to me. Having directed, shot and edited all of my films before, having a group of peoples input will be an interesting new experience for me. An aspect I really hate from filming may arise as quite popular, or visa-versa a shot filmed by someone else they might like but the rest of the group isn’t so fond. This is an important section to put in by Rabiger as it addresses another final aspect to filmmaking before the film is released that most audiences would not consider.
Preparing the footage
Rabiger ends this chapter by noting the importance of Logging dailies, making transcripts and selecting transcripts.
The first of these logging dailies is a tedious job but an important one. In professional shoots, there is a clapperboard with the take number on it and the camera location from the floor plan, however for my documentary, as we are recording real life, we do not have this luxury. There are shots I want to get that I have talked more about in my post on storyboards and shot lists, but logging the dailies for me while be looking at each shot and labelling what it is of. E.g:
LS Woman with headphones – 0:00:15
CU Busker playing the piano – 0:00:42
MCU of the main Busking interviewee – 0:14:37
and so on. This process will make editing a whole lot easier as the panic to find ‘that shot with the busker who was playing that piano’ will be logged with the type of shot, Close-up (CU), what the shot is of and the shots duration, in this case 42 seconds (0:00:42). In old footage on reels the time stamps had to follow on from the last so the section above would look like:
01:00:00 LS Woman with headphones
01:00:15 CU Busker playing the piano
01:00:57 MCU of the main busking interviewee
and so on. Nowadays, with all footage being digital, this is not necessary but the process of logging dailies is essential to a swift editing process.
This is another tedious means to make the editing process faster. A transcript is a list of all that was said in an interview by the interviewee and the interviewer. Writing down everything that was said is a boring task that takes forever, but it is seminal when coming to cut the interview into sections. For example for the practise interview I did with Sam about his first days at Sussex, I did not use a transcript and simply remembered when I had asked each question. This was a brief interview and finding the correct order to give the film a better flow was not hard, but even still if the interview had been transcribed I could have created a paper edit of the interview and read it allowed to see the flow. This would have saved me a lot of time when it came to putting the interview together. For an interview that is much longer as they can be in professional films, it would be impossibly slow to edit the footage without a transcript or paper edit.
It is also important to do as trends in an interviewees speech may arise. For instance, if they discussed the same topic at two separate points in their interview, then this would be seen with a transcription and a paper edit could put them together. Then one could see where this section would best be suited in the film as a whole. This could happen without a transcription just by watching the interview over and over again in the editing software, but that would take an age! Much faster to dedicate a short time to transcribing the interviews and then making a paper edit.
The next chapter will discuss the paper edit in detail
I shall give up my compulsion for power in the editing process, watch and label all the dailies and make a paper edit for my interviews and entire film. I have obviously edited before and each time I have found issues in my editing, perfect. In editing you should make each mistake once. I hope I have learnt from every bad decision I have made in editing and I intend not to make any this time around. There are a lot of aspects of this film that are more professional than films I have worked on before, such as the paper edit and so on, and I am excited and a little nervous to do things how they are done in the industry.
Editing is usually my favourite part of filmmaking. It is less stressful than the filming and pre-production idea making and its done inside where its warm. All jokes aside, The edit is where the film comes together. All the filmed scenes and b-roll is combined to make the actual film that will be seen by an audience. Getting all aspects of the edit correct may be difficult as sections can often be long and tenuous, like transcribing and logging dailies, but so far I have transcribed all the interviews I have done and logged all the footage I have filmed so far. This will hopefully make the editing process a swift and painless endevor and not a mad rush at the end. (But isn’t there always a mad rush to finish a film?)