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).


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).


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.


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.


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.

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 )

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

Rabiger – Location sound

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

Camcorders and sound

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapman – Issues in Contemporary Documentary Ch.1

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

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

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

The journalistic documentary

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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 ) 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.


Week 4 Reading

Week 4 Reading Log

The Readings:

  • 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.

Research partnership

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.

Research relationships

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

The Dramatic Curve
As seen on page 236 in Rabiger’s (2004) ‘Directing the Documentary’

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 ‘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 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.

In conclusion

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.

(Good readings this week!)