Documentary in a Day

Producing a documentary is not easy as I expected. We formed a group of 6, switching our roles frequently to produce our own documentary of “Home” theme.


Production

Each of us took different responsibilities. We had a cameraman, 1st AD, a recordist, a key grip, an interviewer and an interviewee.

We used MCU to do the interview. The interviewer sat to the right of the screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-8-00-56-pmcamera so that the interviewee did not look straight into the camera. This made the audience feel more comfortable with what was being said by the interviewee than they would if the interviewee was staring straight at them. For best results, we placed the interviewer and the interviewee level with the camera, to avoid making the interviewee appear to be looking up or down.

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Because of rule #1, we complimented the interview’s eye line, by observing the Rule of Thirds. We considered our camera shot as cut into thirds and place the interviewee in the opposite third to the direction that they are looking. This gave our shot a sense of balance and removed any empty “dead space” behind them.

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When framing up our shot, we also considered the interviewee’s surroundings. A tree was placed in the background to reduce the emptiness of the blank white wall. Because we filmed with a single camera, as I mentioned above, we framed our interviewee with a medium close-up. This will allow the audience to see the interviewee’s facial expressions.

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Three lights were set up. We used a square panel light as the key light. The key light was the most important light because it was the brightest light in the frame. In this case, we had a lot of shadow off to the camera left side and below interviewees’ heads because the key light was placed to the right and high. We used the fill light. It was not as powerful as the key light, but what it did was to adjust light to the exact part of the frame that was in the shadow. The last light was in the back. This light created a shadow of the tree which made the background more interesting.

The interview was really interesting. Each of us switched our roles as an interviewee. Because the theme was “Home”, we asked each other with questions comparing our hometown to Australia, where we are studying abroad. We are classmates, it explains why the atmosphere was really comfortable. Everybody was doing great, both asking and answering. Our different personalities and confidence contributed to a pleasant and laughable documentary.

We are quite happy with our interview, however, the camera was not placed properly when we interviewed Evelyn (at 0:18). She was a little bit in the centre of the frame. Also, the gem should have been adjusted to create soft light. More details of lightning should have been considered to make our interviewees’ skin smoother. And also if we have a chance to do another interview with people whom we do not know well, we will have to warm up the atmosphere before filming in order to produce the interview exactly how we want.


Post Production

The documentary was edited individually. We had two types of footage separated in different folders, one was the interview and one was “B-roll”. We went out to film extra landscapes for the “B-roll” after interviewing but I did not put it in my documentary because the duration of the interview is enough.

I begin my documentary with a short introduction. The graphic world map was adjusted to the background then followed by a number of houses popping over it to illustrate the theme “Home”.

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Editing the documentary is really tricky, especially when I had to cut the footage. We did not have a list of questions and we switched our role as interview, therefore it took me time to find and cut footage in groups. However, we had common questions for the interview, every group of answers began with a question which was showed in text. There are 5 questions. Opening with greetings, then followed by “What’s your name?”, “Anything special about your name?”, “Where are you from?”, “How long have you been in Australia?”, and “How different is your home from Australia?”.

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The answer of each interviewee was cut just right. I used cross dissolve in every beginning and ending of each group. The part of asking names were attached with text in order to clarify the audience with each interviewees’ names. The video also was colour corrected and I reduced the saturation to lower the yellowish. The documentary was ended by some footage of behind the scene.

Our interview was recorded right, the interviewees talked clear and loud enough, there was no noise in the background. However, I put some chill music in the background to avoid the awkward silence.


No Direction Home

No Direction Home is a documentary which traces the life of Bob Dylan, the famous American songwriter, singer, artist, and writer. The documentary was produced by Martin Scorsese. The film focuses on the period between Dylan’s arrival in New York in January 1961 and his “retirement” from touring following his motorcycle accident in July 1966. The 2 minute sequence edited by Thelma Schoonmaker that opens has left an unforgettable impression of narrative style in documentary.

It begins with archive screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-11-18-48-pmfootage of Bob Dylan’s performance. The footage was not edited with any kind of effect in order to remain its original. Both Schoonmaker and Scorsese were really good at expressing human emotion at the beginning of this scene. This generates a “young Bob Dylan” with full of enthusiasm, he was singing on the stage with a guitar and a harmonica around his neck. It then followed by a cross dissolve effect of a black and white image, between a MCU of the tree branches and a WS of the forest covered by heavy snow with a silence.

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Bob Dylan started to talk about his past from here. The picture of an old house was attached with “Many Years Earlier” to emphasise his interview in the second part of this documentary. His folk music was played along in the background. Bob Dylan stated that he was about 10 when he first found the guitar, when he first played guitar, when he heard music on the big mahogany radioscreen-shot-2016-10-28-at-11-33-04-pm

that had the 78” turntable, followed by a video of a turnable. It was really interesting when Dylan mentioned the song “Drifting Too Far From The Shore”, the song as well as was played in the background at the same time. And I guess that was the moment he made decision to step into his music career. Schoonmaker used Dylan’s archive material to mix with his interview.

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-11-47-37-pmIn the third part of the scene, a video of a main street with the sign “Iron Mines 1 Mile North” with fast tempo music in the background. Dylan started talking about his home town, “what happens to a town after its livelihood is gone, it decays and blows away.” The scene continues with footage from the mines with low tempo background music.

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Dylan talks about mining company and farmland, it was a really hard summer time and cold in winter. Dylan even said people did not have clothes.

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“The pit was on there, out of the limited of the town. You could be a rebel, it was so cold there. There was not any philosophy, idiom, ideology to really go against.”

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The final part of the scene was the pictures of the town and his father’s electrical store. Dylan discussed his father’s store and the first job he had was to sweep up the store. He learned the “discipline of hard work and the merits of employment.”


I guess we will see how Bob Dylan grow up and be a successful music artist in the upcoming movie. The two minute sequence lets us know his childhood and how he feels he was “born to the wrong parents”. It is expected to show more about his family, his home town, and his life and his personal philosophy of life through music.

Introduction to Documentary

What is Documentary?

Documentary is a non-fictional motion picture. It describes some aspect of reality for the purposes of instruction, education and maintaining a historical evidence.

Modes of Documentary Film

Documentary mode is a theoretical scheme which was developed by American documentary theorist Bill Nichols. Documentary mode distinguishes particular traits and conventions of various documentary film styles.

Bill Nichols describes four different documentary mode in his reading, including Observational, Participatory, Reflexive, and Performative Modes.

This article will discuss the hallmarks of Observational mode in documentary film.


Observational Mode

Observational documentary attempt to simply and observe lived experience with a minimum of intervention.

Bill Nichols has stated, “what we saw was what there was”. This mode ensures the authenticity of what happens. A pure observational documentary has no voice-over commentary, no supplementary music and sound effects, no inter-titles, no historical reenactments, no behaviour repeated for the camera, and no interviews in post-production.  Observational documentary tends to simply observe, allowing viewers to reach whatever conclusions they may figure.

The filmmakers are neutral observer. They are normally out of shot so they cannot influence what is happening. Nothing will be rehearsed or staged. This means filmmaker has to rush around, resulting in poor shaky looking footage. Bill also has said, “We look in on life as it is lived. Often the characters are caught up in pressing demands or a crisis of their own. This requires their attention and draws it away from the presence of filmmakers.”Observational documentary arises from available lightweight portable synchronous recording equipment and dissatisfaction with moralising quality of expository documentary. The filmmakers have to be patient to catch the right moments,  they will be in a “waiting position” or else missing a really tiny “piece” of footage will make the documentary unfinished.

One of the most controversial conflicts of our time, the Vietnam War inspired untold numbers of films, songs and books, and most of historical records are observational documentaries. The truth of the most disastrous battlefield in human history are revealed. Every footage taken by courageous reporters and filmmakers from all over the world will remain its previous eternally.

Bill mentioned in his work about whether the cameraman should have refused or tried to dissuade the Vietnamese monk, who set himself on fire to protest the Vietnam War. This is an issue that the filmmakers consider when producing documentaries. Should they ignore the obstacles and continue with what happens in reality, or should they intervene to save a person, or simply a creature of the wildlife? The filmmakers have to pull out their boldness to witness and work in the battlefield, where they can sacrifice their lives to catch these valuable survival moments

However, observational documentary aimed for immediacy, intimacy, and revelation of individual human character in ordinary life situations. Every historical record should be honoured to certify its originality.

Making an observational documentary brings a lot of benefits. It allows filmmaker to record unobtrusively what happens when not explicitly addressing the camera. Although it stresses the non-intervention of filmmaker, this mode raises the ability of filmmaker to include representative and revealing moments. Filmmaker cedes control of events more than any other mode, it helps with building patience and filmmaking skills development while they have to properly record sound and images.

 

Reference:

Nichols, Bill, 2010. Introduction to Documentary . 2nd ed. America: Indiana University Press.

 

Peer Feedbacks

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“Who is Annie?” is a short Docu-drama video made by Priyankar Ray, Annette Omondi and Nick Chan.

The story raises a really common problem that needs to be solved thoroughly. Domestic violence, which is also known as intimate partner violence, is a form of violence that can occur within any relationship. Their video particularly focuses on a couple. The image of an abusive husband is pretty ordinary in not only a particular country but also every where in this world.

The idea of the character “Annie” is really engaging, especially when they mentioned Annie could be your friend, your mother, sister or your neighbour. Annette plays as Annie, who suffers those painful slaps from his husband, David (played by Nick).

One moment you find yourself the happiest person coming home and enjoying a glass of wine with your husband. Nothing could be more touched when he brings you breakfast. But I guess nothing can last forever. It changes too fast that you have not realised whether what is real. Starting with arguments, then followed by domestic violence.

A one minute feature-length is perfect for a short docu-drama video, especially when they intended to promote “Who is Annie?” on social network sites. Nowadays, plenty of videos can be found on internet and the audience may “jump” into another one if the duration is not short enough.

The acting of Annette and Nick were naturally and convincing. But somehow it remains a little bit of awkward feelings. They perhaps did it intentionally. I find it interesting and less intense when tracking a really serious problem. However, if they could follow one specific style, by style I mean a profound concept or to make it a real “parody”, then the video would engage audience exactly the way they wanted.

The post production was designed to match their purpose. The beginning is edited with bright colours then switches to fade tone when they gradually reduced its saturation until it is black & white. This intention which is attached with background music emphasises the moment when the domestic violence starts.

In conclusion, their video is well organised and definitely will engage target audience. I would love to follow their products if they come up with more series of “Who is Annie?”.


 

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“Along came Pokemon Go” is produced by Truc Lam, Ming Yang and Xiao Tao Bian. This trendy video will make you laugh at first second when focusing on what troubles this “taking-over-the-world” game can cause you.

For those who are addicted to Pokemon Go, you will find the video content really familiar. They generated the story with a young couple. Bruce, an ideal boy to love, has ruined his relationship by spending too much time playing game and totally ignored his girlfriend. I guess “karma” is always right, what goes around, comes around. By the end, she got into Pokemon Go and paid no attention to him no matter how hard he tried to get her back.

The storyline is easy to follow. The speed of the video was increased to create a fast-forward effect. This technique definitely brings humours to the audience. The one minute and a half video has no specific dialogue accept for some sound effects and funny background music. It reminds me of successful silent movies with subtile by Charlie Chaplin.

The aim of this video is to raise awareness among young game players about its addiction negative effects and and why they should keep a balance between gaming and their real life. “Along came Pokemon Go” will ensure to interest young people and adults as well. However, this kind of trendy issued product should be launched at the right time to avoid “out of dated” matter due to its temporary tendency.