Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Modes of the Documentary

Modes of the Documentary
By Mark Davenport

As time grew on and the documentary evolved out of its original rigid definition of an ‘unedited’ stream of footage (thanks to Nanook of the North), different styles of the art-form have taken flight over time.
Bill Nichols has theories five major modes of documentary, of which are still today in creating categories and sub-genres for works.

Poetic


The poetic mode of documentary is the most abstract in many senses, often coming dangerously close to becoming experimental films and often incredibly avant-garde. Typically these films are without narration or an overall narrative, often desiring the audience member to take it upon themselves to create their own narrative or meaning from the piece (as is human nature).
Baraka is classic example of a masterpiece of a poetic film, with breathtaking visuals (the first film to ever receive an 8K scan, once described as the best looking DVD ever printed by Roger Ebert) and a spine-tingling soundtrack to boot.
However I would be hard pressed to tell you what actually is the story or point of the film, I can tell you things I saw, but how they’re meant to link together (if at all they’re meant to link together) is very much up to the digression of the viewer.
A less flashy, but no less notable example of a poetic film can be found in Junktopia, a film which shows art being made out of ‘junk’, however with the way it’s filmed and the musical choices give it a post-apocalyptic (dare I say WaterWorld?) world, lacking any humans but showing our material impact upon the Earth. While many dislike this film, I was quite taken with it.


Expository

Perhaps the most classically thought of mode of documentary, Expository documentaries revolve around the idea of telling the story of an event, person or fact-seeking. Such as the type of documentaries you’d find on the History Channel about the Second World War. They often have a presenter of some sort, although this presenter isn’t necessarily involved in the story itself, more as an avenue to get across information. They focus more on the actuality of the events, however the means of which they present this information isn’t just restricted to interviews or archival (although they do use these), they also can use recreations. These recreations can be as simple as an actor playing a general pointing at a map with a stick or one person walking down the street passing a secret document to another. However the entire film could be made up of recreations as well, however these recreations aren’t one continuous thing for the film (otherwise it would end up more in the realm of biopic), instead they can be interlaced with interviews from the people who were there or experts of the event.

Observational

Observational documentaries can sometimes be hard to define, elements of it can be found in both Expository and Participatory modes, the general idea however is that the documentary ‘observes’ the event without getting directly involved in it.
For example in a Participatory documentary about a racist man going to a rally, the presenter would be walking alongside the subject, talking with them constantly and would be filmed themselves standing alongside in the rally with them (such as what Reggie Yates did when he joined the race rallies in Russia). However, in Observational the presenter isn’t generally seen or heard, in this sense the camera acts as a first person perspective for the audience, so in an abstract sense they can feel like as if they’re standing in the race rally themselves, looking at the subject in question.
The only time you’d hear the presenter was if it was vital for the question to be heard or seen if say the police came and the fourth wall would be broken. In this way Observational, while highly edited can have a more ‘fast and loose’ vibe to it.

Participatory

The Participatory documentary has become one of the most popular forms of documentary of recent times, in some cases the audience is more interested in watching because of the presenter than the actual interest in the subject itself, this very much lines up with the way a lot of internet content on YouTube works these days, they’re personality driven, instead of pure content.
The classic examples can be found in the ever delightful Louis Theroux, where the man finds himself among Neo-Nazis, Sex Offenders, Dangerous Animal Owners, Porn Stars, Gambling Addicts and almost anything else you could possibly think of.
Louis Theroux is of course not alone, other examples can be found in Ross Kemp and Reggie Yates. Part of the appeal is not just the core personalities, but the idea of ‘privileged access’ or the pure audacity of the presenter. These presenters find themselves in the company of people the audience are deeply interested in, but wouldn’t ever dream of meeting. They can often get invited into places out of bounds, in a sense they’re thrill seekers of an intellectual kind. This can extend to programs like River Monsters, the most popular show on as Planet. Those who might not normally care about fishing (like myself), are deeply invested in the program.

Self-Reflexive

The Self-Reflexive form of documentary is one which can have the most twists and turns, in this the documentary is typically about the filmmaker themselves. In the purest sense, they would film and edit the work themselves. A somewhat crude, disturbing, yet intriguing example is Tarnation. A young boy of 12 starts to film his life and amazingly still kept filming his life for years and has the footage years later. Of course in his case, it helps that his story is one full of despair and tragedy. Abused childhood, raised by kooky grandparents, a broken mother, a disappeared father, being gay at a time when it wasn’t as easy and experimenting with his own sexuality at a very young age. Having such a unique story to tell allows the film to be a standalone piece, despite being up of random footage with text on the screen to tell the story.



The documentary is an interesting form of filmmaking, it unfairly gets a bad rap often as being boring and lame, something shown on terrible VHS tapes at school, however just a slight bit of care and digging will grand the audience an insight they might have never had before. Documentaries are not only entertaining, but can be very informative.
I have often said I have learnt more from the internet than I did at school and that also rings true for the documentary.
While not a documentary really, on QI last night I learnt that Killer Whales are in fact Dolphins with the name misquoted from Killer of Whales. I didn’t know that, now I do. That is Quite Interesting.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Blog #13 - Until next time

The final blog.

I am not sure if the future units require blogs or not, going into documentary next trimester, does that have a blog? I am not sure to be honest.

Time to reflect!

I think overall we did a decent enough job although the final product is yet to be final.
We showed off the film in front of a bunch of people at uni and the result wasn't... well, what we had hoped for.

There were audio problems and visual problems, simply put there was not enough time in post-production. Originally we were meant to have three weeks, but we ended up having two. Because of this, we got picture lock done on the night before, which didn't leave enough time for audio to finish or the colour grade to be done.

However it's not over. The group has decided to push on. The two audio have decided to finish which is fantastic, they're under no obligation to do it, so it says a world about them that they will. So the score will also be done.

The colour grading will also be re-done and the credits will be rejigged (many problems, such as not showing up right away, long gap after and our 2nd A.Cs name not showing up).

But I think as a group we have learnt a lot, I sure know I have learnt a lot.


As for next trimester, the future!
I am not sure what I will be doing a doco on yet, haven't seen the brief. Although I am thinking something about lifeguards or surf lifesavers could be interesting.
Cannot wait!

- Mark

Blog #12 - The perfect coffee

The Director of Photography requested that I make him a coffee as he nominated to stay behind and watch the equipment as it was separate to our base.
His perfect coffee was three chunks of instant, two sugar cubes, a lot of hot water and only a dash of milk.
I thought he was mad, but I took it to him and in his words "perfect".

Having a setup for food and drink is something we can improve on in the future. As it stands we had a giant kettle thing which provided the hot water and a bunch of loose tea-bags and coffee. Which changed from day to day.
In future we need to be more specific about what we need, how many cups we need and have more to eat than biscuits.

Thankfully one of the actors mothers brought alone sandwiches, so that was great. There were also heat up food which was good too, but sparse.

There is a lot of people to feed when you start to think about it, our core group, audio, extra helpers, actors, actors parents, ect. I think we need to overestimate the amount of people on set in the future.

Let's not forget that it was an issue of hot food which caused the entire Top Gear scenario.

Blog #11 - Lens

Constantly lens were used throughout production, in the pre-production stage the selection of lens was chosen as well to be put on the running list for the day.

There is a whole box full of different ones, although we used primarily the 14inch, 24inch and 50inch. The bigger the number, the further the view you get. The smaller the number, the more tight and closed in.

The thing about these lens is, they don't offer zoom of any kind, so unless you want to be playing around with digital zoom later (which can reduce the visual quality), it's vital to get the shot you want right away.

A good thing about lacking zoom on the lens however is that you won't accidentally zoom in while trying to change the focus. Focus pulling was something we really didn't do while filming and maybe was something we should have invested more in. A couple of our shots were in fact out of focus.

Steadicam (yes it is spelt that way) by its nature had focus problems, although we had more problems with keeping the Steadicam steady than anything else. It took a while to set up, having to balance it all, the problem was, the final shots with them tended to be on the Micheal Bay end of the spectrum which was a bit of chaos in the editing as a lot of it (even with the aid of software) was unable.

Battery's being on charge is always fun, charge stations are pretty much the first thing set-up.
PRO TIP!: Don't try to charge a Steadicam battery and a normal set of battery's off the same plug, it will blow the fuse.
Yay.


The whole thing was shot in something called SLOG2, which from what I gather is a filter to make it seem more "cinematic".

Blog #10 - Setting off fire-alarms is what we do best

When we filmed on location inside, lighting was needed constantly.

Lighting meant power cables, plugs, those orange boxes (RCD's I think) and of course the lights.
For reasons I cannot explain, they're named after hair-colours. "Redheads", "Blondies" and "Dedos", okay maybe Dedo isn't a hair colour, but the others are!

Blondies or aka the big ones are very big and very hot. At one point we're trying to set up this silhouette in a doorway shot, so to get sharp edges around the actor we need an awful amount of light behind him. As I was helping set it up, I was put in for a dummie to see how the shadows looked, I got to feel first hand how hot it got, very hot.

Lights are hot, it burns the plastic gels, it makes it hurt if you touch the metal and it sets off fire alarms as we learnt. The 2nd A.C. commented "oh I thought it would give us trouble" when he saw the fire alarm, the heat triggered it.
So the owners of the property can be assured that their fire alarm worked just fine.

Lights also have a habit of getting in frame, something I found out again later when I was editing the film.

Blog #9 - Being upstaged by a seven year old

The audition process took us quite a while, we had about 20-25 girls come in to audition for the roles of Megan and Jessica.

And a few men come in for the role of Charles.


Originally I wasn't meant to have any part in it. Why would I? In the words of our producer "no need to have lots of people there gawking at them", so as for some reason on the project I became the "printer guy", I came in early to print off the posters and place them up though the uni pointing the actors to where they were meant to go (which thankfully worked).
I was ready to go home when I asked to stay to be the line-reader opposite them... for the entire day.

So here I am, no acting experience, not prepared and tired. But I did as I was asked and tried my best. Tried being the best word, how actors are able to remember their lines is beyond me, still after three days I couldn't remember the scene.

I felt pretty bad about it, I was the impression the actors were getting of our group, as I looked down nervously on the paper accidentally reading their lines.
Of course I was able to see actors first-hand doing their thing.
One tried to hug me, of which I got confused and another started crying. Of course she wasn't actually crying, she was just acting in the scene. But I got scared real fast as I thought I did something wrong and caused it. It would be a typical me thing to do.

Most the actors were between 12 and 16, although one walked in and was tiny, as in smaller than my waist line, she was seven years old. She was able to remember her lines.

Blog #8 - No wonder films are expense

I am a new(ish) driver.

Being told I had to drive hours wasn't great for me, not at all. Driving into Melbourne was chaos, finding a park in Melbourne was chaos and driving through Melbourne was chaos (although I did find a whole new appreciation for good radio).
But put aside the torturing uncomfortable nature that I had to be the one with the SUV and couldn't go home as I couldn't drive it in a night, the cost was something all new as well.

Petrol, that one night in a motel, Food on the way. Normally my costs are the Myki card and the $3 coffee's at 7/11.

But now I had to pay for petrol, parking spots, a lot more food, accommodation and all of this isn't including the $150 something I must of overall put into the project in either direct or buying props.

Of course ours was the cheapest possible film we could do, no wonder that big films cost stupid amounts of money.