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Medium

I am making a documentary. A documentary is a non-fictional production which aims to educate


people or bring awareness to a subject. There are many kinds of documentaries, for example
pseudo-documentary, mockumentary, docufiction, observational, etc.

Documentaries1 were originally called “Actuality films” and were around one minute in duration.
However, they developed and progressively got more complex and in depth. This is where the types
of documentaries such as educational and observational came about. Actuality films were made pre-
1900s, they would be single shot moments such as a train entering a station, usually not much
happens in these pieces and they just present everyday things. The Lumiére Brothers2 were two of
the main first film makers and they were advocates for the genre. I came across their work by
looking up Actualities and trying to find examples to analyse.

The first documentary ever made was ‘Walking Troubles of Organic Hemiplegy’ 3 (1898). This was a 2-
minute-long documentary from Romania by Gheorge Marinescu which demonstrated different
people walking. It included clips of what I assume to be doctors, patients and then drawings of how
these people walked. There is no sound within this piece. In 1935, Leni Riefenstahl made Triumph of
the Will, this is a documentary for propaganda after the war to display that Germany’s greatness
without showing vulnerability or weakness. Propaganda like these would be shown in cinemas
before movies during the Nazi uprising, to demonstrate the greatness of the Nazi reign to the public.

Some of the most loved modern documentaries are documentaries made by Louis Theroux. His
documentaries are enjoyable to everyone, he can talk about a wide range of topics and he tries to
keep an open mind when interviewing someone. People like Louis Theroux because he’s a funny and
awkward character, but he is a master in the genre and because he knows what he is doing, the
pieces he makes are good quality, so they’re enjoyable to watch and interesting. I think people also
like Theroux is because he sometimes partakes in these things he is investigating. For example, in
2007, when Theroux interviewed people who had plastic surgery in his documentary “Under The
Knife”, he also got a form of surgery, which removed the fat of his stomach and then he reviewed
the experience and explained his thoughts.

For documentaries there are many awards. For example, The Academy Awards (The Oscars) have
two awards for documentaries “Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature” and “Academy
Award for Best Documentary Short Subject”. In the British Academy Film Awards there is one single
award for documentaries- “BAFTA Award for Best Documentary”. In both award ceremonies, ‘Amy’
(2015) won, this is a documentary about the life and death of Amy Winehouse, it was directed by
Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees. I think ‘Amy’ won, due to everybody knowing but also having a
strong curiosity into Amy Winehouse and her spiralling downfall due to drugs and alcoholism. But I
think it won also due to the pure truth and reality of the piece.

In 2018, ‘Free Solo’ won for both awards. This was directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy
Chin that shows the rock climber, Alex Honnold, on his quest to perform a free solo climb of El
Capitan in June 2017. I think this documentary was so successful due to the pure bewilderment and
journey that it gives to the audience. We watch this journey of Honnold before, during and after of
climbing El Capitan. We see the struggles he’s going through, and the audience are filled with
tension to see whether he falls or not, even though we know we know the outcome due to him still

1
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Documentary_film
2
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LA6P_ge4Hk –a link to a collection of the Lumiére Brothers’ work
3
https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5nzx1 - Walking Troubles of Organic Hemiplegy
being alive when the documentary was released.

Researching into documentaries has allowed me to think more deeply about my piece and what I
want it to be. For example, I am going to watch some award-winning documentaries and see what I
can replicate so then my piece can be as good as possible. I have also thought about how I want to
expand my piece and if I want to have a host which speaks to the audience directly or if I just want a
voice-over and text on screen, and I want to see which ones will be more beneficial to my piece and
see if either of these choices will help change the mood of my piece and what I want the mood to
be. For example, if I have a host, will this distract the viewers from indulging in the piece, which
could ruin the mood and potentially allow it not to be moving.

My idea is to make a documentary about women’s role in film and how it has developed. For
example, I will include clips of roles of women in past and in current films and I will also interview an
expert to understand why women were (and still sometimes are) given weaker roles and I will also
interview other people for their opinions. Since researching the medium, I aim to make my piece
more light-hearted/easy to watch so then my piece won’t be restricted, and everyone can watch my
piece. If a group of people aren’t able to watch my documentary, that means my target audience will
be decreased and the amount of awareness that I want to bring to the topic of women in film will be
reduced. Researching other documentaries and why they won awards have helped me to
understand how to make my piece the best that it can be, for example, I need to have a good
structure, enjoyable/interesting topic points and a good presenter/host. If I don’t have these things,
this means I could loose out on watchers due to the monotony of my production.
Genre (use one book & 1 focus group)

The main convention for modern day documentary is narration. This occurs in most documentaries
due to the easiness for a viewer to understand what is going on. Narration can give the backstory to
an interviewee and why the presenter is interviewing them.

Usually the presenter narrates the documentary, however in the documentary ‘Abused by My
Girlfriend’4 the man, who was abused, Alex Skeel, narrates the documentary and tells his story.
Despite the narration sounding slightly still, it gives the piece more of a direct emotive hit to the
audience because we are essentially hearing the story from the man who was abused. It is like we
are getting to know him, and this makes the piece more emotive and it allows the audience to form
a connection to Skeel, this meaning, the feeling that we’re a stranger to Skeel breaks, and it is like
we know him, this making it even more emotive.

Stacey Dooley also uses narration in her pieces. It is not as much as Theroux’s, this is because he
likes to show more of the people he’s interviewing and the time that he spends with the people, and
then talk about a topic/segue into the next topic/person. Whereas Dooley talks to the audience
directly with information about where she’s going and what she is doing. An example of this is in her
documentary about domestic abuse, at the beginning she talks to the audience whilst walking about
her whereabouts and why she’s there 5.

Another convention of a documentary is where the presenter reviews a conversation/inserts their


opinion on a topic. Theroux does this through his voice overs during the end of a documentary. He
does not entirely spread his opinion; however, he comments on a situation and how he sees it.
During this short clip from his documentary about drug use, he explains that he finds it hard to think
that Katillia will be able to get out of the relationship with drugs easily. 6

Reggie Yates does this often. He reviews conversations that he has had with a certain person and
then reflects and inserts his views in a manner which isn’t disrespectful. During a documentary
where Yates goes to Russia to understand the lives of young people in Russia 7 he reviews a
conversation that he has had Vitaly Milonov, a Russian politician, who talks about hie views on gay
people and how they and the things they do are “disgusting”.

Other conventions of documentaries are interviews with experts, relatives and people on the streets
(VOX Pops), usually 40-60 minutes in duration, if it is a documentary about the past, if possible,
there will be archived/old footage, there will be multiple cameras and sometimes
background/ambient music.
Richard Gent. (2018). Documentary Conventions. Available:
https://film.edusites.co.uk/article/documentary-codes-conventions. Last accessed 24th March
2020.

4
https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p0700912/abused-by-my-girlfriend ‘Abused by My Girlfriend’
documentary
5
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2XzvBXoNF4 – Domestic abuse documentary by Stacey Dooley
6
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCClVhtJY5w – 4.07 (time code)
7
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0r70uc9vcJk – 1.35 (time code)
Visual Production

Camera Angles

The first documentary I chose was ‘Gay, Trans and Illegal’ 8 a documentary by Ben Zand is an Iranian-
British journalist and filmmaker, I found him through his Extinction Rebellion documentary in July
2019.

The camera angels mostly include close ups and mid shots, with the occasional long/establishing
shot. Close ups demonstrate a sense of intimacy and which allows the audience to figuratively be
close to the person speaking, this then making the piece more real. These are mostly used in
interviews where people are recounting events which occurred in the past which might include
emotive moments or a poignant topic. In the documentary ‘Gay, Trans and Illegal’ there are frequent
interviews meaning there is a huge number of close ups. This helps to upkeep the feeling of the
piece.

Mid shots are usually used when the presenter and the interviewee are talking to each other in a
normal conversation in between the serious interviews, these moments tend to be less serious. Mid
shots tend to not give off any kind of emotive feelings. There are a few of these in the documentary,
for example when there are interviews being done, the camera angels will sometimes switch
between close ups and mid shots. There are also scenes of this when Ben is in the car, and he talks
to the camera, these scenes are mid shots due to the car being too small for a long shot.

Long/establishing shots are used when the presenter changes location and the shot demonstrate
this as well as the narrator introducing the new location. Scenes like this will be of the scenery and
surrounding location and there will usually be shots from inside a car showing the outside world.
Sometimes this will mean that it is too dangerous to go outside the car, however, if the car is
moving, it is to show that the location is changing, and the topic may also be slightly changing.

Lighting

The lighting in documentaries are usually reliant on natural lighting, this helps to keep the reality and
truth to the piece. The main purpose of most documentaries is to show the truth and spread
awareness of a topic, and if the lighting was mainly manufactured with studio lights or immense
colour grading in editing, then the piece would feel fake and dishonest. The only times where the
lighting is changed is when it’s night-time due to an audience needing to see what’s going on and
also sometimes in interviews when the identity of an interviewee wants to be hidden, they will
sometimes be in a dark room with only one bright light. ‘Gay, Trans and Illegal’ depends mostly on
natural lighting.

Mise-en-scene

In this documentary the mise-en-scene is the possessions of the people if the interviews are in their
home or their location. Usually the mise en scene is not planned, this is because to the concept of
reality of documentaries. If the mise en scene was changed dramatically or planned, this would take
away the main conventions of a documentary. When Ben Zand in the documentary is talking to Larry
in his home, there are normal, everyday possessions, these help to show that the person that is
being interviewed are a genuine person and possessions can tells you a lot about a person, for
example Larry owns a bed, a mirror and clothes.

Narrative
8
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6y-hgqD7vvs – Gay, Trans and Illegal by Ben Zand
In Gay, Trans and Illegal, the structure is mostly:

- Intro to the documentary/intro to a new topic


- Travelling
- Interview
- Travelling

This would then repeat with the occasional other scenes such as b-roll with a voice over and casual
chats with different people.

The documentary starts with b-roll Beirut to introduce to the audience where the documentary is
taking place, it shows parts of the culture and the people, this gives an indication to the audience of
what the feeling of the city is. The documentary ends with slow motion scenes of some of the people
interviewed and the people who the documentary was based on. During the credits, there are
scenes of different people being interviewed for a few seconds about being gay in Lebanon. This
helps to give more information to the viewer, but it is also not immensely important information
that it didn’t need to be included in the main section of the documentary.

The structure does seem quite basic, however, it is very easy to follow and the scenes in between
the interviews allow the piece to not be overwhelming with information and people’s experiences
and it gives people to digest the information they have been given.

Life in North Korea


The next piece I will be analysing is Life in North Korea by P ierre-Olivier François and Patrick Maurus.
This documentary popped up on my recommended feed on YouTube, due to my fascination with
North Korea and how North Koreans live their lives.

Camera angles

This piece has a variety of camera angles, however due to there being an insufficient amount of
footage from inside North Korea, not many people knows what it looks like, meaning, in this
documentary there is an abundance of establishing shots and long shots. Most of the documentary,
when voiceover is taking place, there are usually scenes of the locations and people.

When talking to some of the locals in the area when filming, the camera angles change to close ups,
however, not extreme close ups, this is because the piece is not meant to be perceived as a emotive
piece and also this would most likely make North Koreans very uncomfortable, due to the journalists
being foreign.

Lighting

The documentary is shot, for most of the piece, in daytime, this means that the production is reliant
on the natural day light, there is no need for source lighting. Most of the interviews and shots taken
were probably taken in the daytime also because this was the only time that the reporters could film
due to the strict filming rules that North Korea have for foreign journalists. However, if scenes were
to be taken at night, this would be extremely hard due to North Korea having no ability to fund
having lighting during the night, due to the lack of money that the country has a whole, and they
cannot afford to illuminate the country for 24 hours.

Narrative
This is more b-roll driven.

The piece starts with a scene of the view from a plane whilst flying, this indicating that we are being
taken to a foreign location. It is then followed with b-roll and a voice over of misconception about
the country and it then states some facts about the leaders and country, in a light-hearted way. It
then introduces the way in which the piece came about, for example it states how long it took for
the filming to take place and it tells you about the main people involved, this allows the audience to
understand and get to know the filmmakers. There are very few interviews taken place within the
piece, and when there are interviews, they are of the public for a few short minutes. This would
have been done because it mainly focuses on North Korea and the life of living there, and long
interviews from people higher up in North Korea would not give a realistic view, due to their need to
romanticise and make North Korea seem like the best country. The piece ends on the hopes of what
North Korea might and could change to in the future due to its slow but constant development as a
country.

Mise-en-scene

In ‘Life in North Korea’ the mise-en-scene, is not changed at all. The most common possession that
all buildings have is portraits of Kim Il Sung (김일성) and Kim Jong Il (김정일), the first and second
leaders of North Korea, this is out of respect for those who made North Korea what it is, but also
because a North Korean would be sent to jail. In January of 2020, a case was revealed that a North
Korean mother was sent to jail because she rescued her children from a fire instead of the portraits
of the Great Leaders. The location of most places is clean and tidy. Pyongyang, where the
documentary is mostly held, and places where journalists can see, are usually immaculate, this is
because North Korea want to portray itself as a kept together country with no flaws.
Which one would yours fit?

into - research it and explain why yours would suit this form.

Bill Nichols, an American film critic, came up with the concept of the six modes of documentaries. These including

- Poetic- these kinds of documentaries are biased and have “subjective interpretation of the subject”
- Expository- where the documenter/narrator talks directly to the audience through the means of a voice-over.
The primary aims of these kinds of documentaries are to educate. An example of this is any documentary
narrated by David Attenborough
- Reflexive- where a documentary is made a specific way to ensure the audience have made the same decisions
of their opinions, thus making them all think the same thing.
- Observational- as explained in the name, it is where we just observe things. This means the audience must ask
questions to themselves about the piece. This means that footage you witness is natural and isn’t staged,
however, sometimes there is controversy whether to a piece is truthful. For example, Blue Planet II has been
criticised
When I comefortofaking
makesome scenes, andI will
my production, BluetryPlanet is a documentary
to incorporate some ofbased
theseon showing
things in mythe truthI will
piece, and natural
spaces/lives of animals.
ensure that my camera angles display what I want to be portrayed and the emotion I want to be
- Participatory-
portrayed. when the
For example, if filmmaker/host
I know an interview interacts
that Iwith the subject
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be documentary. Louis
emotional, I will Theroux is most
ensure
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well known for this, he interacts with his interviewees, goes around with them on their daily activities
what
with thethey get up to In
interviewee. and
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good lighting relating to everything
and no scenes are toothat they talk
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is too dark,back.
it could put off viewers and ruin the quality of my piece.
- Performative- it emphasises the filmmaker’s own involvement with the subject.
Again, write up your idea with your developments highlighted in a different colour. Showing a link
between your research and your product is vital.
I think my documentary would fit well into the expository mode because in my piece I want to have no host but a
strong focus on the “Voice of God” narration technique, I find these kinds of documentaries to be mainly serious, they
can immerse the audience into the piece without allowing them to become distracted from the topic. I also want my
piece to be understood as a serious piece due to the severity and urgency that my topic needs to be talked about.
Also, because I am mainly focusing on a topic/subject and not a person, it would be easier to do expository because I
am including interviews.

https://liftoff.network/bill-nichols-6-modes-documentary/

https://www.slideshare.net/callumjg/6-modes-of-documentaries
Contents
A potential interviewee is someone from WFTV (Women in Film and Television). They’re an
organisation for women working in media in the UK. Internationally, the organisation has 13,000
members. The organisation started in 1989 and they held their first award ceremony in 1990.
According to their website, the organisation is “the largest annual celebration of women working in
film, TV and digital media in the UK”.
Unknown author. (2020) Available: https://wftv.org.uk/about/. Last accessed 26th March 2020.

There are also many female led production companies in the UK, for example Fable Pictures, Sister
Productions, Wildgaze, and many more.
Unknown Author. (2019). 10 female-led UK production companies to watch. Available: https://www.screendaily.com/uk-in-focus/10-
female-led-uk-production-companies-to-watch/5142633.article. Last accessed 26th March 2020.

Researching into different organisations and the opportunities to interview more people has allowed
my piece to grow and include more opinions from a wide range of people. This growth means that
my piece has developed and has greater potential to be better. I think my piece will look more
professional if I include interviews with experts in the area. This means I should try the best I can to
interview people from the organisations I mentioned above.

Practical tasks – 
how will you shoot the production? Upload new skills you will learn. This can be in the form of
YouTube how to guides on how to create an effect, colour correct, create a horror mise-en-scene,
make up for a certain genre, sound / music for a certain genre.
This is where you can create your own research - you can film your self-carrying out the above
skills.
For example test shoot the lighting for your horror, create different sounds for your production, test
camera set up for interviews, check your camera settings to suit your production etc.

This is where you will lift your grade - undertaking your own research shows initiative and
creativity.
Professionals
BEN ZAND

As I mentioned before, I found Ben Zand through his documentary about Extinction Rebellion back in
July 2019. I found his documentary extremely interesting because he was mostly unbiased, and he
was interest and open-mindedness to the topic and how he was not patronising or rude to those who
were dedicated to the movement. He showed different people in the process and he was not lazy
about the production, you could see the effort he put in, for example he interviewed people from
Extinction Rebellion, people who were protesting and he also went to many of the protests and talked
to the people protesting. He found Sam Knights, who was part of the movement and he talked to him
and followed him through his journey of trying to help the movement.

In the documentary, Zand interviews different people and follows the movement throughout a long
period of time. He follows the movement from when they start to plan protests and then he goes to the
protests and discuss the outcome with the Extinction Rebellion members. He also interviews people
who are against/aren’t in the movement and hears their opinions.

Zand has made documentaries such as Extinction Rebellion, Searching for…Kanye, The Most
Dangerous Cities with Ben Zand, Ben Zand: Cults, Gangs and God and many others.

Zand is known for being very open-minded and being relaxed in his documentaries. He does not do
many sit-down proper interviews and he is willing to have a laugh with the people he is interviewing if
they are the right kind of person to do so. For example, in his ‘Gay, Trans and Illegal’ documentary, he
joked around with Larry, but when he was talking to a lawyer and a spokesperson from the Catholic
Church

LOUIS THEROUX

Louis Theroux is one of the most well-known documentary makers. He has been working on
documentaries since 1998 with ‘Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends’ with his most decent
documentary in January 2020. Theroux is most known for his documentary about Westboro Baptist
Church (The Most Hated Family in America) and his series ‘Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends’.

Theroux is known for his relaxed and how he is not intimidating, and he does not hold back in
situations. He often talks about topics that we don’t hear about and he makes them easy to
understand. He is also very open-minded, and he never lashes out at people and their views,
however he does question their stances on topics that he doesn’t agree with.

In his documentaries, he usually has interviews, which are not too serious, where there is a proper
background with professional lights, he usually travels to peoples’ homes and talks to them whilst
they are cooking, or on their sofa. In his documentary about polyamory, he talks to a lot of the
people whilst they’re cooking to allow them to go about their day, and then he talks to some
individually outside or in a different room.

I appreciate their work because they are both very open-minded and they are not biased, and they
do not immensely push their negative views in their pieces. I also appreciate the amount of effort
both filmmakers put into their work. Theroux moved out to LA with his family whilst shooting his
series LA Stories and he also travels to the homes of the people he is interviewing, so then he can
have the best documentary possible. He also puts himself in exposed positions and he submerges
himself into the experiences of others, for example he has participated in activities during some of
his productions, such as polyamory, wrestling, and plastic surgery. In Ben Zand’s work he also puts a
huge effort into his work, for example, in his documentary “Searching for… Kanye” even though he
knew there was going to be a slim chance that he was going to talk to Kanye West, he still made the
documentary and talked to those around Kanye, such as one of his oldest friends. I admire this
because he still had the motivation to do something which is impossible and he used what he had,
and the documentary was still good.

I would like my piece to be as relaxed theirs because even though the topic that I am talking about
can be difficult, I would also like it to be an easy watch so people aren’t off put by the piece and they
don’t feel intimidated by the topic.
Target audience

I performed my research into my target audience on SurveyMonkey and on Instagram. I performed


my research on Instagram because I knew that I would be able to get reliable responses and
Instagram have good research purpose options, for example, polls, quizzes and questions. I also have
around 100-130 people who watch my IG Story. After 24 hours, the maximum time that people can
submit their responses, I got 33 responses when I asked about hobbies and spending habits and I got
54 responses to how often people watch documentaries.

The research that I conducted on SurveyMonkey was mostly qualitative data.

90% of the respondents were under 18 and 85% were female. 85% said they watched
documentaries usually or sometimes.

Most people said that the purpose of a documentary is to educate and inform people on a topic.
Many said it was to raise awareness to topics and some said that it was to talk about taboos that we
do not discuss often or topics that we don’t get taught in schools. Some also said that it was to show
the reality and truth to topics. I also asked what documentaries they deemed to be important, some
gave specific documentaries such as: Blue Planet, Planet Earth and McQueen. Whereas others
described what makes a documentary important-

- Historical documentaries which we should learn from, such as the Holocaust


- Unbiased ones
- Ones about society so people with different beliefs can learn about others’ cultures
- Ones to do with big issues which help to open your eyes and open your mind

I asked what documentary makers people knew and why they were successful. Most people said
Louis Theroux due to how he is usually unbiased, talks about interesting topics, open-minded, he
questions people on their beliefs, he’s not intimidating, and he doesn’t hold back in some situations.
Other documentary makers mentioned were Stacey Dooley, Reggie Yates, Simon Reeve and Matt
D’Avella. One person said that anyone can become famous if they present the right facts and they
can ensure that their audience understand the topic by the end of the documentary.

I also asked what the respondents thought the target audience would be, most people said women
who want to be inspired, women aged 14-28, film enthusiasts and everyone/anyone who can
understand the topic. I asked whether the respondents described themselves as being part of the
target audience, 80% said yes and 15% said maybe.

Finally, I asked where they watch documentaries and most of the responses said iPlayer and
YouTube.
Platforms
During the survey that I did where I tried to figure out my target audience, my final question was
where they watch documentaries mostly. In the survey, the majority said YouTube and iPlayer. And
others said that they watch on them on the TV and other.

Later, I then asked on my Instagram where people are most likely to watch documentaries and why.
Most people said YouTube due to it being the most convenient and the most accessible, and others
said because they use YouTube frequently, meaning it’s easier to find a documentary.

iPlayer has a wide range of documentaries by many people, and they are always to a high standard,
and with YouTube, because anyone can post on there, I feel like there is a possibility that the quality
of those on YouTube are not always as good. A downside to YouTube is that there are very few
documentaries by famous people in their full length. For example, due to, assumedly, copyright
issues, only snippets of Louis Theroux documentaries are on YouTube.

Most documentaries I have watched have been on iPlayer, if I intend to watch a documentary or a
show from a different country, I usually use YouTube, because YouTube is a platform for everybody
to use. For example, there is a Korean police show called In the Line of Fire (사선에서). I would be
unable to watch this anywhere else if it wasn’t on YouTube with English subtitles. However, there are
many interesting documentaries on iPlayer, and there is always something for everyone.

This means, for my piece to be watched by as many people as possible, I need to make my piece as
convenient and accessible to all. As much as I would like to produce my piece and then put it onto
Netflix or iPlayer, this will be very difficult, due to my lack of experience. This means, my most reliable
options would be YouTube, Vimeo and Instagram TV. I have seen very few on Instagram TV,
however, it is very convenient because you can just send a link and it will take you directly to the
video, however, the duration of the video has to be from 1 minute to 15 minutes. This could mean I
use this platform to upload a two-minute snippet or trailer for my production and send it around
Instagram.