The Doco

#1  Introduction to Documentary

There are several ways to make a documentary, depending on the topic one is covering. But, out of the different types of Documentaries, The Participatory Mode is what I would prefer doing the most.

One of the reasons for this is, it’s production is a lot more controlled. The filmmakers interact with their subjects. Questions take the form of interviews and conversation. As a result, it is more interactive. This doesn’t happen in the Observational Mode especially.

There is also the inclusion of shooting things the way you would do it for the Observational Mode and those footage can be used during editing to incorporate it with the interview. Use of Archived Footage can also be done here. In some cases, the filmmakers need to live, experience, understand and bond with the people they are shooting or interviewing. This is one of the things that would put me out of my comfort zone and help me grow and that is partly why I am drawn to this kind of documentaries.

In the reading provided to us, there are several examples of documentaries which follow the Participatory mode and there is a lot we can learn from them. Grizzly Man is a very good example of how a filmmaker has to go out of their comfort zone sometimes. To be away from civilisation, in the forest, amongst bears and other threats, to make a documentary is certainly not an easy task; But it definitely requires a lot of courage and skill.

Observatory Mode of documentary can be used to make several genres of documentaries. It has a wide scope and can be experimented with a lot. The advantage of having technology now which can help us with sound, lighting and video, makes the process a lot easier in today’s times.

#2  No Direction Home

An opening scene is important for any form of film. It sets the tone of the film and gives us an information about what’s to come and what we can expect.

The 2 mins clip of the Martin Scorsese’s documentary, No Direction Home gives us a peak at what the film will be about. The two minutes clip starts with a song sung by Bob Dylan while he performs on stage early in his life. It moves on to Archived footage and shots of his home town and old pictures from his childhood as Bob Dylan talks about his early life. There are also shots of him while he talks during the interview.

From this we can gather that the film is about the life of Bob Dylan and his journey as an artist. From the way he talks in the 2 minute clip, it’s clear he is talking about the time before he started his music career and where he came from. It’s edited really well as the voice over goes on in the background as they show archived footage and other various shots to make the documentary more engaging.

Even though I haven’t watched the documentary, I am sure it goes on to talk about Bob Dylan’s life, his career and the impact he had on the music industry. It’ll probably also talk about his fears, his failures, his goals and his achievements.

#3  Forbidden Lies

This clip from Forbidden Lies starts off with a short re-enactment from the book “Forbidden Love“. In this section, along with the music, the other sound effects were re-created in post. The sound of the car, the cloth being thrown and landing on the ground, birds chirping in the background, the wind, etc. are all added during editing. 

It quickly moves on to the actual agenda for the documentary, which is aimed at proving that the story written and the facts provided in the book are false. Rana Husseini is the one who is initially talking about it in the video. Her voice must have been recorded during the interview using a hidden collar mic (lapel mics) and an additional boom mic when required. The same goes for the other interviewees. In certain cases the sound of the surroundings are included at a lower decibel during the B-Roll footages (typing, background noises, people talking in the background, etc.) as the voice over continues. These could have been recorded either from the camera’s mic, through a boom mic or any other external device. There are some situations where the interview continues outside as well. Boom mics could have been used in these situations.

While editing, these audio files have been edited one over the other to coordinate with the video. The decibel of the audio from the video (B-Roll footage) was lowered so that the voice over could be heard properly. Fade outs and fade ins (along with cross fade outs and cross fade ins) have been used during scene changes and cuts when required to ensure easy transition of audio.

#4 Mini Documentary

Pre-Production and Production

In the final intensive lecture of our course, Sound and Image, we had to shoot a mini documentary. The theme was ‘Home’. My group and I decided to conduct the interviews in our class as the other groups went out. This turned out to have a huge advantage.

We didn’t have much time to work on pre production as such. So we decided each to take up one role (interviewer/director, interviewee, sound, lights, camera). We would then switch roles one by one, for each interview, so that everybody got a chance to try out each role. We decided on a set of questions (even though it varied from interviewer to interviewer) to ask the interviewees. Since we were indoors, we could make use of all the equipments to the fullest. Our professor, Jeremy, helped us out with the setting up the light. This was a huge bonus and I personally got to learn a lot about lighting as I asked several questions and clarified a lot of my doubts. Once all the set up was done, we proceeded to the next step.

A big advantage during the shoot was that we did not have any trouble with ambient noises, like the wind, people passing by and other distractions. The lighting was set up perfectly and we did not need to play around with it after setting it up. We took turns for each role, on by one, and went on with the shooting. One thing which was an issue (which I realised during editing) was that we did not decide on specific questions. Each person was asked different questions and that disrupted the flow during the editing. Even though most of the questions were based on ‘home’, once in a while it was difficult to form a narrative. If I got the chance to do it again, I would make sure the questions asked are similar even if the roles keep on switching. It’s also important to make the interviewee feel comfortable as we ease into the interview. That was something we could definitely work on.

We mixed up the framings and adjusted the focus and exposure accordingly with each interviewee so that we could experiment and find out how different things worked. We got to use the collar mics for the first time. They were extremely efficient. We realised that working with sound with a collar mic during an interview makes things a lot easier. It went pretty smoothly overall and we wrapped up in time.


For the edit, I got to work with a friend, Nick, on the project. We decided to keep it short and simple as the objective of the exercise was to figure out how to shoot and edit a simple mini documentary. We decided that we would work with three questions and form the documentary around that. Once we went through all the footage and decided on the questions, we separated the required parts from each interview and lined them up in a particular order. I rendered out the audio and gave the file to Nick as he worked on it. I started editing the chosen footage and worked on the titles with the typewriter effect. I used the Crop tool and keyframes to give the text the typewriter effect for each question. I also worked with the three way colour corrector to polish up the video to make it look more professional

We kept the tone of the documentary light and added bloopers in the end to add to the effect. We were allowed to use old footages as well (such as vox pops and B-Rolls) which we shot earlier. We decided not to use them for this documentary as it would disrupt it’s flow. Once the audio and the editing was done, we decided on the music and stitched it all up together. We edited the video files further to sync it with the music and then rendered the file.

#5  Colour Grade

For a very long time, I worked with the ‘RGB Curve’ while editing a video footage. While it has it’s perks, it doesn’t work well all the time. I got introduced to the Three-Way-Colour-Corrector while working on this project. This works a lot better and much more fascinating things can be done with the footage.

Even though I did not do it during this edit, the Lynda tutorial teaches us how to even change the colour of the eyes using the Three-Way-Colour-Corrector to give them a more piercing effect. This is something I would definitely implement in the future.

I did use this tool during the edit of the mini documentary in a simpler way, so that the footage looked more professional.

#6  Reflection on the course

Like I have said before, Sound and Image was one of the subjects I was really looking forward to for my course. It deals with cameras, editing and sound – all the things I love the most in the process of making a film.

This subject has helped me learn a lot of new things, polish up some of my old skills and also change a few of my other habits. I got to work on cameras which wasn’t a DSLR for a change. It an idea about how much more can actually be done with a camera. I got to edit on the latest iMacs which was an absolute delight. Learnt new tricks on the Premiere Pro which now results in a much more professional look.

One of the biggest lessons for me was how to work with light. It was something I was always unsure of and never felt confident about. Lighting makes a world of difference on how the final product looks. I also learnt a lot about the different types of microphones and how to work with them to get the best possible sound.

All in all, this subject was a huge learning curve for me and I definitely feel a lot more confident about my work.


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