The first minute

The first minute of your documentary is supposed to hook your audience in… especially for video documentaries, it is important to have some elements in the first minute. As discussed in class, the first minute should:

  • give a sense of what your documentary is about
  • introduce major characters or issues
  • be interesting, exciting
  • establish aesthetics that will be consistent throughout the documentary – i.e. style…music…sound effects…visuals…use of text
  • be well-paced i.e. not revealing too much info to keep it “mysterious”… and keep the audience wanting to know more

So, we reviewed the first minutes of three documentaries, and here are my thoughts on each of them:

1. The One Inch Punch

The documentary began with a short clip of Bruce Lee demonstrating his world-famous ‘One Inch Punch’. It was an archival film, and right after that, there’s a title stating “The One Inch Punch” at 0:22. This is good – it sets out the scene, we know what to expect of the rest of the documentary, and we know exactly what it is (from Bruce Lee’s demo) and what it’s called (The one inch punch). Then we have a Jeet Kune Do instructor explaining what the one inch punch is – “a method of Chinese Kung Fu of generating power”. And then a Wing Chun instructor lets us know that there are other styles of short power – palm strike, half inch punch, 3 inch punch. And then a Wing Chun practitioner explaining that the punch does its damage and that it’s really powerful…followed by a scene from the popular Kill Bill movie featuring Uma Thurman ‘practicing’ the one inch punch. Within the first minute, the viewer has been informed on what the one inch punch is, its damage, explanations from three different points of view, and shown us a demonstration on it. In my opinion it was concise, informative, and well organized. It definitely gave a sense of what the documentary was about, introduced the major character (Bruce Lee?) and the topic, it was interesting and exciting (I went on to watch the whole thing!), and the style of the text was consistent throughout. It was also well-paced, and kept it a bit mysterious, as I definitely wanted to know more about it (and went on to watch related videos too hehe.) This is definitely a good example to follow when I’m doing my own documentary…

2. The Death & Birth of News

The first minute was very hectic and I found it hard to follow…it started with a title “current_news current: the death and birth of news” and a woman saying “…there’re a lot of motivated individuals who want to see it work” and then straight to a guy, the producer of the current news team, introducing the issue of the local papers having a rough month, and newspapers around the country closing down or facing bankruptcy, due to the economy, Craigslist and falling print subscriptions. At the same time it’s showing quick-moving images of newspaper front pages and some shaky video shots of newspaper-related stuff (San Fransisco office, newspaper stands…) and then he goes on to explain the issues he’s interested in looking at – the San Fransisco Chronicles’ possible shut down and how it will affect local journalism, its consequences, etc. etc. It was hard to follow because the images and videos were shown with a sense of urgency, to the extent that it felt hard to keep up with what was really going on. But on hindsight, it could be seen as the producer putting it that way to make it seem like a rushed and important issue to cover, as if there is no time to properly edit things to make them into a kind of more ‘formal’ presentation. I got a sense of being like an “insider” especially from the way he had positioned his camera so that it was looking upwards at him, and he was looking downwards at it, as if it was a bit secretive. So in a way, it felt like he was giving me all this important info, and I am an insider, and everything is rushed and urgent. Hence, it was okay that the pictures and videos were moving fast and unstable, and it was a bit hard to follow, because I assumed everything would fall into place later on. It was interesting, exciting, and gave a sense of what the documentary would be about. I still didn’t like the beginning, though, where the woman says “there’re a lot of motivated individuals who want to see it work” because it just feels a bit out of place :\

3. An Honest Living

The documentary fades from black to a video of what looks like a broken statue being pushed in a red trolley, with another trolley behind it, and some indiscernible shouting in the noisy background. It moves to a clip of someone’s sneakers as he walks beside the trolley, and to the introduction of “William”, who wears a hat and has his back against the sun so that the shadow from his cap falls onto his face – and we can’t see his features. He starts talking about how his started doing this – collecting scrap – and then him shoving, trying to fit more scrap materials into his already full trolley. It definitely gave a sense of what the documentary was about – I figured it would be about the life of a scrap metal collector who lives an honest living, and the major character was introduced within the first minute. I’m assuming the way William’s face was shot – his face covered and unrecognizable because of the shadow – was representative of how any other person would view someone in his position – we wouldn’t notice him if we walked by him, so why bother showing his face clearly? The way the documentary started gave the story some context and some reality to his life, in a way – we see his shoes, his buggy, where he ‘works’ (the outdoors), the noise (of cars, traffic, his buggy wheels rolling on the tar road). It was interesting, though not exciting, and didn’t reveal too much so that the audience would want to know more. I think this would be a good way to start a documentary if it was about the someone’s life – the context it gives by filming and interviewing someone in the style of someone’s normal, typical day is effective.

I noticed in the first and third documentaries that they started with a black screen before fading out and into the actual beginning of the documentary. I guess this would be a good way to start my documentary as well? Instead of a BAM! first shot of my doco at the first second of the documentary. Pacing is important, then, and slowly easing into the actual documentary in the first few seconds would be helpful… But wow, never thought it would be this difficult to get post-production going. This is going to be tough!


One Response

  1. […] The initial notation of your documentary is ostensible to offshoot your assembly in… generally for video documentaries, it is critical to have the little elements in the initial minute. As discussed in class, the initial notation should: give the clarity of what your documentary is about deliver vital characters or emanate … Go to full stories […]

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