Documentary websites

Was browsing online for documentaries, and found some websites that compiles docos, so if you’re free you should have a look at some of the docos! – a filmmaking community

Documentary-film Network


I’ve got most of my interviews done now, and I’m just beginning on post-production now. The hard part with interviewing people is setting a date for the interview. So far, one of the bands I was going to interview have kind of backed out because they’re having some conflicts within the group, and another interviewee is sick so the interview has been postponed until late next week (!!), and I’ve also managed to lose one release form on my way back from an interview :( Thanks to the wonders of technology I will be getting the release form emailed back to me haha.

I now have more than 30 minutes worth of interview material to crop and edit, and a lot of planning to do in terms of deciding what audio goes where and what pictures to put in and what footage to include. But at least I know the structure I want in my doco and so hopefully it will all just fit into place from there.

Other than that, I find it hard not to sympathize with Bruce, the previous owner of the Tote, who I just interviewed recently, because as I was having a chat with him after the interview I found out the extent of his debts after the closing of the Tote. It’s really quite sad finding out about him going through so much right now, and even listening to him talking about his ordeal when he was forced to make the decision to shut down the Tote due to financial insufficiencies made me really want to reach out to him. This part of the interview, where Bruce talks about what he went through that rough week, will no doubt reach out to the audience as well.

I guess that’s the hardest part of doing a documentary – hearing people speak about the reality of their lives from their perspective, and seeing the truth behind a situation from someone can really move you and change the way you think and feel about something. And that’s really why I want to do this documentary. Although it’s not really about Bruce or about the Tote, it just goes to show how you don’t know everything about an issue until you really talk to someone who’s been greatly affected by it. In terms of SLAM and the LLV laws, all we knew from the media was the music community as a whole and the music venues closing down. We only knew about the issue and the conflict affecting a whole community, and didn’t know the extent to which it affected one person’s life. Multiply that by, I don’t know, twenty other owners of music venues affected by the laws, and then you really start to really just how many peoples’ lives are really affected by this issue.


Looking at more documentaries

Was simply looking at how to make documentaries online, and came across this article which was quite useful in terms of setting the groundworks on what to do in making a documentary. Taking just the main and relevant points from the article, it sets out steps, i.e.:
  1. Watch documentary movies. Learn what makes or breaks a documentary film.
  2. Become familiar with technical equipment.
  3. Choose a subject that you find fascinating and is accessible to you. Choosing a subject that is compelling & timely will result in a strong and relevant film.
  4. Become an expert on your chosen subject through research. Research your subject as thoroughly as possible.
  5. Create a structure/outline for your film through visualization. Write down your ideas. This will give you a blueprint for shooting. But remember that in documentary filmmaking, unlike fictional filmmaking, the footage informs the final structure of the film. Your initial written outline exists to serve as a guideline for shooting.
  6. Analyze your wants/needs for making the film. Make a wishlist of any people, locations, items, equipment you WISH you could have for your film. Cross-reference this list with any people, locations, items and equipment that you do have access to.
  7. Shoot! Don’t talk about doing it – get out there and shoot your film. This is the step that differentiates the aspiring filmmakers from the actual filmmakers.
  8. Post-production. Fast forward through all of your footage, and take printable screenshots of key scenes. This way you simplify the editing process by creating a visual map of your footage. Once this is done you should watch ALL of your footage and create an action log listing timestamps. This will help you to save time in the editing room.
  9. Show your film! Upload it to the internet, four-wall it in a theatre, send the cut to distributors/networks to see if they are interested, hit the festival circuit. You can apply to multiple film festivals at once through the website Withoutabox.

(main article)

I think this is pretty useful, especially in terms of post-production where it says to look at the footage and take screenshots of key scenes. I guess I can’t do that with my interview footage, but I can take notes of which chunks of answers can go where in my doco structure, and decide where to snip parts of the videos.

Also browsed through some interesting documentaries focusing on communities, such as this one on the LGBT community by the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities by the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities, and this one on Community Models in Correction sponsored by the Community Model Association  of America.

I liked the way the LGBT community documentary started, though it may not be useful for my own doco. It starts with a sort of introduction to all these community members, where they introduce themselves – there are transsexuals, transvestites, bisexuals, homosexuals, hermaphrodites… – and then goes on to a title screen, and then to a campaign worker introducing issues in the community e.g. prejudice, substance abuse, mental health, etc.

While looking at the doco, I noted down how the interviewees were filmed in terms of the distance, setting, eye contact (to the camera? to the side?), position, lighting, and also to the background music that was playing (some jazzy tune?) and the aesthetics of the text (some animation and then some text) and the use of only the first names for each interviewee’s title.

For the correction models doco, each interviewee was named in full, with their position/rank in the corrections center in full as well, along with their number of years in experience. The music was a bit solemn (piano music) and there were a lot of footage of the inside of the corrections facility showing the officers’ ‘daily routine’, in a way. This doco started with introductory text instead of a voice over, but both this one and the LGBT doco included statistics in their documentaries. But the corrections facility one included some subtitles stating, or narrating extra information about the community.

While there is some music in the LGBT doco (in the beginning, and none over the interviewees speaking), the corrections facility doco had the solemn, dramatic piano music playing throughout the whole thing (even over the interviewees speaking). And thinking back to my own documentary, I was wondering which one would be better – to have music throughout, or not? I think that the solemn music playing throughout the corrections facility doco really influenced it in that it gave it that very sad, serious tone, and really fit in well as opposed to if it didn’t include that background music. But I guess the real issue for me would be to look for the right type of music to use in my documentary, should I choose to include any. And then it would also come down to finding a song and getting permission to use it.

I’ve already conducted some interviewees, and I kind of filmed my interviewees from the chest up. But I noticed a stark difference in how both documentaries mentioned above filmed their interviewees. The LGBT doco filmed most of their subjects from the waist up. The correctional facility doco filmed its subjects right in the face! I guess for the LGBT doco it would’ve been appropriate to take a more distant shot so that viewers have a sort of ‘comfortable’ distance away from the interviewees, whereas the corrections doco is probably meant to be a bit more confrontational. The LGBT doco also showed the interviewees speaking, without putting images over them; whereas the corrections facility one always had different footage playing over its interviewees speaking.

Both documentaries were about community and conflict, but both had quite contrasting styles. As of now, I’m not too sure which style would be suitable for my community and conflict, but I guess a bit of both won’t hurt. I think the use of statistics and information shown in text is quite useful, especially if I have anything extra that I may want to add into the documentary. It was definitely helpful to see how interviewees were filmed and how music and extra footage was used in the documentaries, but I guess I’ll need to look at more documentaries to see more styles and more angles in reflecting communities through a documentary.

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!

Looking at The Revolving Door

This documentary wasn’t what I thought it would be. “The Revolving Door” documents the journey of a prostitute (who got into drugs, I think, but not much was said about that although on the main page her ‘diary’ is titled ‘Confessions of an Opium Seeker’…) named ‘Gillian Colby’, and is an interactive documentary where you can view/listen to her diary in her own words, her journey, some animation on a ‘typical night out’ where cops stopped her, and looked at her ward file (she was admitted to some sort of girls’ home after an abusive episode at home). It was really touching, actually…

I think it was kind of a participatory documentary where they interviewed the subject, and used archival film to retrieve some history (of St Kilda as a red light district, etc). There wasn’t any diversity of viewpoints in the doco. It mainly contained biographical information from Gillian – on her childhood, why she became a prostitute, what happens, etc. – but also a copy of her case file (from when she was in the girls’ home) and some historical information on the red light district in St Kilda… but that was it.

I think the animations and photos helped a lot in putting a sort of ‘face’ (albeit an animated one) behind the voice. The short animated reenactment of the cops pulling ‘Gillian’ aside and interrogating her was beneficial to the doco, in a way, as one would feel more involved and empathetic, I think, to Gillian, but also it was weird because the animation was set so that the viewer was in the cop car, and uninvolved. I wasn’t sure why there was an animation specifically for this part of the documentary and not for the other parts, but it was good because it worked well, giving it some sort of context, rather than having this part in audio alone.

In a way, I think I did make my own conclusions about Gillian and the prostitution issue… the documentary wasn’t being very specific in directing one how to think about things. Instead it gave viewers the chance to explore and click around, and look at things as they wish. Listening to Gillian’s diary in her voice was engaging, though, and a bit emotive as well.

I don’t think I feel very manipulated… I do feel some sympathy for Gillian and prostitutes… but mainly because her story was a sad one, and because in the historical part of the doco, they talked about sex workers getting killed and at high risk of getting mugged/abused on the streets… is that considered as manipulation? Oh, maybe I have been manipulated then.. :\

Looking at the Art of DeTouch

Have always been into image manipulation and did some assignments on image manipulation used in the media, so the doco “the Art of DeTouch” was definitely one to look at…

I think the style of the documentary was probably… poetic? It is kind of poetic, or abstract because it just showed images of the before/after photos in different formats (pixels, threshold, etc…) and.. well that’s about it, really. No information, other than the brief introduction on the homepage.

In a way, there was a diversity of viewpoints on how the images were altered in the different formats, the before and after pictures, and the diversity of how the photos were altered (some on skin, others on body shape, on hair, on facial features, on colours, and on different people – celebs, models, randoms, and from various companies/websites).

In a way, this documentary was showing reconstructions, i.e. reconstructions of the alterations done on the before pictures. I noticed that (on the homepage) it said the visualizations of the alterations were generated…so basically everything from 2% to 99% is actually computer generated… and not the real process of what goes on in actual photo manipulation (e.g. in Photoshop). That doesn’t make much difference, I guess…

But in case you don’t know what goes on in Photoshop, you can watch some videos on Youtube haha! It’s pretty insane. Here’s one on photoshopping just the face, and this one’s on the body (it makes really extreme changes!).

The documentary was really ambiguous, in a way, because all I could do was look at the images. So I did have to make my own conclusions about it. Personally, it led me to think about the prevalence of photo manipulation in the media (I guess ‘cos I’ve done some assignments on that myself) and just how it’s everywhere we look. EVERYTHING is digitally edited now. It also led me to think about how unbelievable it is that everything normal and human, like wrinkles and eyebags and stray hairs and body fat, are made into imperfections that need to be erased away for commercial purposes – to manipulate people into buying products to give them flawless skin, like the celebs do, or buy diet pills or exercise machines so you’ll be flab-less like that model in the billboard – and it’s all unrealistic and unachievable because literally nobody looks like the people in mags/billboards. Then consumers just keep buying and buying to achieve something unattainable.

So yes, this documentary did encourage me to make my own conclusions. What were yours?

Looking at techno!

I was really excited to check out this ABC documentary called “Sounds Like Techno” because of my interest in music, and sure enough the documentary did not disappoint! I definitely had a lot to learn from it as well.

I first viewed it in HTML, which wasn’t as great as the Flash version (which was awesome and really engaging!). They transcribed the audio files (which play automatically in the Flash version) so there was a lot of text. But they interviewed a lot of people who were from the industry and were involved in the techno scene themselves, which made for a lot of diversity of viewpoints and a lot of good, reliable information. Plus, they included short biographies of the people they interviewed, and a lot of extra links for viewers to explore, so that was pretty informative.

It was definitely a participatory documentary… they interviewed subjects, and in a way retrieved, or reenacted history with the categories and timeline sort of documentary.

It didn’t seem like the documentary allowed me to make my own conclusions. It was informative to the extent that it was really thorough, covering a lot of aspects of techno music from its roots in Detroit to how it came to Australia, to the technology used to create it to its future. So there wasn’t a lot of space, or need, to make my own conclusions about anything. But I guess interviewing others about it made it subjective, but also realistic in a way, and hence I felt like in conclusion, I could trust what they were saying and just believe them. I guess in that sense, the documentary did feel a bit manipulative but in a ‘honest/reflective/insightful/trustworthy’ way instead of an ‘evil’ way… so I’d call it influential, but not manipulative… because the word ‘manipulative’ just makes it sound like they’re making me think evil things haha

A response to Shane’s review

Shane‘s review of the documentary had some good points. He pointed out that “even bullies themselves are insecure and the only way to make them feel superior or more dominant is by bullying”. I think this is one of the points that should have been included into the documentary. Not having done so only made the documentary one-sided, as myself and Mei have pointed out. I have some knowledge of psychology, and it is true what Shane said, that bullies bully others because of their own security. There is a ‘cycle’ of bullying that is common in many cases – a child is abused by his/her parent/guardian/relative, and to release any anger or hurt, the child bullies someone else, somehow projecting or transferring their pain and feelings onto someone else to alleviate themselves of their suffering. For them, it’s their own way of dealing with it. And if this is the case with bullies today, it would have been very effective if the documentary had looked into this, and highlighted this, as this would have been a bigger and more vital issue to look at. With that, it would be helpful if the directors made another documentary to look more into the reasons behind bullying, and perhaps cover up the whole bullying issue and make it more insightful and thorough.