Docufilming: The art of narrative

After a while of playing with video stuff, you realise that it gets surprisingly simple when you just bin the audio and stick music over the top. Sure, there are noticeable differences you can make – putting cut on the change of a bar for instance, but largely there’s very little to it – you’re just displaying a pretty montage that’s easy to watch along to the music.

In that respect, it’s actually pretty dull – rarely can you fit in story arcs, or any kind of links between shots, whilst you know and understand the location and context behind it, generally no-one else does. Ultimately it’s not a very engaging style.

The other extreme is simply filming stuff as it happened. Purely trying to document what happened, as true to what it was actually like as possible. The problem again, is that whilst the context may be clear to those who already are familiar with it, it’s just a blur of random action to a new viewer, the jokes are lost on them, and they’re not wholly sure what it is they’re watching.

I sometimes enjoy watching the videos on some of the action sports subreddits – for instance the /r/whitewater subreddit – generally focuses on kayakers doing big drops dubbed over big dubstep drops.

I’d like to take things to the next level and shoot some action sports mini-documentaries – preserving the audio, providing the context, and keeping those story arcs intact.

It’s easy to imagine that something that’s rather uninteresting and routine to you, is routine and uninteresting to everyone else. When something is wrapped up into a bit of a narrative with a passionate an enlightening explanation, it can be very insightful.

Consider a documentary about school dinners. Simply an explanatory documentary. It would be mind bogglingly dull.

Instead, follow the life of a dinner lady who’s embedded in the community, who’s served up generations of children, who has her own opinion on the value of school dinners. By wrapping the subject matter up into a story about an interesting person, you’ll make it enlightening, and probably quite enjoyable for people to watch.

The logistics of docufilming are a lot more challenging – you have to keep your subject happy and address all the issues you need to address, and, most crucially, you need to take sound seriously. If you’re listening to people speaking, you’ll enjoy it a great deal more if you can hear than well – because let’s face it – subtitling large parts of your work is a good deal of effort you want to avoid if you can!

Sana Clip+'s
Sana Clip+'s

These may look like cheap MP3 players, but they’re actually cheap and cheerful, high quality, high capacity personal recording devices. These MP3 players with the 3rd part open source Rockbox firmware, clipped to someone’s lapel, can record high quality audio for over 5 hours on one charge – making it easy and cost effective to simply clip these to each of your subjects, yet easily isolate their voices in noisy environments, without too much fuss.

I’ve a few mini-docufilms on the way, but I don’t think they’re as focused as I want them to be and I’m on the look out for new subjects – ideally land based action sports – to be the focus of a 5 minute mini-docufilm. If you think you might be interested – feel free to leave a comment or get in touch.

2 thoughts on “Docufilming: The art of narrative

  1. You definitely need to watch: Baraka and Koyaanisqatsi if you want to see how a dialogue-less film can be done.

    “Baraka has no plot, no storyline, no actors, no dialogue nor any voice-over. Instead, the film uses themes to present new steps and evoke emotion through pure cinema. Baraka is a kaleidoscopic, global compilation of both natural events and by fate, life and activities of humanity on Earth.” – Wikipedia

    p.s. I find your blog interesting, thought provoking and insightful. Keep up the good work.

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