ABC I-View

Australian Story is a national documentary television series that airs weekly on ABC Television. Since 1996 it has been presented by Caroline Jones, a radio and television journalist.

The show begins with either Caroline or a high profile celebrity introducing the story of the evening, usually it features people of diverse backgrounds and cultures. Unlike other programs, the presenter doesn’t narrate, but rather, the subjects tell their own story. Often friends, family, colleagues etc are interviewed in such a way that the story relies completely on them to tell it. With the departure of Caroline Jones from the program in 2016, the channel announced there will no longer be a presenter to introduce the show. Her presence and the unique style of show is what lead to this decision, with the program winning multiple awards and accolades.

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Although Australian Story is a very popular broadcasting television show, it also has many attributes similar to documentary. The lack of time and overall content per episode is the main reason that it isn’t considered documentary. It also only provides a quick and succinct story to captivate viewers for the short amount of time it is on the TV. The program is designed a written to provide a small insight into the world of others and share the stories from a wide range of people. The show features smaller profiled individuals/groups, but it also has those who are higher profile. The purpose of the show is just to share everyone’s story. The channel itself says, ‘Some of its subjects may already have public profiles and some are unknown to the broader public. What matters most is that the content matter is both fresh and engaging and that the themes hold universal appeal, ideally providing insight into life’s big dilemmas, challenges, current issues and the human condition.’

As this show features a wide range of people and topics, there would be no one set method for gaining access to talent and the questions that follow in the interview. However, the show has quite a high and proud reputation which would possibly make it easier to get permissions and stories from people. In order to have the background on the topics and to find the relevant ones to broadcast however, a journalist, such as Caroline Jones, would have to have years of experience and a deep knowledge into the world of documentary.

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The particular episode that i found really compelling was, ‘The Shape Shifters’.  This episode was aired on the 14th of August and told the story of a young model and her agent. Together, this duo discussed the fashion industry, its representation of women, and how it needs to change. As a young woman, i found this episode particularly interesting to watch as i felt it was a great expose into the fashion industry, but without the slimey and often disturbing things we hear. For someone (a younger child perhaps) who wasn’t emotionally developed enough to hear the full depth of the industry, this episode was a great soft introduction into making a difference.

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I find Australian Story to be incredibly effective in the episodes they create. The stories are all relevant and informative and bring to light issues that most wouldn’t even know existed.

 

(n.d.). Retrieved August 23, 2017, from http://www.abc.net.au/austory/content/2017/s4715814.htm
Australian Story. (2006, February 12). Retrieved August 23, 2017, from http://www.abc.net.au/austory
Australian Story presenter Caroline Jones to step down. (2016, December 09). Retrieved August 23, 2017, from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-09/caroline-jones-leaves-australian-story/8106940
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Post-Production

Over the past 6 weeks I have been editing a short expository documentary, ‘316 Cars’. I have never edited something over 1 minute long so this was a very eye opening experience for me. I struggled a bit with starting and developing the edit but once we changed the story and re-shot what we were missing, I was able to create a successful short documentary.

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This documentary was about an old man and his passion for cars, his wife and his life. We shot the documentary over three days. During the filming process we had a different idea of the story we were trying to tell of our character. When we began editing, we realised the direction we should’ve been going in so we re-shot one of the interviews and got more overlay. The overlay we captured over the days of filming was useful and suited the story we were going for. However, during the edit, we discovered that we were missing some of the most crucial elements. We weren’t able to re-shoot these specific things so we had to make do with the overlay we had. The lack of overlay we had made it very difficult to edit and capture the essence of the story we were going for. The B-Roll of the interview was helpful to fill in those gaps, but it would’ve been an even more successful documentary if we had shot more. It was a fairly difficult process to edit the documentary without the overlay and particular content we needed but we were able to create an even better story with the footage we captured.

 

After having a rough picture lock, we sourced soundtracks from royalty free websites. We wanted to go with a very acoustic tone to keep with the soft and romantic theme of the documentary. We spent a long time going through the music to see which tracks worked the best with the pacing of the documentary. After a lot of trial and error, we were able to find a select few tracks that really increased the emotional connection with our documentary. By cutting the tracks to the beats of the documentary, it moved the edit along faster and allowed us to create a much more polished cut earlier in the editing process.
Overall, editing ‘316 Cars’ has been a really unique experience and has taught me a lot about storytelling in documentaries. After re-shooting and almost completely changing the story during the edit, we were able to create an emotionally driven documentary. Using specific music cues and overlay sequences, we were able to show a deeper meaning to our character.

Casting JonBenét Review

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Casting JonBenét

‘Casting JonBenét’ is a Netflix documentary written and directed by Kitty Green was released in the beginning of 2017. The documentary explores the case of the 6 year old beauty queen, JonBenét who was murdered in 1996. Her murder remains unsolved and was one of the biggest cases of the decade. In the sleepy town of Boulder Colorado, nothing to that extent had happened before. If you’re unfamiliar, the day after christmas in Boulder, Patsy Ramsey found her daughter missing and a ransom note. After some investigation, they found her a few hours later, dead in the wine cellar. Her murder has never been solved and is still highly speculated. There have been many documentaries and news stories, telling the facts and trying to find a resolution to this story.

This documentary is something different. Green doesn’t want or expect a resolution. The documentary is set as various actors audition for the parts of Patsy, JonBenét, John and Burke Ramsey. These actors were the focus of the film but Green also held ‘auditions’ for the parts of John Mark Karr, the pedophile who said he killed JonBenét, a santa claus who was at a party and the police chief and other investigators. The auditions go through various sets and scenes but Green’s ultimate goal is to get the actors talking about the case, what they know, what they’ve heard and their personal experiences with it. Green put out the casting call in Boulder, in hopes of gathering the locals and the ones with stories to tell. She asks them how they connected to the characters while on camera and they started telling her very personal things. One had been abused, one’s brother had been murdered, one had a loved one die next to them, one was almost murdered by her father etc. These stories and experiences are what created the documentary.

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Casting JonBenét

Green used these auditions to create a new narrative in the story of JonBenét. She says, “We’re interested in their interpretations of what happened that night in the face of knowing they don’t know exactly what happened.” By exploring the theories and stories from the general public, it shows just how distant the story has gotten from the truth. Everyone has created a story or theory about who did it and why, and they are all shared in this documentary. It explores how people talk, think and react to cases such as this and how our own personal experiences influence that. Green very cleverly is questioning if we’ll ever get a resolution to the murder and what everyone believes to be ‘truth’.

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Casting JonBenét

Every actor had a different or varying interpretation of what happened to JonBenét during the auditions. To keep the viewer aware that this was simply opinion and was unreal, Green has filmed the interviews with parts of the set in the background, some of the actors talking to crew and even the actors walking around the set. At the end of the film we see all those who auditioned for Patsy and John walking around the interior of the house and practicing their scenes. We then see the scenes cut together in a quick and smooth style. This final sequence re-establishes what Green is going for in this documentary, the amount of possibilities and events that would have occurred are endless are up for interpretation by everyone. The world will always have a new theory or idea about what happened to JonBenét.

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Casting JonBenét

Kitty Green has created an extremely unique and attention grabbing documentary- because it’s so different to what we usually see. In a very Errol Morris-esque style, we are given facts and told to create our own story with those facts. The only difference here is that the ‘facts’ we are given are the misinformation spread by the amount of press and news the story received. The film is a comment on how we have started to ignore the actual child that had died, this is shown in the film as we see the little girls audition for JonBenét for around 2 minutes. The media and the public in general seemed to focus on the crime and the news behind it, ignoring the young girl who was actually murdered. They focus on her parents, making stories about them and their family, reading the paper and forgetting about her. The film ends in a beautiful scene where the girl playing JonBenét walks down a hallway of the open set, wearing a costume from her pageant as ‘There She Is, Miss America’ plays in the background. Kitty Green said, “You get caught up in all the tabloid sensation and all of that stuff, and you kind of forget about what’s important here,” Green says. “I always wanted to end the film with her image. It made sense to give her a kind of a swan song.”

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References:

Green, K. (Director). (2017, January 22). Casting JonBenét[Video file]. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from https://www.netflix.com/watch/80142316?trackId=13752289&tctx=0%2C0%2C41f7a203250d5b92cc98156fd5ce88a03a8af596%3A9b9b15e375c107d64f2842f05d090afc61ff858a
Dargis, M. (2017, April 27). Review: ‘Casting JonBenet’ Revisits a 1996 Murder. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/27/movies/casting-jonbenet-review-jonbenet-ramsey.html
Debruge, P. (2017, April 28). Film Review: ‘Casting JonBenét’. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from http://variety.com/2017/film/reviews/casting-jonbenet-review-jon-benet-ramsey-netflix-1202402572/
Wilkinson, A. (2017, April 28). Netflixs Casting JonBenét isnt a true crime story. Its something better. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from https://www.vox.com/culture/2017/4/28/15437008/casting-jonbenet-kitty-green-interview-netflix

Vox Pops

On a very rainy Friday afternoon, my documentary crew (Henry, Riley and I), hit the streets of West End to ask strangers what they thought of the food in the area. The goal of these questions were to lead into their thoughts of the multiculturalism and diversity of the area. Using food as the initial topic, was the safest way to begin. These on-the-street interviews are often used in documentary films to gain public opinion with catchy grabs that add to whatever story is being told. One would’ve heard them being referred to as Vox Pops. Stemming from the latin phrase, ‘Vox Populi’ which means ‘voice of the people’. The website Media College writes, The vox pop is a tool used in many forms of media to provide a snapshot of public opinion. Random subjects are asked to give their views on a particular topic and their responses are presented to the viewer/reader as a reflection of popular opinion.’ By using these interviews, it gives the documentary an element of relevance to the general population instead of one particular group. This technique only works in certain topics.

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Is Smacking Your Children Okay?

Before the exercise we worked together to create 10 questions to ask in the interviews, leading the subject into the conversation, asking a tougher question and then easing them out of it. This is incredibly important when conducting interviews, i explain more about this in my blog, Interview Techniques. After deciding on the questions to use, we went to boundary street and interviewed a few people each. As Riley is our director, he went first in asking questions with Henry following him. During this time I was watching them and how they communicated with the subjects. I was really nervous about interviewing people as i’m fairly shy and struggle with maintaining conversation. After observing Riley and Henry and how they lead the subjects in and out of the topic by responding directly to what the person was saying while also maintaining the theme, i realised that the questions we wrote were just a basis and didn’t have to be followed exactly. When it came to my time to interview people, I found myself asking the questions in order and then using what my subjects had given me to get the answers I wanted.

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I found it difficult to get people to be interviewed but once you got some of them talking, they were all very passionate about what they were speaking about. We were able to get the responses that we required but struggled with the camera and sound due to the conditions. I found the process really rewarding as I was able to communicate and work with strangers, overcoming lots of fears about approaching people. If I were to do this again however, I think choosing a nicer day and maybe getting the subjects to articulate a bit better about what they were speaking about. Some of the responses came off very complicated. After this exercise, it opened my mind a bit more about the potential of going to a car show and interviewing people for our documentary. This could add an extra element to our film that would be really interesting to watch.

(n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2017, from http://www.mediacollege.com/video/interviews/voxpops.html

Production – How to film a vox pop. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2017, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/academy/production/article/art20141029111247531

Errol Morris

Errol Morris is often described as one of the best documentary filmmakers of all time. Roger Ebert says, “After twenty years of reviewing films, I haven’t found another filmmaker who intrigues me more…Errol Morris is like a magician, and as great a filmmaker as Hitchcock or Fellini.” Morris is a documentarian who created the films, ‘The Thin Blue Line’, ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ and ‘The Fog of War’. Morris is so influential because of his unique style of creating documentaries.

While making and researching ‘The Thin Blue Line’ Morris was working as a private detective. His background in this can be very clearly seen in how he conducts his interviews and how his documentaries are themed. Errol Morris’ clear directorial style is seen in how his interviews are filmed. By having his interviewees look into the lense of the camera, rather than the side like most interviews, Morris sets up a feeling of interrogation and investigation by having a camera show his face through a receiver in front of the interviewee. The way he holds these interviews gives the audience an opportunity to go through the detective journey with him. ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ is his 2008 documentary about the Abu Ghraib Scandal. The documentary consists of multiple interviews and stock footage/photographs. The interviews are held with the subjects looking into the camera, in Errol Morris’ unique fashion. Whilst watching the documentary, I found myself wondering who I believed and who was clearly lying to the camera. This is a perfect example of Morris’ directorial style. The way he conducts and interviews his subjects, allows the audience the opportunity to do the detective work and decide what they believe is the ‘truth’.

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Errol Morris often speaks openly about truth and what he believes it to be. He has said in multiple interviews that he doesn’t believe that the medium of film or photography provide any truth or any falsity to something. An excerpt from a film journalist, David Chen, says ‘He recalled, “When I first started making movies, there was a received idea about how you were supposed to make a documentary. Call it whatever you want: cinéma vérité, direct cinema, blah blah blah. But it was this idea of shooting with available light, shooting with a hand-held camera, the fly-on-the-wall idea. You’re observing, you’re not interacting, you’re not altering.” The implication was that by following these rules, arbitrary or not, one might somehow be able to produce something that was “truthful.” But Morris rejected this idea. “Just because you adopt a style of shooting, somehow, truth doesn’t pop up a kind of magic meat grinder that produces the truth,” he insisted.’

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I believe that the way Errol Morris looks at writing and creating documentaries is very unique  and effective in what he is presenting. I enjoy his documentaries in the way they make the audience form their own opinion and hope to use it on my own work one day.

Errol Morris: Film. Errolmorris.com. Retrieved 13 June 2017, from http://errolmorris.com/biography.html

Errol Morris: Interview. (2004). Errolmorris.com. Retrieved 13 June 2017, from http://www.errolmorris.com/content/interview/believer0404.html

Morris, E. (2008). Standard Operating Procedure. Participant Media.

Chen, D. (2017). A Conversation with Errol Morris on the Nature of Truth, Photography, and Documentary – /Film. Slashfilm. Retrieved 4 July 2017, from http://www.slashfilm.com/conversation-errol-morris-nature-truth-photography-documentary/

Interview Techniques

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to have a lecture with Dr Jodie Taylor on Friday. Jodie, a lecturer at SAE, often hosts lectures on interview techniques and ethics. I have had many lectures with Jodie before and I always enjoy learning from her. The documentary I am working on this trimester is about a man and his legacy before he has a major surgery. We need to talk to him about how he feels about potentially dying and taking his stories with him. These are very sensitive topics and Jodie gave us some great feedback. We were taught about how to ask difficult questions without upsetting our talent too much. You need to have correct body language and also make the interviewee feel comfortable.

To practice this, Jodie had us ask difficult questions to our peers. I was the first to ask my friend about her first sexual encounter. I already knew that my friend was asexual so instead of asking her about her first sexual experience, I asked her when she realised she was asexual. Having the background information on that first hand was incredibly helpful as i knew i had to phrase the question a different way. If I had asked her about her sexual encounters without knowing her background, I could’ve easily offended her and if it was a different situation, there is the potential I could’ve triggered someone. That’s why getting as much background information before the interview process is so important.

The question my friend had to ask me was, ‘What was your childhood and family life like?’ instead of asking me that directly, she asked me about my parents and siblings, this in turn led me to talk about my childhood. I’m not a very closed off person and often discuss what i’ve gone through if someone asks. I did talk about things that i hadn’t to many people before though and I think it was because my friend was so open and understanding during the interview process.

Changing between interviewer and interviewee was a bit strange because it almost felt like a hierarchy shift. When I was interviewing I felt a lot more in control of the situation instead of when I was being interviewed. I also found myself talking more than I expected when I was interviewed, almost like I had to explain myself more. Switching roles definitely helped me realise how to conduct an interview well and make my interviewee feel comfortable. I was able to learn from my partner in what she did to encourage me to talk and also how I hold myself during interviews. I feel less nervous asking personal questions because I know how to do them safely and professionally.

During our Vox Pop exercises, i’ll be able to think more about what and how i’m asking to my interviewees. It’ll be a bit different because we won’t know the people we are interviewing so not having the background knowledge on someone is a bit intimidating but I believe using the techniques Jodie gave us will be extremely helpful.

Documentary Modality

Every documentary you see will have a different style, theme and feeling behind it. This isn’t just because of the different topics, it’s because the filmmaker has to decide what Modality they want the film to feature. Modality means ‘modes of desire’ and in a film context, it’s the way a documentary is made. These modalities are used for the following reasons:

  • To record, reveal or preserve
  • To persuade or promote
  • To analyse or interrogate
  • To express

 

To achieve these, a filmmaker could make an expository, poetic, observational or participatory documentary. These are just a few of the modalities used to make successful documentaries. The most common would be expository documentaries. They speak directly to the viewer, almost in a ‘voice of God’ type of manner. These documentaries are very structured and heavily narrated to move the story along. A contrast to these documentaries are poetic and observational documentaries. These focus more on mood, style and tone to tell their story rather than the typical film structures seen in others. Participatory is one of the more obscure but incredibly interesting types of modality. In participatory documentaries, the director/filmmaker immerses themselves into the story world, becoming part of the documentary. This is is a very special but also risky technique depending on the subjects being filmed.

I’m currently in the process of proposing an expository documentary, ‘Not Guilty’. Expository documentaries are made to persuade an audience using combinations of voice overs and narrations that act almost like a voice of god. The authoritative nature of these voice overs/narrations are also to speak directly to the viewer and strengthen their argument. Expository documentaries are one of the most popular forms as they don’t rely heavily on visuals but rather the storytelling of whatever the event is. My documentary is an expository documentary because it is heavily interview based and relies on the protagonist to tell the audience her story. Similar to a film called ‘The Case of 8’ where the interviews and life experiences coming directly from the lawyers and victims are said in a standard interview format. That being said however, it will also have observational qualities.

Observational documentaries capture moments as they happen in time. They observe life with a minimum of intervention. This modality will be present in my documentary as well as some of the scenes over narration will have an observational element to them. These will be dramatized sequences but will give the audience the ‘fly on the wall’ mentality.

Modality is versatile but incredibly important when it comes to making a documentary. Without a specific vision or reasoning behind them, the documentary will struggle in capturing an audience and truly expressing its story. The modalities I have chosen for my documentary will allow the viewer to connect with my characters while also showing a behind the scenes look at what they do.