Documentary (2014)


Your third and final task for your coursework portfolio will explore the DOCUMENTARY GENRE and pose you with a challenging task. As well as understanding the many sub-genres associated with this crucial GENRE, you will also need to select a SUBJECT for an investigative documentary in which you feature the SUBJECT and their work. The SUBJECT can be presented in any form you choose, so it could be ABSTRACT even SURREAL if appropriate to their work. Please note that this is NOT a PROMOTIONAL VIDEO, so the SUBJECT is not your CLIENT. This is because ADVERTISING is the topic for your examination and therefore not permissible as a topic for the coursework.

BRIEF: Produce a short documentary of 3-5mins featuring an engaging and interesting SUBJECT. The documentary should be AESTHETICALLY appealing, show investigative skills on your behalf (especially the director) whilst ETHICALLY appropriate.



The EXPOSITORY form establishes the very basic CONVENTIONS associated with this genre. TALKING HEAD SHOTS (Usually using the RULE of THIRDS and which avoid DIRECT MODE OF ADDRESS although this is changing in contemporary REALITY TV dramas. Notice how DOCUMENTARIANS like GORDON RAMSEY directly addresses the camera during his investigation of (for instance) Kitchen Nightmares. Also, EXPOSITORY forms make use of a VOICE of GOD NARRATION such as those delivered by the world famous DAVID ATTENBOROUGH on the BBC. Sometimes, these EXPOSITORY documentaries will feature the DOCUMENTARIAN as an ANCHOR. This means he/she is actually in the documentary and would then use DIRECT MODE OF ADDRESS. Sometimes the questions of the DOCUMENTARIAN can be heard on camera...this is an example of FRENCH CINEMA VERITE from the early days of DOCUMENTARY in the 60s.


Whilst VERITE foregrounds the role of the DOCUMENTARIAN, in OBSERVATIONAL DOCUMENTARY an attempt is made to suggest authenticity by the camera being unobserved, almost like a FLY on the WALL. (Note: This technique is used to comic effect in MOCKUMENTARIES) Contemporary REALITY TV programmes employ this technique commonly so as to suggest that camera is simply an UNMEDIATED WINDOW on REALITY. This style has courted controversy in 2014 with what the tabloid press has dubbed "POVERTY PORN' documentaries, whereby the subjects of the documentary are presented as benefit frauds, which in turn led to a huge amount of criticism through SOCIAL MEDIA.




1st person documentaries grew out of the video blogging age. Initially they had a tendency to be rather dull, single camera set up filmed via laptop webcams. However, as cameras have got progressively smaller (e.g. Go Pro) it has led to a number of innovations in camera style whereby action footage is filmed from the 1st person perspective. More recently, the use of Google Glass poses intriguing possibilities for filmmakers as demonstrated below in the trailer for Project 2x1.


When I was in Los Angeles back in October 2009, I was lucky enough to visit the Getty Museum and see this Irving Penn exhibition. Firstly, click on the link and check out Penn's work, which captures various different tradesmen from many different countries.

How do you think this would transfer to the trades-person working in Hong Kong? Think about how you could film/photograph your choice of professional, whilst you also need to capture the sounds associated with their work. I'd suggest that you go beyond simply a talking head interview shot but rather, should be non-linear (abstract) and contain cutaway shots of the individual at work. Use the Penn exhibition as inspiration and consider working in grayscale, or using photographs for at least part of your footage and possibly for your full documentary. Sound designers, make sure the boom microphone comes off its stand or get the boom up close to both your subject and to sounds you want to capture.

Matt Kwan- 18: An Adventure in Hong Kong

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