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Old March 1st, 2008, 09:35 AM   #16
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An additional comment.

There is a difference between pure documentary and what the TV industry now calls "factual" content that goes on a lot of cable channels. (If you want to know about the factual market take a look at http://www.realscreen.com). Factuals are produced to entertain specific audiences with specific subjects with entertainment being the primary goal. The standards for factual content are commercial ones.

As I think about it, pure documentary tries to get as close to the truth (recognizing truth can wear many coats) of a subject or process as seen by the film maker. The standards are not as commercial as they are journalistic. My view is that the label "documentary" signals (or should signal) the program's intent to abide by journalistic standards. You can take a look at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontl...uidelines.html for one important statement of what such standards look like. Another very useful source is The Elements of Journalism ( see http://www.journalism.org/node/71).

Last edited by Peter Wiley; March 1st, 2008 at 09:44 AM. Reason: fix URLs; insert missing words
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Old March 2nd, 2008, 02:18 PM   #17
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"What about replacing a sound that was not recorded clearly, but heard distinctly?IE: It DID happen, but the recording is faulty."

Okay, I'm conscious of coming off as kind of shrill here, so I'll try to tone it down. Obviously we're all free to make our own choices, but for me personally, if I didn't get the shot (or audio) I didn't get it. That's a tragedy, but I just wouldn't feel justified in throwing in something false to hide the footage's deficiency from the viewer. Adding in a foleyed sound to footage that is supposed to be candid, to me would be like adding images digitally to the footage.
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Old March 3rd, 2008, 03:05 AM   #18
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There are those documentaries about the Iraq wars. There's footage from bomber aircraft showing bunkers being destroyed and quite often there's a small explosion sound.

We all know that there's no way any mic would pick up that audio. Yet does it have a detrimental effect on the integrity of the coverage? Does it affect the credibility of the story? Those are the questions an editor should have in mind when working on a production.

As mentioned by others, reality is interpreted every step of the way. From where we point the camera to which clips end up on the floor. We determine what the audience will or won't see, and the guiding principle is whether we're providing an honest representation of the story.
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Old March 3rd, 2008, 02:53 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dean Sensui View Post
There are those documentaries about the Iraq wars. There's footage from bomber aircraft showing bunkers being destroyed and quite often there's a small explosion sound.

We all know that there's no way any mic would pick up that audio. Yet does it have a detrimental effect on the integrity of the coverage? Does it affect the credibility of the story? Those are the questions an editor should have in mind when working on a production.

As mentioned by others, reality is interpreted every step of the way. From where we point the camera to which clips end up on the floor. We determine what the audience will or won't see, and the guiding principle is whether we're providing an honest representation of the story.
Undoubtedly the best documentary on World War II is Ken Burns "THE WAR" series. In the commentary Ken and crew underscore the fact they took over one year to edit foley sound effects into the video track (which typically didn't have an audio track). So I'll stick to my guns on prior post - it's all about context (and disclosure).

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Old March 3rd, 2008, 03:31 PM   #20
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Well, I like Ken Burns all right, but I do find it quite annoying in his documentaries that I'm never sure whether or not the photos he presents are genuine. I'm not suggesting that he fakes them or anything, but I constantly wonder whether the picture I'm looking at is literally of the time and place and people being discussed in the narrative, or just a representative photo from the period. If the latter is the best they could do, that's fine, but it's damned frustrating never being able to know. I really wish he could find a way to do the disclosure in the piece itself, although I understand how that would be difficult given his style. As far as foleying audio for old footage like that, it doesn't usually bother me either since it's obvious, or at least should be to most people. Where they do have the original audio though, I sure wish they'd leave it in and annotate it somehow.
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Old March 3rd, 2008, 07:00 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by Michael Nistler View Post
Hmm, I can see all the pundits are going to weigh-in on this one so count me in to join the fun!

For those who purists who think "tweaking the audio (whatever that means), is unethical, would they also have problems with the interviewee:
1. Applying make-up that they'd never otherwise wear?

So long as it's the interviewee and not the production company providing the makeup.

2. Wearing clothes from a wardrobe they don't own?

Ditto.

3. Having enhanced lighting to make them appear different than normal?

I try to stick to standard three-point lighting in interviews.

4. Having special camera angles to subliminally affect the viewers?

I actually have to correct a shot because it's at too much of an angle and would unfairly prejudice the viewers.

5. Having music to dramatize and subliminally affect the viewers?

I try to choose neutral music.

6. Having their footage edited to focus on issues likely to interest viewers?

I do do this - but I also release all the raw footage of my documentaries to the Internet so others can judge for themselves if it was a "fair cut."

7. Having the setting, props, and set design configured to influence the viewers?

I don't mind if they want to add a flag or something in the background, but the flag has to be in the interview location to begin with.

8. Doing a retake?

I've done retakes but only because it was unacceptable sound or video. The raw, unusable sound and video was released to the public as part of the raw footage releases on the Internet.
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Old March 3rd, 2008, 07:43 PM   #22
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Marco has it right. If you're adding artificial sounds into your documentary, you don't have a documentary-- you have a cartoon. I know that sounds extreme, but what you are doing is intentionally misleading.

There's a simple test you can apply: Am I doing my best to minimize what is misleading? If the answer is yes, you would never go out of your way to introduce artificial elements.

Of course every cut is subjective. That's why it's hard.
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Old March 3rd, 2008, 07:46 PM   #23
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In the age of the digital camcorder, I think your average television viewer wouldn't know an Eymoe if it was sitting in their lap - and therefore wouldn't know that most WWII footage is without sound. Still, I've got no problems with adding audio to the battle footage.

I'll re-iterate my point. There is NO 'objective' documentary filmmaking. You can controll the lighting/makeup/costumes/background - or allow the subject to controll those for you. That's a choice - SOMEONE is always shaping the message, AND the image. It's a struggle between the filmmaker and the subject. You decide where to aim the camera, and when to turn it on or off.

The fact that we choose to cut the raw footage together in a particular sequence is an effort to shape the message.

It's obvious we all have our own 'ethics' in filmmaking, as well as life. That's what makes for good discussions.
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Old March 5th, 2008, 02:26 AM   #24
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It's obvious we all have our own 'ethics' in filmmaking, as well as life. That's what makes for good discussions.
Beautifully stated, Richard!!!
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Old March 5th, 2008, 07:12 AM   #25
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Originally Posted by Gabriel Chiefetz View Post
Marco has it right. If you're adding artificial sounds into your documentary, you don't have a documentary-- you have a cartoon. I know that sounds extreme, but what you are doing is intentionally misleading.

....
I have to disagree. A documentary is not a mere recording of events such as one might do to collect data for scientific research. It is relating a story, a factual story but it is a story none the less. And just like a tribal shaman telling an oral history around the fire, one uses the dramatic tools one has available to clarify the events and explain their meaning, to help the audience understand the facts, the emotions, and the signifigance of the events being related. As an example, someone mentioned that most WWII combat footage was shot silent. Adding accurate sounds conveys the emotion of the image much more strongly than would a dispassionate lecture about the effects of battle sounds on the soldiers done in voiceover - the audience can better understand the meaning of the moment with the more complete sensory experience and communicating with the audience is the whole purpose of doing the film in the first place.
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Old March 5th, 2008, 07:24 AM   #26
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Another example of audio modification in documentaries (as brian noted): Scoring. Since when does real life come with a soundtrack?

Adding a score injects emotion into the program or sets a scene within a period. And that's completely arbitrary yet generally acceptable.
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Old March 6th, 2008, 01:19 AM   #27
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on the reality of the ethics of 'portraying' reality:

I think you should add an explosion to the bike crash...
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Old March 6th, 2008, 01:55 PM   #28
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I think you should add an explosion to the bike crash...
Bike crashes are nothing - child's play <wink> Check out this unicycle videographer's "indiscretion" at timecode 3:45

http://youtube.com/watch?v=yNEGeKt_VtA

And if that's not enough, watch this Mountain Wingsuit video:

http://www.biertijd.com/mediaplayer/?itemid=4262

Hmmm, when the spectators say "Oh, sheeeeit" as the diver buzzes the road, was it real or was it Memorex?

Enjoy, Michael
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Old March 6th, 2008, 02:36 PM   #29
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I think the decision as to how far to go has to do with the subject and intent of the doc. We've done a variety of docs that are about nature or habitats. In these cases it's very important that the sounds are realistic and 'accurate'. If you see an Alps Crow flying through the mountains, you'd better not put an Eagle sound effect there. However, recording the sound from a crow that's flying a 400 feet overhead on location isn't necessarily going to work out for you, so we replace it with the thought that if we were standing there, we'd hear that crow. So in it goes. In these cases the goal is to recreate the atmosphere and environment as faithfully and accurately as possible. Look at the Planet Earth series. Technically, every helicopter shot should have engine and prop sounds because that's how sound recorded at the time would be. Instead we try and give an idea of what the scene would sound like if we hadn't intruded upon it. Of course Planet Earth goes much further: every time you fly by a mountain you get a whoosh or a rumble. So much for realism...

We also recently did a National Geographic doc that featured dramatic reenactments. These get the 'hollywood' treatment. The intent of the documentary is to entertain. we aren't trying to make people think that there was a camera recording events 5000 years ago. It's understood that it's a reenactment, it's understood that sounds are embellished. Of course you'd better know your audience though because you don't want to do the 'hollywood' treatment for a group of scientists or specialists. But Discovery, National Geographic, THC? They're using docs for entertainment, so have fun.

The really tricky thing is when producers want to start embellishing archive footage. I can't tell you how many times I've been asked to put in the sound of an explosion during war footage, or a plane crash, guns, etc. This is the slippery slope where credibility starts to go out of the window.
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Old March 6th, 2008, 05:50 PM   #30
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Originally Posted by Stephen Berke View Post
I think the decision as to how far to go has to do with the subject and intent of the doc. We've done a variety of docs that are about nature or habitats. In these cases it's very important that the sounds are realistic and 'accurate'. If you see an Alps Crow flying through the mountains, you'd better not put an Eagle sound effect there. However, recording the sound from a crow that's flying a 400 feet overhead on location isn't necessarily going to work out for you, so we replace it with the thought that if we were standing there, we'd hear that crow. So in it goes. In these cases the goal is to recreate the atmosphere and environment as faithfully and accurately as possible. Look at the Planet Earth series. <clip>
Hi Stephen,

Yes, and on the Planet Earth series I noted the simulated sound effects of the mother polar bear and her cub. The viewers thought they were hearing the actual (crying) sounds of the baby traversing the snow-covered hills as it first left the cave. The footage also included howling winds. Mind you, the camera zoomed way in, proving it was at least a quarter mile away from the bears. Certainly the crew didn't put lavalier mics on the bears. And while the gear had the best gear available, 1,000 foot reach is perhaps a tad long for a shotgun mic in the high Artic winds, isn't it? <wink>

So yes, they recreated the audio for the atmosphere and environment, taking artistic license of what might have happened - ergo, an illustrative documentary. You can see and listen to the video here:
http://dsc.discovery.com/convergence...deo/video.html

In a later Planet Earth video, the commentary for the film crew made clear their bias/journalistic motivation. The crew worked very hard trying to document the successful conclusion of a hunt where the jackels would catch their prey. Day after day they came up empty handed, even having their campsite catch fire (almost devastating, had their gas/transportation caught fire). On the last day the jackels were finally in hot pursuit of a sole gazelle which is forced into the lake, a desperate last move. The camera crew becomes excited, knowing very soon their helicopter crew will be there to document the kill. But alas, some other dogs make another kill off camera and the waiting dogs leave to enjoy a ready meal. And so the crew has to settle for footage showing the dogs feasting on a belated kill.

No doubt, Planet Earth was an awesome video but even for the best, documentaries are typically audience-driven with producer motives, agendas, plot points and the like. And I give the Planet Earth producers credit to occasionally give glimpses of their underlying agenda.

Warm Regards, Michael

Last edited by Michael Nistler; March 6th, 2008 at 06:40 PM.
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