This handbook is intended for those wanting to use documentary filmmaking as a research method to explore subjects and also as a way of expressing ideas. Its focus is practical rather than technical, aiming to complement the many handbooks that already exist covering filmmaking, digital videography, sound recording and video editing. It concentrates on aspects of filmmaking for research purposes at an introductory level that are not so well documented elsewhere, such as the practical stages involved in the production of an ethnographic film. The underlying principal of this handbook is to broaden the application of ethnographic filmmaking to suit a wide range of research areas and documentary expression, encompassing sensory, fictive, observational, participatory, reflexive, performative and immersive modes of storytelling. I have chosen to avoid detailed discussion of technology as this dates quickly. This handbook aims to assist individuals in their personalised searches using online facilities to develop research methods and also teaching, by decoding technical terminology and explaining filmmaking workflows.
This section describes a way of doing research through filmmaking and as such it is concerned with data gathering as well as analysis and theory making. The main aim of the book is to provide practical help as we connect theoretical ideas and technical considerations to the task of ethnographic filmmaking. In this first section, I describe two techniques that help define filmmaking as a research practice and demonstrate how these can be applied to the most common filming situations found in processes, testimonies and events. This will help readers to practice the foundational elements of cinema craft that are outlined in this book in situations similar to those they might discover in the field. We then look at how other filmmakers have used collaborative, observational, reflexive and expressive methods to produce a core of approaches that can be refashioned to suit your own research subjects. Finally, a discussion of ethics and good practice is central to any endeavour that frames the lives of other people and exposes their vulnerabilities.
This section looks at what is required to ensure the success of a film project before one arrives on location. A written proposal deepens our engagement with a subject area and helps to tackle the obstacles that commonly threaten to derail a filmmaking and research journey. Due to lengthy production schedules and the limited funds available to research projects, hiring equipment can be unpractical, so ethnographic filmmakers tend to favour lightweight gear that can be carried easily and is affordable to own. In this section, we consider how to find the equipment most suitable for your project and how to practice using it with all the manual functions that help to create high quality images and sounds.
This section looks at how to apply techniques for gathering image and sound on location to serve the core ideas discussed in section one. However, before technical matters I address the fundamental skill of establishing good fieldwork relationships and maintaining a rapport with research participants to ensure your documentary project remains viable. Filmmaking for research purposes relies on a variety of recorded material that covers both the demands of cinematic grammar and those of theoretical analysis. Alongside technical advice about operating a camera and sound devices, I have included a discussion of working in situations that commonly present an opportunity for a filmmaker to gather important material, such as processes, discussions, journeys, performances, reflexive moments and major events. I encourage filmmakers to begin by working in small crews, in order to gather hands-on experience in the specific technical requirements of high quality image and sound recording. A dedicated sound and camera team will ensure the highest standards of cinematographic craft but it will also help you to develop confidence when working solo, which for most researchers becomes their modus operandi
This section describes storytelling as an integral part of the ongoing research process, as well as a means to reach cinematic expression. The focus is on the practical stages involved in an entire post-production workflow but this also involves a degree of understanding about human perception and expression and in particular the way that humans comprehend time and space. Here we discuss how recorded material is put to work through the narrating of a film, in order to extend an understanding of fieldwork, especially in terms of affect, bodily sense and experience. The opportunities that exist in broadcast television for documentary are well defined before a film is made but a research film is in a constant state of evolution right up until the final cut. In order to select a mode of storytelling and the cutting techniques that suit a project one must employ carefully positioned feedback screenings of work-in-progress and develop the ability to receive editorial advice.
This section discusses when it might be appropriate to write about your filmmaking. Typically a written statement will help a researcher to elaborate on methodology, ethics or personal and descriptive aspects of their ethnography that have escaped the confines of a film. A short written statement such as this will help peer-reviewers of on-line video journals assess the unique contribution that your film can make to an area of study. Also in this section, the role of film festivals and distributers in getting your film out to a wider audience is assessed, as well as some of the pitfalls that may be encountered along the way.