The Voice

I’ve been promising this for a couple of posts now so it is about time I got around to addressing the voice. Pre taking on the challenge of making a documentary, this was a concept I’d never consciously been aware of and certainly never given it any thought. I was aware that some documentaries felt different to others, but I didn’t know why.


The simple answer is that the voice is the drive of the documentary. It is often the documentary maker or the main subject but there are nuanced ways of achieving this.

We can have the documentary maker on screen clearly leading the action and doing most of the talking a la Michael Moore.

Or we can have the documentary maker on screen acting as an interviewer who directs the action with well placed questions, this time Louis Theroux is a good example.

Then there are documentaries like Sync or Swim, which is a BBC Storyville documentary featuring Dylan Williams but does not feel like it is driven by him.

Finally, there are documentaries where you hear a collection of voices talking about one person or topic, sometimes including the voice of that topic, with no central narrator except the occasional bit of text. This can be seen in another Storyville story about the amazing Randi Exposed: Magicians, Psychics and Frauds


What will I choose? This is something that I have been asked repeatedly by my tutors and something that I have had to put a lot of thought into. I can imagine myself making a Louis Theroux style documentary around this topic as I am very comfortable in the martial arts world, but I wan’t this to be about women in the arts and if I include myself too much it will become about me and my experiences of women in the arts and interactions with female martial artists. I’m not sure that’s what I want.

What I do want is to be lead by Gemma’s voice with as little of me on screen as possible and I don’t want my voice intruding (I mean my actual voice, who doesn’t hate their own voice on camera?). But I am cogent of the need for there to be evidence of me in the film as I don’t feel it is right to hide that I am a man talking about women and their experiences.


So yes, all going well the documentary will be Gemma’s voice, even if it is me putting it together.

The Amazing Randi!

As I’m sure I have previously mentioned, I have been given the task of watching lots of documentaries to really get a feel for how they are made and to further understand the voice. The voice is something I’ll go into more in a future voice…


The best bit about having to watch documentaries is that it is completely up to me which ones I choose, albeit with some that come recommended by tutors. This one however was one that I’ve been wanting to watch for a while as it is of particular interest to me and is all about James Randi’s exposé of various charlatans and fraudsters over the years. I won’t list them as libel laws in the UK are not the best when you want to exercise free speech, so to find out who just watch the documentary Storyville Exposed:Magicians, psychics and frauds.


It’s a really well put together documentary and which tells the story with hardly any use of the makers voice but instead tells the story through Randi himself and through his friends and husband. This is a way of telling the story which I have not really explored so far and so will put some more thought into. 

121 with Juliette MacDonald

Coming up to this one-to-one I was a bit unsure as to the point of it. Right at the front end of the module I didn’t really feel I had too much to show her but of course, I went in anyway as I enjoy talking with Juliette. My 121 wasn’t until half two so it was a good chance to go in early and really focus on some other work I needed to finish, such as the new poster  for my daughter’s dance school. 


I’ve just recently been actively looking into developing a shooting script for the documentary and I have now got the first draught sorted out. Not going to share it here because there are a few things I want to ok with Gemma first. But having written the first shooting script it did give me something to show Juliette along with footage of Gemma’s fight up in Strathclyde. 


The 121 went really well and Juliette has challenged me to really think about how I am framing this documentary. Is it about me and my exploration into women in the martial arts with Gemma as the main subject, or is it more about Gemma with the focus being away from me? Honestly, I still don’t know but am going to work up a couple of alternative scripts to help me think through the options. Another thing we talked about was the length of the documentary. Do I want a shorter more crafted work or a much longer piece with fewer edits? At the moment I’m leaning more towards a shorter piece with a website to support it with supplementary information.


So it was definitely worth my going in to see Juliette and make the most of bouncing ideas off of her. Thanks, Juliette!

Sex: My British Job

Well, not mine. It’s a documentary directed by Nick Broomfield starring Hsiao-Hung Pai looking at the hidden world of the prostitution of Chinese illegal immigrants.

Starring is probably the wrong term to use here as the documentary is predominantly filmed through her eyes by way of a secret camera hidden in her glasses. As such the footage is all fairly low quality but the topic is so absorbing that you soon forget about shaky, low quality image.

In the documentary Hsiao-Hung Pai works as a maid in a brothel in London and her duties include cleaning, cooking and answering the phone. This is about 14 hours a day every day all for about £100 a week. Those are meant to be her duties however as the film progresses there is increasing pressure put on her to work as a prostitute with the madam getting more and more aggressive and verbally abusive the more she resists. You can see Pai getting more depressed as time passes and in the end she agrees to prostitute herself, calls in Nick and gets out. The documentary finishes with Pai, accompanied by Nick, going to confront the madam about her behaviour and the way she victimises the vulnerable girls who through being undocumented cannot work in legal well paid jobs.

As I said above, this documentaries strength lies not in its visuals but rather in the immersive investigation that Pai undertook.

In my own work I’m trying hard to produce strong high end visuals but maybe I shouldn’t get too tied up with that.

Documenting the Madness

As a part of developing my own documentary I have been watching a lot of documentaries to learn more about the conventions of documentaries and explore how they develop their narratives. I’ve decided not to restrict myself on the types of documentary I’m watching but generally they are around equality, feminism and violence.