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/Group tutorial with Rowan

It was a 121/group as I had Greté there briefly but then it was just Rowan and I. The general gist of the conversation was around the conflict I previously mentioned between where the focus of the documentary lies. If its me and my exploration and showcasing of Gemma or if it’s more focused on Gemma with just the occasional VO from me to move the story along.


To help decide I have been scripting the two options and showed these to Rowan and she agrees that I should continue with this exploration and also suggested I watch yet more documentaries so that I can compare the styles.


Next time I’ll talk about one of those documentaries which was a BBC storyville one called Sync or Swim

Observation – Alessia Grassi

Coming into this I wasn’t sure how helpful it would be, I’ve already done a lot of research into research and this is one of the methodologies I have particularly focused on. But with it being the main research method I have been using I was hoping to get even more insight into observational research from PhD student Alessia Grassi; and she didn’t disappoint. 


One of the first points she touched upon is that observation cannot be done just once. It is an iterative process which must be interpreted, then analysed, then done again.


It can be structured to give quantitive data but through participation it can also be qualitative. The beauty of recording observations is that the then allow the study to be both participatory/qualitative  and later analysed to be quantitative which means that video can be primary and secondary – participate and observe.


She went on to talk about ethnography and how the ethnographer needs to participate in the observation. She told us that it is best to use a natural (to the subject/activity) setting but went on to add that the ethnographer should watch, observe and talk. The talk being a discussion with the participants to get their views on the situation.

Some key elements Alessia pointed out were:

  • Live in context for extended period
  • Fully engage
  • Use normal conversation as interview technique
  • Keep records
  • Use tacit and explicit information in both analysis and writeup


She talked about the reasons for being a participant, observer or both and how these are utilised in research and she touched on the ethics of not letting people know you are a researcher. This is or can be important as it may bear on what they reveal.


One of the downsides of observation is that OBSERVATION IS TIME CONSUMING! There is the travel, time spent on location and afterwards there is the analysis and write up to do.


Why use observation?

  • Makes it possible to use different capture methods
  • Because over time you get a more accurate view of how people are acting
  • Helps develop further questions such as happened when I held the focus group
  • It can yield a deeper and broader understanding
  • Sometimes, it might be the only way


One last point was on the importance of how you take notes and then write them up for consumption. After this there was some further discussion before we were released into the savage jungle, red of tooth and claw, that is Huddersfield. We suffered through drinks at Costa and put into practice some of what we had learned from Alessia before heading back and reporting on what we had seen. 


So, nothing majorly new from what I have already read but good to have it from another perspective as always.