Media Production 101: Issues in documentary film making

What are the issues that we must address in documentary films?

-Impartiality / balance
-Access / privacy
Accuracy: In order to maintain an accurate portrayal of a subject you must conduct research. When it comes to research, accuracy can vary depending on the source. Primary sources are considered to be the most trustworthy as you can obtain the information you require straight from an original source. However the problems with primary research are that sources can be biased and its quite difficult to get someone to set aside their time for you, another drawback is of course money as its going to cost you to go out and look for willing contributors.
Secondary research is often described as second hand information as its someone else’s primary research. It is my understanding that secondary research methods are at their best when you’re looking for statistical information. It can also be useful for finding a variety of opinions in a shorter space of time than going out and interviewing individuals. However secondary research can have a greater variation in reliability which makes it difficult to find the right source of information. Another thing is that the information can also be outdated because attitudes towards subjects can change over time.
Primary versus secondary is a very common occurance in the accuracy argument but both can be verified by making phone calls to/emailing contributors who can verify sources. Another way to be sure of accuracy is to mark sources with dates because information is constantly being updated and you need to be up to speed in order to present a reliable factual documentary.

Impartiality: Does your argument take an objective stance towards the subject matter or a subjective one? The past statement refers to whether the documentary takes a biased stand point or tries to balance the facts and tell both sides of the conflict. Another temptation for documentarians is whether to present something entertaining at the expense of the truth or go all out on facts and risk losing your audience because of their lack of attention. The best way to avoid bias is to present both sides of an argument, however you do risk creating a bland documentary. Another point is even if you present both sides of an argument, who will the winner be if any?

Idealogy: Carrying on from where impartiality left off, who makes the decision as to what is morally right and acceptable? Idealogy in documentaries is the expression of a point of view that favours one side of an argument over another. More often than not it is the producer’s idealogy that prevails in a documentary. This is unfortunate as it limits the questions documentarians can ask and the evidence they can bring forward just so the producers can remain politically correct.

Respresentation: Representation refers to when a culture/ethnic/stereotype is portrayed in a visual medium such as Asian couples owning corner shops and Irish being drunk all the time. You have to careful in who and how you represent because you could be accused of racial misconduct (racism) and sued which is the last thing you want. However a drawback of this is people can get upset over the most trivial of details which unfortunately is backed up by an overly politically correct stance in the UK media industry which in many ways acts as a straight jacket restraining the truth.

 Access/Privacy: What is and what is not our business? Do we have the right to intrude on someone else’s property and privacy in the pursuit of the truth, no matter what it is, or do we respect their rights as citizens of the state? One very interesting argument was brought to my attention: the difference between public interest and the public’s interest. These may sound similar but in fact there is a very subtle difference between them.  Public interest translates to what the public wants to know, this would include celebrity gossip such as who is going out with who and whose baby is it anyway? The public’s interest translates to what the public needs to know, such as how will Cameron’s latest bill affect the NHS? Or which politicians are using taxpayers’ money for personal gain? Or even is there corruption present in our Houses of Parliament? However who decides what the public needs to know?
My experience: At this time of typing I have recently finished a documentary with my classmates about the legend of Lady Godiva. In my experience a lot of what was mentioned above did not play a vital part in our documentary, this is due to the subject matter of our work which did not venture into areas of emotional tension such as race and culture. Research was the biggest player in the making of our documentary and we employed the services of the internet and living contributors. Cherie gathered a lot of news articles from magazines and the internet concerning Lady Godiva and we discovered that there were many different versions of the story coming from different sources. We managed to get a primary source of information in the form of the curator of the Herbert art gallery.

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