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DFP: Documentary Film Production Methods.

This unit talks about Documentary Film Production Methods. It also talks about the Documentary film production Requirements.

There are four methods that can be adopted while producing a documentary film. They are discussed as follows:

  • Studio – Produced Programmes

Kogah (1999) emphasized that documentaries produced in television or film studios from completely written scripts were common just after the World War II. Since then, they have been largely replaced by programmes made of tapes or films recorded in the location where the events being portrayed actually took place. This is what documentary represents: capturing real events in the actual places where the events happened. Although documentaries were produced in studios, this is no longer the trend now since most documentaries are recorded in the actual environments where the events happened.

  • Existing Film Tape

Many television documentaries are made up in whole or in part from film obtained from government archives, newsreel cuttings or other sources. In this regard, they are termed existing tapes.

Programes with a historical focus are the ones most likely to use this type of material. A film on the Nigerian Civil war can best be made using reviewed episodes in the civil war. In like manner, programs dealing with the lives of historical figures such as Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obefemi Awolowo, are also compiled largely from existing film, much of it being produced originally for newsreels at a time they were making powerful speeches at political rallies, during symposia, parliamentary debates, or even budget speeches. There may also be film on the independence day celebration and the accompanying important speeches by the then President of Nigeria.

  • Specially-Produced Film

One other major ingredient in television documentaries is film specially produced for the programme. Many documentaries are composed entirely of material made to order in this way. People who were eye witnesses to great events may be brought before a camera or microphone to record their comments. A typical example may be the Nigerian Constitutional Conference organized by the late Abacha regime.

In some instances a camera or tape recorder is taken into the field to picture scenes or to capture people in situation acting just as they would, where no recording is being made. This brings to the fore, the word, actuality, which is a term often used to designate this type of documentary.

In order to permit natural responses in the situation even though the artificial element of a camera has been introduced, producers developed the cinema verite technique, which makes the cameraman part of a given situation for a relatively long period of time and requires that he/she uses his/her camera unobstrusively as possible.

  • Still Pictures

Some television documentaries utilize a succession of still images as the primary visual element. Biographies of prominent international figures like Abraham Lincoln and others have been presented in this way. Still pictures have also been employed as a secondary element in a number of programmes. Van Gogh’s paintings were effectively used to tell part of that great artist’s story. Still pictures can even be made to move through manipulation of camera trigger and use of special camera like boulex and proper application of Roget’s theory of persistence of vision which gives an illusion of motion based on the standard rate a given number of picture frames can be passed in a second.

The Place of Story and Treatment in the Document Film Production Process

The story is the basis of most films because every film starts from a story. It is the message of the film. The storyline therefore, is the representation of a plot in a cohesive and progressive manner. It introduces the subject, deals with its details and draws a reasonable conclusion from the events, emanating from the events, (owuamalam, 2007). It is a creative construction of events in a logical manner, designed to enhance believability and acceptance, from the consumer of the artistic product. A story line simply, represents the plan through which actions and activities are executed and appreciated, in a creative work of art. But treatment describes the characters, the setting and of course, the actions. It is the first stage of a screen story.

The shooting script contains both the treatment and the story line. It is the responsibility of the director to prepare the shooting script out of the story line given to him/her by the script writer.

Onyechi (2010:239) outlines the basic things needed by the producer for the execution of a documentary film. They include:

  • Research into the viewership of the medium where the documentary is to be aired. The audience of the programme must be known because their likes, dislikes, attitude, opinion etc should be considered while deciding on the nature of documentary to be produced for them. A thorough research should also be carried out on the subject matter and on the nature of interview to be conducted. This will help in ascertaining who the interviewees will be and how to reach them on the appropriate time.
  • Scripting by the producer to cover 1/3 of duration with catchy title should also be made available.
  • Interviews, interviewees and schedule for meetings should be identified and booked early for recording. Written questions should be given to the resource persons in advance.
  • Back to base, the producer may need to adjust the script, creating spaces for information obtained from the field e.g input from resource persons.
  • To secure a good narrator, and select good theme, and bridge music as well as visual inputs, actors and actresses may required to re-enact the unrecorded events (archival materials not available) or events of pre-era or a docu-drama.
  • A virgin tape of excellent quality should be obtained for actual production in the studio. Script (shooting script) and the production crew (graphic artist, floor manager, act or interview clips, archival library shots, location, visuals etc) should also be made handy.
  • Finally, the unedited documents which have been recorded, should be edited, captioned and made ready for airing.

Features to be Included in the Documentary

Onyechi (2010) gave a list of four major features to be included in a documentary film. They include:

  • Narration:

The successes of most documentaries depend on the narration. A good narrator must be hired to voice the documentary where necessary. A narrative, which deals with the soft aspect of news with some elements of drama, is necessary. The narrator, with a good voice quality, is the main character in a documentary. Actor’s voice and music effects are also used to play the parts of people who are already dead or too far-away to be recorded.

  • Entertainment

Facts must be selected, refined, ordered, organized and dramatically presented to the audience. Music, serialized drama, comics, songs etc should be included as light entertainment elements. This will help to win and sustain the interest of the audience thereby popularizing the station and the producer.

  • Sound Effects

Apart from the narrator’s voice, other forms of sound and human (actuality) lyrics, verses etc should be added to add glamour and improve the aesthetic quality of the documentary.

  • Actors and Actresses must be used where necessary.

This will help to re-enact dialogues which actually took place


ASSIGNMENT : Documentary Film Production Methods Assignment MARKS : 10  DURATION : 1 week, 3 days