Instructor - Norman Hollyn

Lesson #11

Nov 4, 2003

Added Material

Assignments for Next Week

Handouts for this Week

Lesson for This Week



What exactly is a documentary? Ryan Jerving describes it as any film "presumed by its viewers to have a more or less direct relation to reality." Pretty weird definition, eh?, since most films have some relationship to reality. The key word here is "direct." In other words -- a documentary purports to show some version of reality, without the heavy artifice of an artificially imposed narrative. Any shape that you've given to a documentary alledgedly comes from the material itself.

There are different types of documentaries -- observational, analytical, ethnographic, impressionistic, and many more. Some attempt to avoid imposing a point of view, others are blatant in their "selling" of one. All of them, if they are well made, attempt to make a point.

To get at how each film makes its arguments, it is helpful to list all the kinds and sources of visual and aural materials that each film uses (including the title sequences). You can then start to analyze what the overall style of each one it.

Tonight we will take a look at several different documentaries, depending on how much time we have and how we define the term "documentary." The first two are two very different looks at the same subject -- the immigration station of Ellis Island, set in New York City's harbor. The first, a 1997 Arts and Entertainment channel doc, directed by Lisa Bourgoujian, is traditionally constructed and edited. You will notice the use of voice over and archival footage. The filmmaker makes an attempt to unite the past and the present (a theme of both of these documentaries) by desaturating the color in the opening fly-over of the island, taking us into the past. Notice the use of dissolves from one piece of footage to the next, prelaping and postlapping interview voices, and the juxtaposing of images that attempt to make the old footage relevant to today's images.

Here is a description of the film, from Harvard University's Teaching Global Studies web site.

Ellis Island. Producer: Lisa Bourgoujian, 1997. 150 mins.
This "locingly assembled" (People Magazine) three-tape program uses hundreds of interviews, photographs, films and recreations from the Ellis Island Oral History Project to tell the incredible stories of immigration to America through the "golden door," whose entrance, for over half a century, meant an opprotunity for a new life.

The second film, on the other hand, is a 1981 documentary, directed and written in an experimental style by performance artist and composer Meredith Monk. This version, also called ELLIS ISLAND, is told without voice over and without archival footage. It, too, attempts to make a contrast between old and new images by creating new images and old ones, and making them all look similar. The music is entirely different than Bourgougian's version, (it would be valuable to go through the exercise we did during our lesson on music and try and ascribe adjectives to each musical choice), and the storytelling structure is different, but after a while it becomes clear that the filmmakers had similar thoughts in mind.

What do you think they are?

Here is the description of Monk's film from her own web site:

Ellis Island. Directed by Meredith Monk. Produced and co-directed by Bob Rosen. Camera by Jerry Pantzer. Music by Meredith Monk. A film about the experience of immigrants entering America at the turn of the century, ELLIS ISLAND was awarded the CINE Golden Eagle, aspecial Jury Prize from the Atlanta and San Francisco Film and Video Festivals.

Richard III

In the unlikely even that we have time, we will take a look at another example of documentary work -- the film LOOKING FOR RICHARD, which was directed by Al Pacino. This is a sampling of Shakespeare's "Richard III" as Pacino tries to figure out if and why the play has relevance to today's world and today's people. Pacino is also at the film's center as he puts together a cast for a performance of the play, researches its menaings, and interviews people in this country and Europe, about what Shakespeare means to them. The structure of the opening of the film, once again, attempts to find the contrast between the old and the new. Shots are cut togehter to create mood, connectivity and to announce to the audience what and who is important in this film. This is a structure that you will have noticed in all of the documentaries that we look at tonight; in fact, it is a structure in every film that is made.

As a side notes, I present here a quote from Scoutt Foudras' revise of Arlene donnelly's documentary feature NAKED STATES, from Variety. The film follows photographer Spencer Tunick on his five-month quest to find people in each of the 50 states to pose nude (en masses) in public spaces for his camera.

"Naked States" settles into a too comfortable rhythm of showing tunick setting up for a shoot and then cutting to a print of the finished photo, and it is Donnelly's unfailing attachment to this methodology, at the very moment the film needs to take off in a new direction, that reveals her limitations as a documentarian. Donal seems so passively enthralled by Tunick himself that she never really stops to ask him why he does what he does; nor is she interested in deconstructing the artist or his photos."

In fact, the above criticism should be something you ask yourself constantly about every work that you create -- whether it is a documentary or a narrative fiction film. Why do characers do what they do? Am I too caught up in an intellectual rendition of style or too stuck on my original ideas, to move past them to the point where I can make my film really work. Editing is re-editing, re-examining, re-experiencing.


Michael Friedlander, an assistant editor getting his big break on this mini-series, talks about how he collaborates with him co-editor and director, as well as having some sage words about relying on material that was shot, rather than original ideas.
Interview with Hope Hall
Hope Hall directed and edited the documentary "This Is For Betsy Hall," a short film about her mother's eating disorder. In this interview, a portion of which is excerpted in this handout, she talks about the process of structuring the film during the editing. Note that she cut the entire piece of film, on a flatbed. Hope, is a student at Stanford, also talks about how she decided to make the film.
Jeff Werner Edits "Go Tigers!"
When Jeff Werner was putting together his hi-def documentary about the inner dynamics of a town focussed on football, he had to find a script for it. This interview talks about that process, among others.
Interviews with 2001 Oscar Nominated Editors
Kate Amend (go Kate!!!), Ann Collins, and Jean Tsien all had documentaries in competition for the Oscar at 2001's Academy Awards. In this excedrpt from an EditorsNet interview, the three discuss the process of crafting a film and what interests them in the process.
CD of Music for AND THE BAND PLAYS ON exercise
Though this isn't yours to keep (there's only one for the entire class -- so please put it back as soon as you take off what you need), you will be receiving a CD with 19 musical cues to cut this sequence to. The cues range from Erik Satie to Missy Elliott to Pantera to cues pulled from other films, so there's a wide range. After you determine what your sequence will be about, then you can think about the music that will best work within that description. Transfer several cues off of the CD that you think might work and try them all. Decide where to begin in the picture, and what part of the musical cue you are going to use. YOU MUST USE MUSIC FROM THIS CD. Use your rubber banding tool to raise and lower the music if you need to.
CD of images for AND THE BAND PLAYS ON exercise
This CD contains a number of still images that you may or may not use to add some style to the piece. You should learn how to import images from the CD, and experiment with what happens to the screen ratio of the image if you import at the wrong setting.

Assignment for Next Week

Cut the footage from AND THE BAND PLAYS ON
This material is actually made up of two separate scenes, but you are encouraged to blend the two. Most of this footage is close-up and insert shots of an operations and an experiment. Half of you will be editing it to fulfill and analysis of a story line that you will make up. The other half of you will be editing it to fulfill a style-based analysis. Don't consciously try and build a story line, but make associations based on some other criteria -- color, movement, size. Both groups should add some sort music, from the CD that I am supplying you. Remember, you are working in new groups beginning this week. Click here to see the new groups (will be online the day after class).
Read Chapters 15, and 15A in the textbook
This will take you pretty much up through the finishing of the film in the lab.

Added Material

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What Happens to Your Film In The Lab?
This series of explanations about the work of a film lab suffers by being a bit out of date. Well, actually, it's quite a bit out of date. But, aside from the last page, which describes edge numbering by the lab, it still remains one of the best descriptions about what happens once your negative goes in through the door of the lab. Another blow-by-blow description (more up-to-date, but less illustrated) is available at the Kodak web site.
Tips on Cutting Negative
Northeast Negative Matchers put together this list of handy tips for preparing your film for negative cutting.
Laboratory Operations
It sounds dry, but Film Lab in South Africa, has a fairly comprehensive and very readable overview of most lab processes. Well worth taking a look.
List of Los Angeles Film Labs
This is a, more or less, complete list of film labs in the Los Angeles area.
Kodak Support Documents
Kodak has a comprehensive web site with helpful papers on selecting a lab, what a lab does, and a host of other production and post-production issues. One interesting note is copies below:

Airport X-Ray Security and Film

Security precautions at US airports are currently being upgraded following the tragic events of September 11th. Although detailed information about new security procedures is not yet available, it is likely that the use of high-intensity X-ray machines for screening passenger baggage and freight will be increased.
While in the past, passing film through an ordinary X-ray scanner at a security checkpoint usually did not affect film, travelers should be aware that the high intensity machines now in use at many airports, will fog all unprocessed film, whether exposed or not -- and that all baggage may be subjected to scanning in such machines.
Kodak's Tips on Selecting A Lab
This page from Kodak's web site discusses what you should look for when you're searching for a film lab. Understand that film labs are decreasing in number all of the time, but Los Angeles still has the biggest selection of labs, so there are choices to make.
This Nov 4001 article is about Charles Guggenheim's struggle to make a documentary film about a prisoner of war camp during World War II. Though the article is primarily about the events in the past, in the course of the piece Guggenheim discusses a number of things that Robbie Kenner talked about in this evening's class. I've highlighted them in yellow, as usual.
The folks at Cyber-College have a typically simple-minded description of news gathering forces, but it's a great introduction to the who-does-what on a news crew out in the field. This is actually the first of two pages. The second page is here.

Though I've tried to accomodate other browsers THIS SITE IS DESIGNED FOR BEST USE WITH IE for the PC, SAFARI for the Mac, and FIREFOX for both the PC and the Mac. It also looks reasonably good on the iPhone. Lucked out on that!

All material, except where noted, ©1999-2008 by Norman Hollyn. Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Send me an e-mail at my office
Last Modified - September 30, 2008