A Complete Guide to Documentary-making techniques- Dr. Shishir

JMC Study Team

JMC Study Team

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Documentary making is an art that has surfaced from the terminology documentation. Documentaries are A/V films that provide infotainment to its viewers about a particular topic.
A Complete Guide to Documentary-making techniques- Dr. Shishir

JMC Study Hub has interacted with ‘Dr. Shishir Kr Singh’, Assistant Professor, Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University (Former H.O.D of CJMC, Teerthanker Mahaveer University), to know his experience in the Mass Communication field and to know the insights about the present scenario of the Industry.


Highlights of Interview

  • Documentary-making techniques.
  • ‘Trust and Credibility in Print Media’.
  • Importance of Electronic Media in Mass Communication.
  • Scopes or career opportunities in media.
  • Changing trends in television production.

As you have worked on many documentary projects. so please tell us about some documentary-making techniques.

Dr. Shishir: Documentary making is an art that has surfaced from the terminology documentation. Documentaries are A/V films that provide infotainment to its viewers about a particular topic. Documentary films have a variety of aims, to name some, one of the main aims is to record important events and ideas; to inform viewers; to convey opinions and to create public interest. While in a pre-production stage, a documentary film can be segregated into 3 halves for better construction of film: Introduction: The theme of the documentary film can be teased and viewers can be hinted at what all they are going to see in the film. The movie can be introduced by briefly discussing the material covered in the documentary film. Cover: Here, the film-maker needs to present his research and material in a logical fashion and covers all aspects of the documentary.

The below-mentioned techniques like Voice-Overs, Montage, Interviews are used here to tell the story. Summary: The film-maker in the end needs to tie all the loose ends and reinforce the materials that the viewer has just seen and learned. A documentary film is a combination of things like interviews, montages, archival footage, and voice-overs. These all when put together in a logical manner can yield great results and increase the impact and credibility of the documentary film by a thousand folds.

Some of the techniques that are quite popular for a documentary film are mentioned below.

1) Voice-Over: Through the voice-over in a documentary, the filmmaker can speak directly to the viewer, offering information, explanations, and opinions. A voice-over does not directly relate to any text that appears on the screen. The narrator does not usually read the text on the screen, however, it is the job of the narration to support what is being viewed.

2) Archival Footage: Archival footage can be obtained from a film library or archive’s library and inserted into a documentary to show historical events or to add detail without the need for additional filming. In India, one can use archival footage from national archives, this adds credibility to the documentary and feeling of realism.

3) Re-enactment: Speaking about realism, Reconstructions are also often used in documentaries. Re-enactments are artificial scenes of an event that have been refilmed based on information about the event. Reconstructions generally provide factual information. It gives the viewer a sense of realism. To indicate that the re-enacted footage is not real one can use techniques such as blurring, lighting effects, and 2 color enhancement within the footage.

4) Interviews: The interview is a common documentary technique. Through interviews people being filmed can speak directly about events. Interviews in a documentary can give the viewer a sense of realism, also it makes a viewer feel that the documentary maker’s views are mutually shared by another person or source, and thus more valid. To achieve this much detail from an hour’s interview, clips of only a few minutes are shown. Interviews on opposing sides of an issue can be shown to give the viewer comprehensive information about a topic

5) Montage: A montage sequence is used to convey ideas visually, by putting them in a specific order in the film. Montages having narration, involve the planning of sequence of shots used to indicate changes in time and place within a film. This visual representation of the character’s thoughts helps position the viewer in the story and helps the viewer better understand what the character is saying. It visually presents a progression of ideas on a screen.

6) Actuality: Actuality is a term used for raw film footage of real-life events, places, and people as opposed to fictional films that use actors, scripted stories, and artificial sets. Documentaries are not pure actuality films – rather they combine actuality with explanation, commentary, and perhaps even dramatization. The above-mentioned techniques are some of the documentary making techniques that are widely used across the world, and when used in the right fashion can increase the impact of a documentary film

As you have been sub-editor in ‘Dainik Jagran’. So, what do you think about the ‘Trust and Credibility in Print Media’ in comparison to electronic media?

Dr. Shishir: “One major difference between the print media and the electronic media is that print media induce your sleep while the electronic media does not let you sleep” – MD MERAJUDIN SHIRANI

If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow we aren’t really living. When ‘Gail Sheehy’ Wrote this line he never predicted that the change for news platforms and their way of broadcasting will reduce their credibility and trust which people have on them. Nowadays when we talk about print media it has its own consumers or public base. Mostly all the people who want an in-depth knowledge of a news story prefer print media over the electronic media.

It’s because the news reports in print media are much credible and there are very few chances of error than the electronic media. You must be thinking why is it so?

It is because the print media takes time for news reports to get published and also at different levels the news is checked thoroughly. For Example- from stinger to proofreaders and from proofreaders to copy editor, every time at each level the news is checked and corrected which makes the news story more credible and trustful. On the other hand in electronic media, there is a trend of breaking news. There happens a race to break the news first. Mostly they do not show much interest in checking the news story as in electronic media every second matter a lot. They are much bothered about the representation of that news story on their channel or platform first. Also, they make the news stories sensationalized so that everyone shows a keen interest in that news story and media, there is a saying that  “If it bleeds, then it leads”.

Sensationalization also happens to be in the print media. For example, there are some magazines and news journals that always talk about the gossip and the chit chat talk of the industries whether that is the sports industry or Bollywood or any other industry. For example, they call Bollywood stories as B TOWN BUZZ stories or the Bollywood masala stories. But in a long run if we see we will find that the news stories in the print media are still more credible and trustful than electronic media because electronic media will break or show that news story as breaking news without checking its credibility but the print media still got one day to check the facts, correct them and then publish them. As the newspaper will get published the next day.

Your key area is in Electronic Media, so can you tell us about the importance of Electronic Media in Mass Communication?

Dr. Shishir: Electronic media today possesses a major share of the Mass communication pie, as it is easily distributable, it is more accessible, and it has a wide range of audience unlike conventional forms of print media. For instance, during this pandemic, one of the approaches is to halt the circulations of newspapers to control the spread of COVID-19. Electronic media is established in most of the developed world. With support from this, let’s take some more instances. Demonetization happened: How did you get info? India China Face-off at Galwaan Valley: How did you get info? Probably by Television, the Internet or Radio. Communication with the masses is easy through electronic media and even instant.

In terms of career opportunities, please tell us which media has more scopes or career opportunities among Print, Electronic, and New Media, and what are those opportunities?

Dr. Shishir: In terms of career opportunities, I believe today Electronic media and New media have more scopes rather than conventional media, for instance, if we talk about new media which includes social media, and other digital forms, this form of media doesn’t require a huge infrastructure to set-up. One can work in this form of media even from his house, secondly, due to less infrastructural demand, it’s fiscal and easy to set up, and more accessible to mass than any form of media, this is so because today most of the people carry a phone or a smartphone, and the new media can be accessed on smartphone and a feature phone too. But at the same time, this also challenges us on the credibility front. Overall, in terms of popularity &   money-wise, New & Electronic Media offers a far better future.

Can  you tell us about  the  changing trends in television production?

Dr. Shishir: About changing trends in television production, today people in India have an intellectual level that is higher than the one they had in the 1990s or previous to that. Therefore people demand realistic, and well-written scripts, therefore more focus has been put in the pre-production department, everything today is content and only content.

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