BBC - Mark Kermode's film blog

Monday, 15 October 2012

FMP: Contextual Research

Documentary is commonly thought of as a cerebral, intellectual genre (Bill Nichols’ notion of a ‘discourse of sobriety’); quite often it is virtually the opposite: emotion-driven, sensual and – in that it sometimes asks its spectator to respond to it spontaneously on a gut, almost physical emotive level – primal in its appeal.

Bruzzi, Stella. 2006., New Documentary. [online]. Taylor & Francis. Available from: 15 October 2012

The Interview Setup

Only rarely is an interviewee asked to speak directly into the camera, in part because few “regular” people can do it comfortably. (Film- maker Errol Morris achieves this effect through an elaborate setup he devised, called an InterrotronTM, in which the interviewee speaks to an image of Morris on a screen placed over the camera lens.)

Conducting Interviews

Everyone approaches interviewing differently. Some people work to put the subjects at ease, starting with more “comfortable” questions before easing into material that’s more touchy. As mentioned, film- makers whose style is more confrontational may show up with the cameras rolling. Sometimes you’re asking someone to relate an event he or she has told many times, and the story’s taken on a polished quality that you want it to lose; it may take getting the person riled up, or challenging something about the story, to accomplish that.
Another strategy for interviewing, notes Boyd Estus, “is for the person asking the questions not to look at the interviewee as a source of information but to get them involved in a conversation, which often involves playing devil’s advocate. ‘I really don’t understand why this is better than that. Can you explain that to me?’” Estus explains, “So the person’s engaged, as opposed to spouting a pat answer.”

Bernard, Sheila Curran. 2010., Documentary Storytelling. [online]. Elsevier Science & Technology. Available from: 15 October 2012

I will look to be more conversational in my questions tomorrow and search for answers that provoke honesty and humanity.

Extract from

Worthington, Charlotte. 2008., Basics Film-Making: Producing. [online]. Ava Publishing (UK) Ltd. Available from: 15 October 2012

1 comment:

  1. The approach you take in interviews is dependent on your angle and the type of subject and series you are working with. Turning up uninvited is known as 'door stepping' a la Roger Cook or, more recently, the Rogue Traders reporter. This in itself provides a point of tension and storytelling. If the agenda is to 'bring someone to book' then of course you are going to begin by easing them into the subject before going for the 'killer question'. Talk show hosts may well have a conversation and typically it is as much about the presenter as the subject - but again they will build to the questions that WE the audience want them to ask. Important strategies for documentaries are avoiding crossing questions with answers so that you can edit the interviews effectively etc. I have some lecture notes on the MUCA pages as well if that helps - ask me any time! Good luck