Kellen Playford

NUA [MA] Moving Image and Sound

RIPU: Body of Work


I have been researching and experimenting with the form, style, and technological requirements of documentary filmmaking during this first teaching block at NUA. The areas I have looked at so far, include:

DSLR interviews (part 1) and DSLR interviews (part 2) (the participatory mode),

Different equipment to shoot action scenes,

Montage format (the poetic mode),

Documentary modes and experimental ideas.

I am also considering future work, and how my research will influence the outcome of that. The two projects I would like to produce while studying at NUA are a short wildlife documentary, and a short human experience documentary.

Wildlife Documentary

A lot of my research thus far has focused on the equipment and style of natural history documentaries over the years (with David Attenborough and his BBC shows acting as a case study throughout my research report). I intend to use what I have learned and build upon the findings to help me create a dynamic documentary about UK wildlife.

The area I would like to focus on specifically is the discussion around native species being reintroduced back into the wild here in Britain. The movement of bringing back species is called ‘rewilding’, and there have been some hugely successful examples seen around the world. In Europe, wild buffalo have been reintroduced into the Netherlands, while scientists in America have discovered many positives after releasing wolves back into Yellowstone National Park. In the UK, there are already successful programmes that have reintroduced animals such as beavers, reindeer, and eagles back to the wild, and there are proposals to bring back brown bears, lynx, and wolves, among others. I would love to document the process of selecting a species and reintroducing it into the wild, and then following up with the programme to see what impact it has had on the ecosystem and the human population.

I have been thinking about what form this documentary might take, and I feel like there will be a blend of different modes noticeable on this film. The observational mode would perhaps be most apparent, as I would look to capture scenes of wildlife at ease and in their natural habitats. Since I would be conducting interviews with experts in the field, and with members of the local community, the film would show signs of being participatory as well. It would be somewhat expository, as I would be looking to impart information upon my audience, though I am not a fan of the preachy nature of that mode, so I think I would lean more towards the performative mode and make myself a (small) part of the film. Research shows that audiences respond favourable when they have an anchor to follow and relate to, so if I made the film about myself and my feelings towards rewilding, I could potentially connect with viewers on a deeper level.

Something like this will require a lot of equipment and presumably a lot of crew. I suspect I would be shooting over a long period of time, and in a variety of different scenarios. For interviews, I would stick with a shoulder mounted / tripod DSLR with zoom lens and shotgun mic. That would allow quite a lot of flexibility, while not being too invasive and off putting for subjects. For shots of the wildlife, I would attempt to use three different methods of cinematography: firstly, I would use aerial drone footage to capture sweeping vistas and establishing shots. These would help the film to look elegant and cinematic. Secondly, I would use a long lens DSLR (up to 300mm) to capture footage from afar, so as not to disturb the animals, helping me to observe their natural state and maintain authenticity and realism. Finally, to echo that, I would look to use remote controlled action cameras which could be placed in the environment ahead of time and used to film close ups of the scene unfolding. Most of these would be filming simultaneously to capture as much footage as possible.

Links for further research:

Human Experience Documentary

Another filmmaker I am a big fan of is Louis Theroux. His films have been truly eye opening over the years, but they are so different to the natural history styles listed above. The way he immerses himself in a world and becomes a part of the film, as much as the intended subject, is a subtle and creative way of creating a bond with the audience. They are going along on the journey with him, they are learning with him. It also allows the audience to connect with the subject on a deeper level, as his presenting style acts as a bridge to bring them closer together.

I would like to make a personal documentary about an experience which might many people might overlook. I am thinking that in this particular case, I would make myself a part of the film also, and invite audiences to follow me on an emotional journey as I look to explore a complicated issue – possibly mental health, and how it can not only affect the initial sufferer, but also those around.

This would be a truly participatory and performative style of film. The whole point is to bring the audience in to the action as close as possible

Links to further research:

360-Degree Videos / Virtual Reality

While researching this module, I came to realise just how big the field of 360-degree videos/virtual reality has become within the documentary genre. It has exploded over the last few years, and is seen by some as the future of the genre. I recently bought myself a Google Cardboard headset for the small price of £10. It allows me to insert my phone and watch 360-degree content (which I can download or stream using free apps). These videos are all ‘director-led’ meaning that while you can turn your head and look in all directions, you are still restricted by where the director has placed the camera initially. There is a burgeoning sub-genre of CGI virtual reality films where audiences are transported into a complete environment and can move around freely. This is both interesting and exciting, but from my own filmmaking point of view, I can’t see myself moving past 360-degree videos anytime soon.

I have no idea where to begin with this, but I have seen lots of new rigs on the market which can capture 360-degree video footage and automatically stitch it together, ready for viewing.

Links to further research:


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