Wednesday 28 May 2014

The Miracle of Crowdfunding: Brief v.1 - Let's get this ball rolling (again)...

"You know, it might be just this one anonymous glory; of all things, this rich stone forest, this epic chant, this gaiety, this grand choiring shout of affirmation, which we choose, when all our cities are dust, to stand intact: to mark where we have been, to testify what we had it in us, to accomplish." - Orson Welles, F for Fake, 1973

A feature length documentary exploring the practice and heritage of the cinema.

Breaking down the cinema

Breaking Cinema - working title

Documentary treatment and proposal -currently in formation

The documentary is less about fact and more about form.

This brief will evolve as the project progresses and I will post up a new version of it as it does, that way we will have a record of how the brief evolved - the making of a documentary is just as interesting as a documentary itself. 

"Right, let's get this ball rolling... it'll be an avalanche by the time I'm finished! Mark these words..." - Pete, Facebook Group, 20/05/2014

It's a comin'...

My POV: for the fencing documentary and in general

Visual silence, repulsion against the shackles of boredom, the compartmentalisation of a person, narcissistic appraisal, old in young, young in old, suspicion of structures/institutions/traditions, the paradoxical self, a hatred of complacency, the central drive of anger, a yearning for knowledge and an appreciation of the intellect.

Defining your point of view is always an incredibly tricky business, but if you want to be successful in your approach to any endeavour  - gaining a thorough understanding of your own motivations and inclinations is paramount! 

Presented here are all the POV posts that I generated for the documentary module of the final year of my BA (Hons); in which I co-created a short documentary about fencing and a reflective wiki with my colleague Thomas Wiltshire. The project was orchestrated between October 2012 to April 2013. For a more detailed overview see Fencing: an examination of the sport and an exploration of the documentary medium.

"The impression I get from you Pete is that you want to change peoples' points of view." 
- Mike Johnston, Senior Lecturer in Creative Media Practice

While I did find my POV quite daunting to define - objectifying yourself is never easy - gaining that knowledge has ultimately proven to be invaluable in all of my creative and non-creative pursuits.
Something to do with Film is very  much about my POV, even though it has taken me a number of years to realise that fact.

I was immensely pleased with the reflective POV material I generated and, looking back at all that material now, one year later, it is amazing how integrally it still holds true. 

If you are interested in defining your own POV, then what I have presented here may be of some use.

My POV post is comprised of the following:

  • my POV in visual form - a short video montage using my photography to demonstrate my POV.
  • my creative identity profiler results - an exercise devised to define your POV in relation to your creative inclinations.
  • My Land of Puddings - another short video montage demonstrating my POV in regards to juxtaposition and my national identity.
  • a few bullet points provided a slightly more thorough explanation of my POV.
  • a conclusion that sums up my overall POV in regards to the fencing project and how my POV has informed my approach to making the documentary.

If you want to understand my POV, this post is a pretty thorough explanation...

My POV - my point of view in visual form (1:26).

My creative POV a.k.a. my creative identity

This is actually the third time I have gone through Rabiger’s Creative Identity profiler (see Directing the Documentary by Michael Rabiger) so my answers should be pretty conclusive! I apology if my summary seems a bit abstract, but I felt the best way for me to draw together my creative Identity was through stream-of-consciousness writing.

My Creative Identity Summary

  • The themes that arise from my self study are visual silence, repulsion against the shackles of boredom, the compartmentalisation of a person, narcissistic appraisal, old in young, young in old, suspicion of structures/institutions/traditions, the paradoxical self, a hatred of complacency, the central drive of anger, a yearning for knowledge and an appreciation of the intellect.
  • The changes for which I want to work are an illumination of the intellect and an understanding of the subtext.
  • The kinds of subject for which I feel the most passionately are one’s that offer self-reflexive viewpoints and that expose the underlying pulse of a situation or establishment. Conflicting ideologies/institutions/temperaments is another area that offers me much intrigue; as does the subject of juxtapositioning completely different ideas to create a result that represents something greater than the original constituent parts, and which forces the spectator to question their own assumptions and beliefs.
  • Other important goals I have in mind are to maintain the visual imperative of telling something that should be told visually and not to be fearful of using a lie to represent the truth. If a film lies then it is only presenting a truth of reality - everyone lies!

My POV on Great Britain: My Land of Puddings

"This exercise experiments with music editing and meaning/association and ironic images counterpointed against them. Find or shoot images that contrast it’s lofty ideals with an alternative ironic reality. 

Use found footage/stills or shoot your own. Edit to the beat points in the music. Work with ironic juxtaposition 

If you want to music edit the verses so that you can work with less familiar verses/sections, then do but you might find the edit tricky." 

- Mike Johnston, Short Documentary Making tutor 

With this exercise we had to use the Land of Hope and Glory backing track, as performed by Clara Butt, to produce a video montage that experimented with juxtapositioning images and ideas of the British national identity; in relation to our own POV of Great Britain.

I have always found the subject of the British national identity a tricky subject - mainly because it does not actually exist.

This country has been invaded so many times throughout its long history that, in terms of genetics, the "British" people of today are European. Additionally, pretty much every cultural tradition that is practised in this country was at one point "borrowed" from another cultural and country - we acquired the cup of tea from China and I have even heard some people refer to the curry as being British!

If there ever were any true-born-and-bred-British-people, they no longer exist, genetically or culturally. Britain, or Great Britain, is just the name of a landmass that houses a vast multicultural collection of peoples and traditions that we have come to associate with the identity of "British" - Britain is and always has been a multicultural nation, embrace it and celebrate it!

My Land of Puddings (1:50).

As you would have seen from the video, my montage was quite dark and I intentionally made it so, because I knew everyone else would produce a highly positive portrayal of Britain and I wanted to leave a lasting impression.

While I think it is always good to have a positive outlook, it can lead to wilful blindness in regards to the more the negative aspects and I very much wanted to point out the fallacy of the "traditional-stiff-neck-British-national-identity" and the social problems we sometimes/almost always try to hide behind it.

I kept the subject matter quite current: 

  • the country was still buzzing from the London 2012 Olympics.
  • the Jimmy Seville scandal had just become public knowledge and was causing a mass condemnation throughout the UK.
  • the financial crisis was still causing ripples.
  • the 2011 London riots.
  • Baby P was still being discussed as a major example of how "the system" was failing this county. 

Additionally, I also touched upon some of the more deeply ingrained historical aspects of this country: Guy Fawkes and the crimes of the British Empire.

My Land of Puddings was very much about challenging the established and commonly held point of view. When we viewed it in class, it was evident to see that it made an impression on everyone who was present, there was silence and unease after my video ended. 

However, My Land of Puddings was also about reinforcing what is truly great about this country. This country may borrow from other cultures, but that is what make it great, because it is an amalgamation of so many different cultures and a strong promoter of multiculturalism. 

AND out of all that amalgamation, this country sometimes does bring something original to the table, which in this case is a Yorkshire pudding (or, sub-textually, the rather odd British sense of humour). 

Ultimately, through presenting a dark portrayal of this country I endeavoured to remind people of the small things that truly do make Britain great.

My POV (up until late 2012) explained...

Below I've attempted to explain some of the themes in My POV video, from way up above, I apologise if some are a bit abstract. 

While my explanations would probably be much clearer as a mind map, here I have recorded them via stream-of-consciousness writing...

Seeing and Visual Thinking

  • I’ve always been a visual learner/thinker and I think this is one of the reasons I tend to be quite plain-spoken. I don’t rate human verbal interaction that highly; to me, it distracts my attention from what I’m looking at.
  • I promise you, you will learn so much more about a person by watching them than you ever will by listening to all the stuff that spiels from their mouth.
  • My attitude has always been: show me you can do it, don’t tell me you can do it (anyone can say they can climb a mountain).

Films and visual storytelling

  • I love films! I appreciate them as they’re visual (the really good ones are) and, I suspect, I get my visual thinking from films, because I couldn’t really read or write when I was younger. Films were always there as a fixed frame of reference that I could always go back to, that I was always able to understand and they’ve always helped me to better understand the world.
  • At the moment, as they provide the most stimulating experience for the senses, films are one of the preferred means by which Humanity likes to indulge itself in stories. To me, like all means of telling stories, films are Humanity’s way of rationalising the world; If we didn’t have a means to rationalise the world – we would go insane. But, more important than rationalising the world, films allow us to escape the boredom of everyday life (which can also make you go insane). Therefore, I have a great respect for films and the power they exert over the Human race and I have always bee hugely interested in exploring how they have this power.

Photography and Contexts

  • Taking a photograph is the same as making a choice. Once you have a photographed a framed composition in a particular way you have locked it into a particular context. Likewise, once you come to a decision you have taken a set of pre-thinking that frames your decision in a particular context. Once you realise this, photography becomes a great way to open your eyes and become very open-minded.
  • When I take a photograph I do externally what my brain is visually doing internally. The rewarding thing about a photograph is, as much as it is a photograph of something separate from yourself, it is a photograph of something very familiar to yourself – your internal thought patterns.

Structures and Compositions

  • Physical structures and architecture have always fascinated me. I like how particular arrangements of shape and form can be manipulated to generate specific emotions.
  • Even re-arranging already established arrangements can generate a greater effect, such as with Film Noir. Film Noir turns the conventions of lighting, shadows and framing on their heads to convey an impression that intensifies the story being told.
  • When I was younger I loved to play with Lego. For me Lego allowed to take these already fixed pieces of structure, which I could then add together and arrange into new compositions that we’re always more fulfilling than their base components.
  • Video editing taps into my appreciation of structures and compositions and it allows me to exercise this fascination. This is why I enjoy editing so much; it’s an adult equivalent of playing with Lego - it exercises the same mental discipline.
  • I've always been fascinated by the structures of trees and the pattern that their branches make. That pattern, it turns out, is actually a fundamental pattern of nature; its called Constructal theory and it's the reason trees, water tributaries, lung airways, lighting, brains, etc, all share the same basic pattern. It is argued, the reason for its continual recurrence is: "For a finite-size system to persist in time (to live), it must evolve in such a way that it provides easier access to the imposed currents that flow through it." I find this absolutely amazing (see Motivations and Subtexts).

Motivations and Subtexts

  • I’ve always been interested in psychology (it’s the one area I regret not taking academically). For me, psychology makes life much more interesting because it exposes the subtext and subconscious of everyday life. If I can’t pin down the psychology of a person, I find it increasingly hard to trust that person.
  • As much as I’m interested in psychology, I’m also interest in biology and how human biology interacts with psychology, and vice versa.
  • The nature of what reality is and each of us construct our own realities has always intrigued me.
  • Why and how things work has always interested me.

Knowledge and Studying

  • At the moment, my degree is the single most important thing in my life. Everything else is secondary and I am, literally, investing everything I have into my degree!
  • I hate not having anything to do or to work on and this is why I enjoy studying so much (as long as it is in an area that interests me). I just like to have things that I can pull apart and put back together again (see Structures and Compositions).
  • I respect the power of knowledge and the advantages of being open-minded. I wouldn’t say that I have always appreciated these, but I certainly do now!

Habits and Principles

  • I’ve always been absolutely stunned by how a person can pick a principle and then through determination of sticking to specific habits achieve what is seemingly an impossible outcome, such as Bruce Wayne does with Batman (the Nolan films perfectly demonstrate this).
  • I’m big on habits and on nurturing the better ones. Sticking to strong habits strengthens character, as I learnt from my swear sock. I went a whole month without swearing (well I swore 23 times) and, amazingly, I don’t swear at all now!
  • I can’t stand people who say they’re going to do something… and then they don’t do it. I have a strong principle of sticking to the things I say I’m going to do. Then If I’m not going to do something I let it be known, opposed to sticking my head in the sand.

Time and Favourites

  • There’s the saying that time flies when you’re having fun and, equally, you could argue that if you’re doing something very benign, such as walking down the road, time seems to slow down. But time doesn’t slow down or speed up; it ticks at the same rate regardless of the situation. Time is very important to me because we really don’t have a lot of it and you would be incredibly foolish to waste it.
  • I’m also interested in what time is and how it can be manipulated.
  • I can't stand the question: "what's your favourite...?" I try not to have a single favourite in something (I have forty favourite films); I think to have fixed singular favourites in every area of your life is to be very narrow-minded and will stop you from trying new things. However, when it comes to food I can hands down say that my favourite food is pancakes! I allow myself to have pancakes as my favourite food because there are SO many different things you can have pancakes with and, therefore, they don't stop me from trying new things.

My POV on fencing

A spur-of-the-moment recorded exclamation of how I viewed fencing (5:37).


  • I have a completely different POV to Tom's - I'm on the outside looking in and Tom is on the outside looking out. 
  • My POV is closer to the audiences POV and I am able to ask the questions the audience would ask. 
  • My POV has evolved as a result of filming the documentary. Observing and interacting with the subject matter has made me less ignorant towards fencing. 
  • My artistic approach on the documentary is also different to Tom's. I'm a realist: I'm interested in capturing the subject matter as it happens. Tom is a formalistic: he's interested in using the assembling of the film form to represent the subject matter and the themes of the subject matter. 
  • While making the documentary, I have discovered I have a deeper connection to fencing. For me, fencing has many parallels to skiing. Skiing is something I am very enthusiastic towards and which I want to refine. Through this parallel I am able to essentially identify with a fencer’s POV.

I'm sure there's more I could say, but this is all I'm going to say.

However, why not check out the rest of the Fencing documentary project that all this material was originally generated for...

Friday 23 May 2014

Facing Fencing: reflecting on an unfinished character study

Like all intensely focused individuals, Tim has a very pronounced abnormality and because of this I was immediately sold on him being the focus of the character study.

Fencing is a short documentary and reflective wiki that I co-created with my colleague, Thomas Wiltshire, for our final year BA (Hons) documentary project. The project was orchestrated between October 2012 to April 2013. For more detailed overview see Fencing: an examination of the sport and an exploration of the documentary medium.

The fencing character study was a practical exercise designed to get us in the swing of documentary making - essentially, the character study was our practice documentary.

The character study was filmed and edited in January, 2013. 

The character study was something that neither Tom nor myself could devote a great deal of our time and attention towards. Both of our final year schedules were pretty busy and most of our time and attention was directed towards the planning of the main Fencing documentary.

The focus of the character study is Tim Miles, a coach and member of the Bath Sword Club. 

What follows is the original reflection and deconstruction I posted on the project wiki.

The post includes:

  • the two rough cuts I did manage to complete
  • details on the planning 
  • details on the process of filming and what we learnt from that first practice shoot
  • an overview of my thinking behind my editing approach
  • a brief description of what the completed character study would have been like 
  • what we learnt from the overall experience

If you want to understand the challenges and logistics behind formulating (pre-production), orchestrating (production) and re-formulating (post-production) a documentary subject, then reading the following reflection about our practice project is a pretty good place to start...

The Fencing Character Study

The editing of the character study was undertaken by Pete, as Tom did not have any time to devote to it. 

The video below is what Pete was able to edit and is really testament to the brief amount of time he was able to devote to it. 

This edit is still incomplete and is missing a final segment that would have focused on Tim fencing and what he ultimately gets out of fencing. With this final segment, the next cut of the character study would have been around 3 minutes in length. 

The next step would have been to trim it down to about 2 minutes 30 seconds. Then the colour correction would have done with the final sound fixes and titles implemented. 

However, both Pete and Tom have now abandoned the character study in favour of concentrating on the main documentary.

Subject and Planning

I think Tom had more enthusiasm for the character study exercise than I did. To me the character study exercise was just a hindrance I didn't want to deal with. For this reason, I said to Tom that we should absolutely try to connect the character study with our main documentary idea, because then it would at least be a productive venture. 

To this end Tom suggested that Tim, one of the coaches and the chap which the above video is about, would be a good subject for a character study.

My thinking was to film the character study before Christmas and, to this end, I nearly suggested another idea for the study. As Tom was taking a while to get back to me about Tim, the idea I had was to do a character study on the chap who runs the new East Wing cafe that has opened on Newton Park campus. 

I know the guy who runs it, it's on campus and it would also have helped my colleague Matt Coot out because he has been trying to do a video on the cafe all year and hasn't yet managed to get footage of it. I figured this would have been a safe bet for a character study, but I decided to wait for Tom's reply on Tim because, ultimately, it would serve us better to go down that route. 

Ultimately, Tom did get back to me and said we could do it in the beginning of January.

Tom singled out Tim because Tim is someone who has been fencing his whole life and who takes fencing extremely seriously. As with the rest of the documentary, with the character study I was very much the outsider but as soon as I met Tim I could see that he was everything Tom had told me he was. 

Like all intensely focused individuals, Tim has a very pronounced abnormality and because of this I was immediately sold on him being the focus of the character study.

Following on from this, Tom and myself worked out a rough structure for the character study (essentially, this is still retained in the rough cuts) and then drew up a number of questions that would allow us to draw from Tim the information we needed to fulfill the agreed structure.


The filming of the character study was fairly straight forward and was achieved without any problems. For myself and Tom it was simply a case of following our plan and shot list

Character Study shot list 
  • Tim Interview 
  • One on one coaching with Tim Footage of coaching 
  • The children warming up with Tim
  • Tim fencing
  • General footage of the Bath Sword Club 

Tim had agreed to come in twenty minutes earlier to film his interview which we managed to do in about ten minutes. Then, when Tim's student arrived, we filmed the one-on-one coaching and then did the final filming of Tim fencing, as Tom had to see to his usual fencing duties.

We did encounter a brief problem with the sound where we thought we were picking up interference on the radio mic. It was in fact nothing more than the rain on the roof of the sports hall. 

However, it did necessitate me to ask Tim to re-answer the third question again and I'm glad we were able to ask him again because he gave us a much more detailed second answer. We didn't need a more detailed answer but it did give us a little bit more material to play with in the edit and material to use if we found ourselves at a loose end.


I took on the task of editing because, due to other upcoming assignments, Tom had no time to devote to the task. However, as I had minimal time to devote to it I made it clear to Tom that my edit was never going to be perfect.

With my edit I’ve followed our agreed structure as much as I could and when we were discussing the structure Tom even went so far as to talk about the actual arrangements of shots and the cuts between them. 

However, I knew it would have been impossible to follow it to this level of detail and the footage we had shot would not allow me to anyway. By this, I mean it’s all very well wanting to start the video with a long tracking shot but if the only tracking shot you have suddenly and quite obviously dips at multiple points throughout the shot then I’m going to want to edit around those dips and probably disregard the whole shot all together.

When we were filming the character study we very quickly abandoned the tripod just because it was easier to follow the action with the camera hand held. However, we both needed to have a bit more practice with handheld because we let ourselves down at points in the footage. That said, it was just as well that the character study shoot was also a practice shoot for the documentary.

The thinking behind this comes from my and Tom’s POV on fencing. 

When we were talking about how we were going to edit the study I suggested that we each produce our own cuts. Tom wasn't so keen on this idea because he really wanted to get the character study done as quickly as possible. However, I felt it we had produced our own cuts they would have been very good indicators of each of our POVs on fencing. 

To this end I think the first 30 seconds are very indicative of my POV of the outsider. If Tom had edited it he would have instantly established the presence of fencing; whereas I’ve gone the other way and gradually introduced the concept, I’m editing it for people who are ignorant towards fencing.

The first shot is of the warm-up but unless you’ve seen a fencing warm-up before you don’t know it’s a fencing warm- up so as soon as you see the feet moving in unison and the members standing in a bizarre position you ask: what is this?

Already, in the first shot, I’ve got the spectator asking a question, so they’re going to keep watching because they want to know the answer. I also selected this as the opening shot because I wanted something I could stay with for a while without cutting away (and because the first thing you see is feet and I’ve always loved the opening to Strangers on a Train). 

As I could stay with the shot for a while I could introduce the testimony of Tim over it opposed to cutting to him sat down in front of the camera which would have been the wrong way to start it. It’s better to pick a much more interesting shot bring Tim in over it and THEN cut to him sat down and establish his presence as an interviewee.

Also, what I loved about Tim’s testimony about why he does fencing is initially he doesn’t actually mention the word ‘fencing’. Therefore his testimony acted as a perfect backbone for the visual opening/introduction I was creating, so I went along with it. 

For me, the ignorant person, I had to start with this information: what do you do fencing or why should I, the spectator, who has no interest in fencing, spend some of my time watching a video about fencing? 

However, Tim starts talking about dancing so I cut to Tim doing a sort of star jump like exercise, here I visual elaborate on what is being said and make the connection that fencing share many attributes with dancing.

This shot was the only piece of footage that I captured from the character study shoot that I was happy with because I felt like I had actually captured something worth capturing. Tom later commented that it was good that I caught this because he Tim never smiles!

However, in addition to elaborating on what is being said I’m also visual saying what Tim is essentially saying that fencing shares many attributes with dancing so to make this visual connection I cut to Tim as full fencing iconography...

... and pulling his hood down which allows me to set up his presence in the later shot, as soon as that hood comes down he could be anyone!

Then I cut back to man himself saying the punch line: the reason why an ignorant viewer should watch a video about fencing and why someone would want do fencing: “Give a small boy a sword and invite him to hit his friend - what you going to do? You’re not going to turn it down.

Naturally, then you have to follow this up so you cut into Tim going full pelt and as he does so we zoom out to reveal the full ferocity of his action and of the other fencers in the background. 

I’ve gradually introduced the different elements of it: the footwork, the posture, the elegance, the iconography, the ferocity and the reason why anyone could be tempted to do it. 

In the first 30 seconds I’ve introduced the concept, I’ve made it clear this is about Tim and I’ve got the spectator even more intrigued. That was the ‘way in’ I assembled and I figure it's a pretty good ‘way in’ for any ignorant audience member.

Once I had established this ‘way in’ for the audience and ‘way in’ for myself I found the rest of the study pretty much edited itself. 

The only part I haven’t done is the final segment and there are two reasons for this: 

  1. Lack of time.
  2. Lack of a final definitive point by Tim.

From 0:46 – 2:10 we’ve already established that one of the things Tim gets out of fencing is the pleasure to pass his knowledge on but, ultimately, what is the single absolute thing he gets out of fencing? 

Essentially, Tim did answer this question. The problem was he gave us a very general answer and didn’t really define in simple terms what it is he gets from fencing. 

When we were interviewing him we should have pushed him further. Unfortunately, this didn’t occur to me until after I had watched the footage back. 

If I did have a final definitive statement from Tim it would have given me a backbone around witch to create a fitting ending.

I have no doubt that I could have assembled a similar and, perhaps, less satisfying ending from the material I had. I even toyed with using some of the other footage we had shot from the later shoots. 

Ultimately, I refrained myself because I wanted to stick with the footage that had been specifically filmed with a character study in mind. I wanted to remain pure to the task and maintain the challenge of the task. 

My ending would have brought together all of the best bits of Tim’s fencing to demonstrate his ferocity and skill. Then joining this footage together with some of Tim’s general replies I would have attempted to demonstrate ultimately what he has attained from fencing.

However, I ran out of time, so the character study remains unfinished. If I had finished editing the final segment of the study I would have then gone back and trimmed it down. Then I would have colour corrected it, finalised the sound and added titles.

Music is an option, but I would rather have had the music from the start and used it to influence my edit. 

Really, I just was more interested in presenting an ‘unfiltered’ realist presentation of the fencing and music would have detracted from this. 

On the other hand, if you were going for a more formalistic approach, as I’m sure Tom would have done, music would work with it. 

Again, it would have been great if Tom had produced an edit because it would clearly demonstrate his formalist approach in comparison to my realist approach.

Perhaps, if I can clear some time up later on in the year I will have another crack at finishing the character study.

Below is the initial rough cut that was screened in the character study documentary session.

Key Things Learnt 

  • Be more careful with our handheld camera operating.
  • Encourage interviewees to generate a final definitive point on the subject they have been questioned. 
  • Keep the/an ending in mind so that your subject is leading towards something and, therefore, being narrowed down. 
  • Be more selective towards the general footage we shoot.

Why see how we took this practice exercise and initial research and factored it into the planning of the main documentary...

Focusing Fencing: the preproduction of Fencing

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Documentary: from problematic to paradoxical - a reflection on fencing, filmmaking, duality and deceit

My argument against the documentary has always been a simple one: why try to be a representation of actuality when a fictional presentation can reveal far deeper truths about reality?

Originally titled Pete's Reflection on Short Form Documentary Making 2012-13, this is a reflective essay and critical analysis I wrote for my BA (Hons) final year documentary project.

Fencing is a short documentary and reflective wiki that I co-created with my colleague, Thomas Wiltshire, for our final year BA (Hons) documentary project. The project was orchestrated between October 2012 to April 2013. For a more detailed overview see Fencing: an examination of the sport and an exploration of the documentary medium.

Fencing - a short documentary about the sport.

This post is still mostly the same as the original version I wrote for my final year; the only major difference here is that I have given it a slight polish, I have broken the text up considerably more so and I have remedied my excessive use of exclamation marks!

While it does act as a reflection on the making of Fencing, it is much more broadly concerned with what a documentary is, what role the documentary medium plays in our reflexive assessments of ourselves and how this "factual" medium can reveal something far grander about the cognition underpinning our day-to-day humanity.

It is very much something to do with film and something more besides...

D for dud - what's the point of a documentary?

My relationship with the documentary medium has always been a problematic one; I have always been somewhat mistrustful of documentaries and their validity as a representation of actuality.

I believe the documentary is redundant!

Or is it?

Philosopher and social critic Slavoj Žižek has commented:

“In order to understand today’s world, we need cinema. Literally, it is only in cinema that we get that crucial dimension which we are not able to confront in our real reality. If you are looking for what is in reality, more real than reality itself, look into the cinematic fiction” (2006).

This is a logic I have always felt to be true and my argument against the documentary has always been a simple one:

why try to be a representation of actuality when a fictional presentation can reveal far deeper truths about reality?

This was something I wanted to explore as part of my final year BA (Hons) Short Form Documentary Making module and, certainly, this is what I was trying to achieve in my documentary premise idea, The Importance of Lying:

"I believe lying is an integral component of the human make-up; I think anyone who believes they don't lie is lying to themselves. It would be interesting to explore the role lying plays in day-to-day life, why we do it, why we need to do it, do we need to do it and how humans are still able to establish a form of trust which transcends beyond the very basic forms of a lie or a truth."

Pumping Iron is a ground-breaking documentary due to its purpose of debunking the ignorant perceptions surrounding body-building. I think it is fair to say Pumping Iron was in my unconscious while making the Fencing documentary.

Pumping Iron trailer (2:45). 

While I did enjoy Pumping Iron as a factual piece of entertainment, I found the sequel/making-of documentary Raw Iron to be much more interesting and revealing! 

Raw Iron - The Making of Pumping Iron (74:20).

As Pumping Iron is quite openly a docu-drama there are elements of it that are fictional, or highly manipulated from their original occurrences in reality. Raw Iron discusses these fictional elements of Pumping Iron and explores the reasoning behind their inclusion. 

The filmmakers argue that they manipulated/fabricated certain elements because it made for a stronger narrative in the documentary. 

Therefore, by making the primary figures into archetypal characters: the underdog, the bully, the hero, etc., it made for a much clearer and stronger narrative (see the video above: 09:41-10:37). The filmmakers even discuss one scene they staged long after they had finished filming the initial footage!

Overall, while I can appreciate Pumping Iron’s strong narrative, the effect of the factual elements saturated with the fictional embellishments makes for a largely shallow and untrustworthy experience. 

Certainly, this is something that all documentaries are guilty of, even the fully ‘factual’ ones: 

“An edited documentary film is already manipulated; for many of us, staged dramatization, however beautifully shot, leads to an additional loss of credibility” (Kalow, 2011:30). 

Initially, my view was: 

If you’re going to make a fictional presentation, then the documentary medium is redundant. 

In fact, you shouldn’t even bother trying to create a factual account of actuality because that is an impossible task for any reproductive medium. 

Rather, it is better to focus on creating a fictional account which, as Žižek has commented, can present ways of exploring that crucial dimension of reality, the essence of reality, more real than reality itself, that we can feel but never directly witness, except in cinematic fiction. 

Ultimately, this academic year has been instrumental in showing me that different forms of visual storytelling can embody and explore different ways of seeing, thinking and being. 

Once you begin to dissect documentaries on a theoretical and practical basis their complexities and potentials become apparent, as has been the case for me while making Fencing.

The duality of Fencing: a debate of relevancy and honesty

The concept for a documentary about fencing was Tom’s, my role in further developing the idea was in providing an external point of view to Tom’s interior point of view in regards to fencing. 

My Creative Identity Summary, as stimulated by Michael Rabiger's Creative Identity Profiler, see Directing the Documentary by Michael Rabiger.

  • The themes that arise from my self study are visual silence, repulsion against the shackles of boredom, the compartmentalisation of a person, narcissistic appraisal, old in young, young in old, suspicion of structures/institutions/traditions, the paradoxical self, a hatred of complacency, the central drive of anger, a yearning for knowledge and an appreciation of the intellect. 

  • The changes for which I want to work are an illumination of the intellect and an understanding of the subtext.

  • The kinds of subject for which I feel the most passionately are one’s that offer self-reflexive viewpoints and that expose the underlying pulse of a situation or establishment. Conflicting ideologies/institutions/temperaments is another area that offers me much intrigue; as does the subject of juxtapositioning completely different ideas to create a result that represents something greater than the original constituent parts, and which forces the spectator to question their own assumptions and beliefs.

  • Other important goals I have in mind are to maintain the visual imperative of telling something that should be told visually and not to be fearful of using a lie to represent the truth. If a film lies then it is only presenting a truth of reality - everyone lies!

In keeping with my creative identity, I encouraged the challenging of the exterior ignorant perception of fencing as only being a sport for the elite. 

Therefore, you could argue that we reached a state of equilibrium in our collaborative process, because our viewpoints on fencing balanced each other out: 

  • Tom was highly informative and passionate 
  • I was highly analytical and detached.

In addition to our opposing POVs, our artistic styles differed as well:

  • Tom was more formalistically inclined.
  • I was more inclined towards to realism.

This is not to say that I did not have formalist tendencies and Tom did not have realists ones; rather Tom’s majority was towards formalism and mine was towards realism.

Tom setting up one of his formalistic shots (top) with the finished product (bottom).

My realist inclinations can be seen in my ‘fly-in-flight’ filming style (‘in-flight’ as I was moving around). As I was the outsider, I filmed with an observational eye allowing everything to run its course in actuality. 

This filming approach was drawn from my dissatisfaction with the ‘fictionalisation’ of documentaries, my POV of the outsider and from my wish to create a visually strong presentation:

“Shoot “observationally,” that is, record people and events in their natural setting, as if you were a fly on the wall. Allow events to unfold, observing and capturing reality. Your subjects don’t need to narrate for the camera because you can always add explanatory narration later, during the editing process. Good observational technique reveals character and story, bringing deep visual interest to your documentary” (Kalow, 2011:13).

While Tom’s style was equally visually strong, his was more in-amongst the action and knowledgeable about the various nuances of fencing. Generally, his footage is comprised of medium to close-up shots that know what to look for in fencing; whereas mine are medium to long shots unbiasedly recording anything that is seemingly revealing. 

Regardless of our filming approaches, both Tom and myself were very much aware of the influence that capturing and framing an image in a particular way can have on its eventual presentation: 

“The camera does not see as the eye sees, even though it records visual information. Your eyes can naturally and effortlessly dart from place to place, follow the action, and focus in on the telling detail… Any movements, such as zooms or pans, should serve to advance or deepen your story. Always remember to settle on a shot for ten to fifteen seconds. If you shoot a lot of activity or a performance, position yourself close to the action” (Kalow, 2011:8).

Overall, I believe that our opposing styles worked to further balance our working relationship in regards to the qualities that each of us could bring to the table and, ultimately, has made for a rich and varied documentary presentation on the perceived stereotype of fencing and its true diversity in actuality.

Below I have created a detailed reflective commentary on the final cut together with my original edit of the 2nd half and a few other points besides. 

My reflective commentary on Fencing (13:49).

As I said in the reflective commentary, our differing POVs are very much embedded within the narrative itself. I think this point is crucial in understanding what I have gained from my studies of filmmaking this academic year. 

The construction of a film from its various elements and artistic inputs informs the type of impression the film will provide and the attributes of its consciousness:

“Since its invention film has been compared to the mind, whether through analogy with human perception, dreams or the subconscious. The shock of seeing a world ‘freed’ by man’s imagination caused many early writers to see a profound link between the mind of the filmgoer and the film itself, leading them to understand film as a mirror of mindful intent. In a sense film offers us our first experience of an other experience (the experience of the film camera as it were). Film seems to be a double phenomenology, a double intention: our perception of the film, and the film’s perception of its world. Thus our understanding of our world can be informed and changed by this other way of experiencing a world, this other view of a similar world” (Frampton, 2007:15).

In short, psychology is essential to successful filmmaking! I believe this is why our documentary works so well because the logic of the psychology was there right from the beginning. 

Aside from Tom and myself working very well together, we picked a subject and premise that we were both ideally suited to tell:

  • Tom is a fencer. He is highly knowledgeable and passionate about fencing. He had access to the Bath Sword Club. 

  • I am not a fencer and I am not very knowledgeable about fencing. In fact, I bought into the ignorant stereotype. However, I am very analytical and tend to ask a lot of questions. 

These two basic viewpoints/starting points were enough to present a documentary about an honest portrayal of fencing in which its dominant stereotype is challenged. As such, we went into filming having crafted a strong narrative structure that exemplified the aim above. 

Throughout filming, in addition to filming together, we actively exploited our differing filming styles by filming on our own. As the filming took place over the space of a month we kept questioning each other and discussing our eventual aims – we actively kept our POVs in debate with one another.

Ultimately, like the preproduction period, the filming period proved to be another research period in which we could more directly contextualise our subject matter. 

Furthermore, with our postproduction period, we were able to bring out our individual POVs by initially editing both halves of the documentary in isolation and then unifying those two approaches when we brought the two halves together to create what would become the final cut (see Figuring Fencing: the postproduction of Fencing - EDITING LOG). 

Therefore, throughout this whole process, we have encouraged each other to keep working on our own psychological terms; while also combining those two psychological approaches to inform what has always been the essential aim of the documentary – debunking the myth of the fencing elite and exposing the true diversity.

Duality is an integral theme that permeates throughout the documentary: it finds expression through our two POVs, it is present in the visual design of the documentary and it exemplifies the basic premise.

The side by side shots in the documentary are examples of dualism in the film form.

As such, this integral dualistic theme was something I felt was essential to convey in the trailer. As Tom had taken on the duty of assembling the final cut of the documentary, I took on the duty of creating the trailer. 

Fencing trailer.

Below I have created a detailed reflective commentary on my thinking behind the construction of the trailer. Included are the two rough cuts together with the final cut and a few other points besides.

My reflective commentary for the Fencing trailer.

My cerebral editing style, which I mention in the reflective commentaries, has much more so become apparent to me as a result of making the documentary and having to actively exploit my POV.

As I said in the documentary commentary and again in the trailer commentary, the arrangement and pace of audio-visual information has a huge impact on the construction of a film’s consciousness and how the psychology of that consciousness is experienced by the spectator:

“When it works, film editing – which could just as easily be called “film construction” – identifies and exploits underlying patterns of sound and image that are not obvious on the surface. Putting a film together is, in an ideal sense, the orchestrating of all those patterns, just like different musical themes are orchestrated in a symphony. It is all pretty mysterious. It’s right at the heart of the whole exercise.” (Murch in Ondaatje, 2002:10).

Certainly, I think Murch’s statement has a lot to say about Žižek’s exclamation that cinematic fiction presents an understanding of reality, more real than reality itself. 

Successful filmmakers identity patterns and underlying currents of subtext in the collective consciousness that they are then able to exemplify and exploit in their work. This process is something akin to epiphany and, certainly, something I believe Tom and myself have done throughout the construction of the documentary. 

While I would say that my editing style is cerebral in a suggestive quality, I would describe Tom’s as being more on the nose and directly cognitive; however, these two approaches again work to bring out the dualistic quality of our POVs and the essential narrative aim of the documentary.

Tom's use of keyframing is one embodiment of a dualistic cognitive process happening within the documentary.

By embellishing the narrative with our psychologies and allowing our POVs to debate with each other, we have been able to give the documentary a dualistic consciousness of its own. A dualistic consciousness that complements the viewer’s consciousness as they watch and consider the subject of fencing as the documentary itself does. 

The visual style of the documentary, particularly in its dualism, gives the impression that an active cognitive debate is happening within the documentary itself, as indeed it is:

“Documentary is really a screen version of human consciousness doing its living work” (Rabiger, 2004)

I believe that the whole process of creating Fencing has greatly improved my psychological thinking in regards to filmmaking and the way in which I, as a filmmaker, want to manipulate the spectator. 

Certainly, if you view my reflection on editing the Fencing Character Study and/or my contributions in the documentary's Editing Log you will see that I often discuss the psychology behind what I am doing and why I am arranging the audio-visual elements in a particular way – the ways of seeing, thinking and being I am trying to encourage in the spectator. 

It's all about creating a truth from a lie and a lie from the truth.

The documentary paradox: the truth of the lie and the lie of the truth

While the majority of people are oblivious to it, everyone is documenting their lives and chronicling their life story as a result of their participation on social media, blogging and various other digital online platforms. We now live in an age where the concept of documenting is more alive than ever.

This assembling of a life story in the cyberspace archive will go on to inform how we are defined, long after we are gone. John Berger elaborates on this, albeit long before these platforms were even a concept:

“Adults and children sometimes have boards in their bedrooms or living-rooms on which they pin pieces of paper: letters, snapshots, reproductions of paintings, newspaper cuttings, original drawings, postcards… they have been chosen in a highly personal way to match and express the experiences of the room’s inhabitant. Logically, these boards should replace museums” (1972:23).

These 'online boards' we create about ourselves are supplying the narratives of our lives; each new status update, tweet, photo post, blog written, comment made, meme spread or video shared act as individual beats in those narratives. 

However, above and beyond creating a legacy, these 'online narrative boards' are playing an active role in our everyday lives. Our narrative boards have their own state of conscious identity and existence parallel to our cognitive and corporeal ones – they are our digital alter egos.

Impressions of ourselves are being stored online and expanding our narrative selves - our digital alter-egos.

Therefore, it is not just a narrative created solely by ourselves, but an interactive one which grows by contributions and manipulations by countless friends and followers. Our boards are creating fictionalised versions of ourselves based on our experiences and interactions in actuality. 

In addition to this, the rise of content sharing platforms and consumer filmmaking products has encouraged the user-generated production of documentaries. Documenting is now a fundamental part of our everyday lives and, as a result, the documentary medium is experiencing a renaissance. 

Therefore, the concepts of documenting and the documentary are more important than ever before.

However, if we consider the documentary as the purveyor of truth, in light of it also being a: "creative treatment of actuality" (Grierson in Rabiger, 2004), where does this leave the documentary medium as a reliable representation of reality?

In F for Fake Orson Welles dissects the reproductive medium and compares filmmakers and all artists to charlatans (2:56).

The fact of the matter – documentaries lie! 

It is impossible for a documentary or any reproduction of reality to present a completely unfiltered and unbiased representation of actuality: 

“Tell it by the fireside, or In a marketplace, or in a movie. Almost any story is almost certainly some kind of lie.” (Welles, 1973). 

However, as this academic year has shown me, this is not a disadvantage, but the redeeming feature of the documentary medium. 

Documentaries present more than truth - through the indirect – a lie – they present a deeper and a more fundamental truth about human consciousness – we need lies to give truths their values.

Lies are an essential component of humanity. 

As much as there is a paradox at the heart of every human being, there is a paradox at the heart of reality and in our knowledge of that reality. 

It is only through documentaries and other cinematic fiction and their cognitive abilities to closely mimic our own cognitive functions that we are able to glimpse and even to understand this underlying paradox, this underlying truth that can only ever be accessed via a lie: 

“Life is cognitive, not narrative. We need narration to understand it, but we live it cognitively” (Reygadas, 2013). 

Cinematic fiction takes the cognition of reality and contextualises it in a narrative – the narrative translates the hidden truth (complexity) of actuality for us: 

“it is only in cinema that we get that crucial dimension which we are not able to confront in our real reality. If you are looking for what is in reality, more real than reality itself, look into the cinematic fiction” (Žižek, 2006).

To this end, the documentary medium is by no means redundant; it is just another mode of cinematic fiction through which we can paradoxically experience falsehoods that allow us to understand the truth: 

“As a charlatan [filmmaker], of course, it was my job to make it real, not that reality has anything to do with it… what we professional liars wish to serve is truth; I’m afraid the pompous word for that is art. Picasso himself said it, ‘art,’ he said, ‘is a lie – a lie that makes us realise the truth.’” (Welles, 1973).

Unlike the state of the real world and our online narratives/alter-egos which are becoming just as confusing and paradoxical as our cognitive and corporeal happenstances in the physical realm, documentary, as a mode of cinematic fiction, offers us a simplified and contextualised narrative/point of view of actuality: 

“In order to understand today’s world, we need cinema” (Žižek, 2006), we need lies to help us realise the truth of our actuality. Therefore, documentaries are essential because they allow us to better understand the world.

From my point of view the incentive for Fencing was in providing a context through which I and like-minded spectators could come to understand the larger diversity of the sport of fencing; while disposing of the elite stereotype - the initial and dominant image I believed was the case with fencing. 

Furthermore, being the co-author of Fencing, it is interesting to note that the Fencing documentary only holds truth for me. Indeed, I find it hard to see how the Fencing documentary, as a revelation of truth against a lie, can possibly be a lie? 

However - I, as the co-author - therein lies the answer to my question!

My theoretical and practical understandings of filmmaking have greatly improved as a result of this academic year.

Co-creating Fencing with Tom has been an enjoyable and enriching experience; the past six months have proven to be a smooth process devoid of any significant problems (there were a few minor teething technical problems). 

I think this has a lot to say about our working relationship and our highly articulate individual attributes. Our collaborative process was largely a case of one person finishing the other person’s sentence.

In regards to the technical quality of Fencing, Tom and myself were blessed because we already had a significant amount of videography experience prior to embarking on this project. This prior knowledge definitely had an impact on the artistic and stylistic choices we made and, without question, our technical knowledge has grown and been refined as a result of undertaking the Fencing project.

In addition to my increased technical knowledge, my theoretical understanding of the documentary medium, and filmmaking as a whole, has been greatly nourished as a result of this module’s teaching and the process of creating the Fencing documentary. 

Regardless of my prior views of the medium, the act of documenting has always been something close to my heart and something I have always enjoyed doing - my administrative role on the Fencing wiki should be testament to that.

However, now that I have been able to apply myself to videography documentary making on a more advanced level, I have acquired a definite taste for it. 

As a result of my participation in the Short Form Documentary Making module, a transformation has occurred - my relationship with the documentary medium is no longer problematic, it is paradoxical!

If you would like a more detailed and analytical explanation of my creative identity and how I defined it before completely this project, have a look at...

My POV: for the fencing documentary and in general


Berger, J. (1972) Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin.

Frampton, D. (2006) Filmosophy. London: Wallflower Press.

F for Fake (1973); directed by Orson Welles. 89 minutes. France, Iran and West Germany: Janus Films, SACI and Speciality Films.

Kalow, N. (2011) Visual Storytelling: The Digital Video Documentary. Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.

Ondaatje, M. (2002). The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Pumping Iron (1977); directed by George Butler & Robert Fiore. 85 minutes. USA: Rollie Robinson, White Mountain Films and Cinema 5 Distributing.

Rabiger, M. (2004). Directing the Documentary. Waltham: Focal Press.

Raw Iron (2002); directed by Dave McVeigh and Scoot McVeigh. 42 minutes. USA: Incue. 

The Film Programme (21/03/2013); hosted by Francine Stock. 28 minutes. UK: BBC Radio 4, British Broadcasting Corporation. 

The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (2006) DVD; directed by Sophie Fiennes, hosted by Slavoj Žižek. 150 minutes. UK, Australia and Netherlands: Amoeba Film, Kasander Film Company, Lone Star Productions, Mischief Films and Microcinema International (2006).

Why not jump back to the start and have a look at the overview of the project and all the other blog posts that are a part of it...

Fencing: an examination of the sport and an exploration of the documentary medium