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Arthour: Eric Leo Blais
Edited by Christine Keene
Although informative, data collected through traditional research means is often dry, impersonal, uninspiring and/or lacking context. It does not spark the creative process.
Design documentaries use filmmaking techniques to present research information in a dramatic or cinematic fashion to inspire designers. Documentary filmmaking techniques can guide research and create an emotive experience for the design team, which can enhance understanding and outcomes (Raijmakers, 2007).
Although it’s beneficial when presenting or reviewing research results during problem framing, filmmaking pre-production considerations can also help plan or strategize research in preliminary phase of the design research project. It is best used when research material lacks context or requires an emotional bridge between the subject and the designer. This method can also be used in the solution development phase.
In 2007, Bas Raijmakers wrote his doctoral thesis on Design Documentaries for the Royal College of Art in London, England. In it he set out to prove that documentary filmmaking could be used not as a prescriptive research method but as a strategic tool in the design process, both as a conversation piece for the design team and as a way to reframe or view a problem from multiple perspectives within the confines of design research.
Believing that a “purely observational approach” is insufficient when conducting this type of research, he suggested the use of documentary filmmaking techniques in order to guide research and create an emotive experience for the design team. This idea is not new. Ethnographic or Observational Cinema has been around since the dawn of the twentieth century. Sociologists and anthropologists have been using these techniques in order to observe social life or to record or communicate (or editorialize) their findings. (Grimshaw, 2009)
Documentary filmmaking is used as a conversation piece for the design team and as a way to reframe or view a problem from multiple perspectives within the confines of design research (Raijmakers, 2007).
1) Domain – Design documentaries are the manipulation of compiled research data, including text, video, audio, photographs and illustrations, into a short-form video format in order to inspire dialogue, “open possibilities for exploration” (Raijmakers, Gaver and Bishay, p.9) and further guide the design research process. Their audience and their use differentiate them from other documentary films.
2) Materials – Standard film production terminology will be used to describe the process: camera, monitor, microphone, storing device (such as a tape or digital hard drive), release form, edit suite, computer, video editing, software (e.g., Final Cut Pro, Premiere, etc.)
The microphone and monitor on most commercial digital video cameras should be sufficient. Most of these devices come with proprietary manufacturer video software editing tools, which should allow you to create your film at minimal cost.
- Establish the film’s story, narrative, point-of-view, theme, arc and narrative spine.
- Choose your documentary-style narrative device: compilation, observation, intervention or performance.
- Storyboard your film, which involves sketching and annotating its main action points.
- Select materials (photographs, audio tapes, etc.) to appear in your video and make sure you have cleared copyright.
If additional material is not required, go to Postproduction below.
If you’re filming new or additional material:
- Prepare your shot list. Each shot is a moment you are capturing on film. Think of the camera’s angle, distance, lighting, shutter speed, width (tight shot, wide shot, etc.).
- Consider the importance of audio in your piece. Will your camera microphone be sufficient? Do you require a Lavalier microphone (lav) or a boom?
- Schedule your shoot.
- Cast or schedule your interviews
- Prepare release forms.
- Clear shooting permits.
- Make sure you have all your gear.
- Ensure that you have ample storage devices and batteries.
- Make sure all legal waivers are signed.
- Make sure you have all required permits.
- Be professional on set.
- Follow your shot list.
- If time allows, capture additional location footage for your b-roll.
- Review some of your footage.
- Check the audio and sound quality, and make sure that your microphone is working properly.
- If required, digitize content.
- Review content
- Create a paper edit (a written document that structures or organizes the material in sequence in order to tell a story). This document outlines what the user will see.
- Import material into Video Editing Software.
- Explore editing options: add voice over, add b-roll, play with transitions, play with video timing or animate still photographs.
6) Screening – Present the video to the design team.
7) Record – Capture comments and insights, and determine how to move the process forward.
Ang, T. (2005). Digital video handbook 1st American ed. New York: DK Pub.
Barbash, I. (1997). Cross-cultural filmmaking: A handbook for making documentary and ethnographic films and videos. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Bernard, S. C. (2007). Documentary storytelling: Making stronger and more dramatic nonfiction films. Amsterdam; Boston: Focal Press.
Grimshaw, A. (2009). Observational cinema: Anthropology, film, and the exploration of social life. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Hampe, B. (2007). Making documentary films and videos: A practical guide to planning, filming, and editing documentaries (2nd ed.; rev. & expanded ed.). New York: H. Holt.
Katz, S. D. (1991). Film directing shot by shot: Visualizing from concept to screen. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions.
Levelle, T. (2008). Digital video secrets: What the pros know and the manuals don’t tell you. Studio City, Calif: Michael Wiese.
Raijmakers, B., Gaver, W. W., & Bishay, J. (2006). Design documentaries: Inspiring design research through documentary film. Designing Interactive Systems, 229.
Raijmakers, S. W. J. J. (2007). Design documentaries – using documentary film to inspire design. Unpublished Doctor of Philosophy, The Royal College of Art, London, U.K.
Rouch, J., & Feld, S. (2003). Ciné-ethnography. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.