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As part of my group’s video production work this year, we were tasked to film and produce a five minute documentary on any chosen subject based on a topic of interest or an individual. The documentary that we ultimately produced was titled “From the Cell to the Cage” and focused on the life of professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter, Nick “the Headhunter” Chapman. The documentary featured Nick talking about his career and the darker life he led prior to meeting his wife and joining the MMA. It also featured interviews with two other cage fighters, Mike and Wayne who discussed how Nick had changed as a person since becoming a part of the MMA and how he had positively influenced their lives. In this production report, I am going to critically analyse the entire production process and the finished production in order to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the documentary.
Researching, planning and construction
The first step for my group and I was to brainstorm a list of possible ideas in which our documentary could be about. One of the earliest ideas for a possible documentary included it being about the grandmother of one of the members in my group, who happened to be a famed Doctor and one of the pioneers for the advancement of Neurology Science in the UK. Despite gaining interest from everyone in the group, the idea of shooting the documentary in a public hospital setting would have been met with many restrictions. Therefore, although the idea was ultimately never further developed upon, it did provide us with a stepping stone towards the basis of our final idea, in that we all knew that we wanted our documentary to be based on an individual who excelled at his or her field of work. The conception of doing a documentary on Nick “the Headhunter” Chapman was first brought up by Catherine, a member of my group. She proposed the idea of doing a documentary on Nick, with an emphasis on his growing MMA Career and his personal body building training routine. There were several reasons why Catherine’s idea was ultimately chosen but perhaps the most important reason was the wealth of opportunities that the idea presented. As Catherine had a part- time job at the gym that Nick worked out in, it meant that we had a great filming location that offered us an almost unrestricted access in which we could do our filming. The problem with filming in a public setting such as a street or a cafe is that along with the loud noises that these settings generate, many institutions restrict people from filming without an actual town council approval. By situating most of our filming at locations that we knew we could film with space and freedom, this allowed us to capture footage from many different camera angles and control the filming environment easily (i.e. moving things around to fit shots, setting up the lighting equipment on-site). It was also a valuable opportunity to create a documentary that featured something different; to be able to shed some light on a sport that although growing in popularity, is still a fairly niche market even today.
With our production idea firmly in place, we then had to envision how the documentary was going to look like and how we were going to film it. Although Catherine had provided us with her original proposal and treatment as a source guide to how she had originally planned the documentary, she felt that in order for the audience to identify and be morally invested in Nick, the documentary had to dig deeper into his character. After talks with Nick himself, we learnt that he had a dark past involving a life of crime. This was a very interesting part of Nick’s life and we believed that by including this into the documentary, it would allow the audience to better interpret his character and provide the documentary with more depth. It also brought richness and liveliness to the narrative. Therefore, what was going to be a bright and glamorised documentary about cage fighting turned into a much more darker and sympathetic life story about a man who had been through hell and back and was now on a path to redemption. With that in mind, we had to make some changes to the documentary stylistically. It was decided that along with filming scenes featuring Nick talking about his life behind bars, the introduction of the film would be in black and white to express the darker undertone of the narrative. Nick’s interviews were also going to be lit through the use of three-point lighting, in order to make use of a shadowy effect to help convey the darker side of his life.
There were a number of things that my group did in pre-production that I felt really helped with the actual filming process. Perhaps the most important thing we did was to compile a shot list. A shot list is an actual list featuring the different shots that we were going to take on the filming day. Similar to a storyboard, creating a shot list allowed us to come up with different photographic looks to each individual scene. In a truly collaborative effort, everybody had something to say and something to bring in terms of making the planning of each scene be as concrete as possible. In my opinion, I think that this played a great part in the production process, in that it gave us time to plan ahead and figure out how each scene was to be defined. It also allowed us to get started quickly on the day of filming as all of us knew what shots we had to capture. Knowing that we would probably only have a day to shoot all the scenes that we needed, it was important that we maximized the time that we had in preproduction to ensure a smooth and uninterrupted production process. Another thing that we did that I felt really aided in our filming was to actually go and recce the locations that we were going to film in. A recce is essentially a reconnaissance or scouting of a particular place. By visiting the place that we were going to film before the actual day itself and getting a look at its surroundings, this allowed us to picture each scene even more vividly. More importantly, it also gave us the opportunity to decide where and how each scene was going to be filmed. For example, we discovered early on that the room in which we were planning to shoot the sparring scene between Nick and Wayne was simply too small to allow both of them the freedom to move around and for us to film simultaneously. Therefore, by informing Nick early, we were able to get him to bring us to a second location to film those particular scenes. The recce also helped us to decide if we needed to light up particular sets in order to better capture them. The interview room for example was extremely poorly lit and had very little natural light coming in. It was decided during our visit to the room that we had to use our own lighting equipment to light it up.
Due to the large amount preparation that we had done during the pre-production process, the entire group knew exactly what kind of filming equipments we would require for the filming process, along with the types of shots that we were going to capture. For example as written above, it was established early on that we would be using three-point lighting to illuminate some of the interview scenes that we were going to capture. Therefore, this gave us ample time to book the lighting equipment, for us on the day itself. Our documentary also featured many different shot taken from many different camera angles, particularly those of the action sequences. These include low angled shots that we used to film Nick doing his press up, wide angled shots to film the tracking shot of the entire gym and even several close-ups of one of the people working out at the gym lifting weights along with Nick doing several bench presses. There were also two different shots of Nick running up a flight of stairs, one captured behind him and another in front of him which we edited and used to great effect in our opening sequence. However, one of my favourite shots was a shot of Nick executing some dips on a dip bar. What was special of the shot for me was that it was captured behind Nick with his back towards the camera. As the gym was covered by many mirrors along the walls, the shot also featured the reflection of Nick’s front view onto the camera. I felt that this shot really helped to express the intensity, and the amount of concentration he puts into his workout routine, thereby allowing the audience to gain a glimpse into his passion to train his body and mind. This particular shot was not included in the original shot list as we didn’t know about mirrors in the gym. However, our recce allowed us to come up with several new shots based on our knowledge about the layout of the gym along with the equipment and accessories that it possessed.
All the interview scenes featuring Nick, Mike and Wayne were shot in a single room. Upon watching the documentary, one might notice that whilst all of Nick’s interviews were shot in an unlit room, with the three-point lighting being used to illuminate him, the interviews with Mike and Wayne do not utilise lighting equipment at all. Instead, the lights in the room are used to provide a much brighter setting that the scenes with Nick. The reasons why we decided only to use three-point lighting for Nick was because we felt that the different aesthetic look that his interviews had to others would firmly establish him as the lead role of the documentary. More importantly, the dark and bright interviews provided a good binary opposition with what he says to what Mike and Wayne say. While much of Nick’s interview is him talking about his dark past and the man he once was, Mike and Wayne’s interviews are based on the man he has become today. It was important for us to show this transition on camera and I believe that we established this really well.
Although much of the filming went on extremely smoothly, there are certain things that I’d wish that we were able to go back and correct. Perhaps the most evident flaw of some of the footage that we filmed was annoying buzzing noise that plague certain scenes in the documentaryâ€¦ particularly the interviews featuring Wayne. The noise was so evident and loud that at times Wayne’s voice sounded distorted and distracting. The most disappointing thing was that we realised this problem even when we were filming Wayne’s scenes. My teammate, Michael who was listening to the interviews via headphones pointed out that the buzzing could be heard through the microphone. However, as we were in the middle of filming and were not favourable to idea of a reshoot, we decided that we were not going to cut the interview halfway and would instead get rid of the buzzing noise in the post production stage of the project. Till today, I am not exactly sure what the underlying reason behind the persistent buzzing noise was. However, this might have been the biggest mistake the we did as had we taken just 5 minutes to restart the camera or re-attach the microphone, things might have turned out quite differently and we could have had a clear and crisp sound throughout the documentary. I think that we were too dependent on the idea that editing could solve any of our problems. In this case, we learnt the hard way as although we were able to minimize the level of buzzing in the scenes, we were unable to do this completely and the noise is therefore fairly evident and distracting in several scenes of the documentary. The editing also affected the sound of Wayne’s interview as a whole as his voice often sounds muffled at certain part of his interview.
Another problem that we faced was the fact that we did not conduct a white balance test prior to filming the scenes featuring Nick training in the gym. This was actually done intentionally as we were planning to use the training footage only for the introduction sequence which would be in Black and White. The problem arose during the editing stage when we were recommended that we use some of the additional training footage for the body of the documentary. This was a challenge for us as a group as we would be showing the training footage alongside the scenes featuring the sparring match between Nick and Wayne, which was captured with a white balanced test done. By putting the two different scenes one after another, it would be extremely clear to the audience that there was a big difference in the colour between the two scenes. The original plan was to make the training scenes in black and whiteâ€¦ just like the introduction. However, this idea was ultimately debunked as we felt that the black and white scenes were best left as an aesthetic look for the introduction only. That meant that we had to edit the saturation of the colour for the training sequence in order to make it seem more consistent with the sparring scenes. Although I felt that the editing of the scenes were done fairly well, the result were a number of slightly darker scenes as we had to bring down the brightness and contrast in order to compensate for the loss of saturation to the footage.
Editing & Post Production Analysis
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