Chapter 3 – draft

What I have written so far is written from the perspective that the creative practice has been completed, but it is still in the initial stages. The reflection of my practice are not in there because of this – so it may change a lot. What I’ve written is basically my plan of what I will do over the next week or so.

Chapter 3 – My creative response

Having studied various pieces of documentary and television, as well as online video, the conclusion was made that exploitation in collaborative and participatory film comes through editing, through mis-portraying or mis-communicating a message. This led to looking at how editing can be used as a tool to subvert meaning, and dictate the message received by the viewer.

The video sharing platform, ‘Vine’ has been used by many to re-edit other people’s footage, and this was the starting point of the creative experimentation. Studying how others had slightly changed viral videos, highlighted that subtle and minimal changes to a video could completely subvert the meaning. Through aspects like music, speed and voiceover and adding additional scenes, the original was transformed to mean something new, either challenging the intended meaning or enhancing it. This is the approach that was adopted in the initial stage of experimentation, however the intention of my creative practice was to challenge the meaning of videos which had portrayed the subjects unfavorably, to reassign the power to those participating within the video.

To take this perspective, instead of using existing Vine videos, documentary and television clips where the subjects were portrayed negatively were chosen. This idea of manipulating the intended message was an attempt to challenge the originals, to raise awareness that the editor has the ability to dictate message.

Of course this produced issues of ownership. This was important to the creative research, as the intention was to question who ‘owned’ the rights to footage, and who can dictate the meaning of something that is supposed to represent reality – is it the subjects or the producers? However, experimenting in this way could be seen as dangerous to copyright, so to proceed it became apparent that the practice should involve original footage.

In order to explore how message is constructed, it was felt that the best way to see the effects of a personal editor was to create an experiment where multiple people would edit the same piece of footage, to understand how the different outcomes were a product of opinion and beliefs held by people. Participants were introduced, as editors, and were instructed to turn raw clips of footage into a 1 – 2 minute edit. They were briefed to interpret the information as they felt accurately depicted reality. With roughly 10 minutes of footage, this would involve selecting information that they believed told the true story. Need to add the results of this stage (reflection), as well as the content of the footage and explanations of why this was selected.

To see the effect of intentionally portraying reality to emphasize a particular point of view, the next stage was to instruct the participant editors to recreate the process with different footage to meet a brief. One new raw set of footage was then recorded, and this was then passed on to the two editors, with two different messages of what the footage should mean. Need to add the results of this stage (reflection), as well as the content of the footage and explanations of why this was selected.

The question which this creative practice intended to explore, was always supposed to be regarding the fair portrayal of subjects who participate in documentaries. The research so far had investigated the effects of editing on meaning, but had not dealt with the ethics of doing this. In fact, if anything it had only reinforced the message that editors do have the power. The response needed to look to demonstrate how this selective editing process should be used to create a positive change in this respect, and give suggestions of how this could be done.

In order to understand the personal effects, the different edits were screened to the subjects and they were given a questionnaire of how the two opposite ways they were shown effected how fairly they believed they were shown. These results were given back to the participant editors, and they were asked to amend their edit to produce a more honest piece of video, which respected the views and requests of the subjects.

Draft Submission

Are documentaries exploiting those who collaborate and participate in them?

When does collaboration and participation become exploitation in online media and documentary? How can you turn participation in documentary into positive social change?

CHAPTER 1

Participation is frequently within the nature of visual media such as documentary. For the purpose of this essay the participation referred to is the act of taking part in programs that attempt to portray reality, such as documentary and reality programs. To make clear, this participation is not the same as participatory filmmaking, it is about participants who are the ‘subjects’, whom form the content of the film.

Exploitation is the use of individuals, in an unjust way, for own personal gain or profit. Distorting reality or manipulating message and meaning can create exploitation in documentary. This can occur in different forms:

  • selective filming or editing, only showing one side of a story or person, or not giving a balanced impression; favouring one point of view
  • remixing or re-presenting media in a different context, which therefore alters the meaning
  • unintentional bias from the creative team, who make decisions which will effect the message of the programme.
  • portraying events suggestively, without directly manipulating the scenario, which viewers will interpret in a certain way not true to the intention of the subject.

Various film techniques, styles and forms have been used throughout history, and these all have various effects on how accurately documentaries portray reality. Some reduce and some enhance misrepresentation, or misconstrue meaning.

History of portraying reality

The pre-documentary phase, from the 1880s until 1920, captured the first images of real events. In this early stage of documentary, voiceovers, sound effects and music were added after filming. As technologies advanced, synchronous ‘direct’ sound allowed for documentaries that were more observational, where the subjects were allowed to speak for themselves.

In one of his most significant productions ‘Housing Problems’ (1935), filmmaker John Greirson highlights the experiences of people living in slum housing, through direct-to-camera interviews with tenants. This was one of the earliest forms of public participation in documentary, where people were invited to share parts of their life and their opinions with the viewer.

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This ‘fly on the wall’ style of representing events became the dominant way of documenting reality, and was more observational and less interventional than the earlier forms.

Greirson was the first filmmaker to coin the phrase ‘documentary’, defining it as  ‘the creative treatment of actuality’. Through his work John Greirson pioneered the use of film as a way of helping the public understand and engage with the complex political and social issues of contemporary society. Documentaries of this time had the primary function to educate, not to entertain.

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This period, where people began to become concerned with representing and recoding reality, coincided with the Mass Observation Movement that began 1937. It was an organisation made up of volunteers with the aim to record life in Britain through an archive of material, recorded in a variety of ways. They worked to try and paint a true picture of people’s lifestyles, opinions and stories surrounding significant events, that weren’t being portrayed by the mainstream media. This way of challenging the dominant representation of life by the media produced positive social change. Their work shaped part of British public policy during the Second World War, and through their studies helped create tax policy changes.

“Mass-Observers did not distinguish themselves from the people they studied. They intended merely to expose facts in simple terms to all observers, so that their environment may be understood, and thus constantly transformed.” (Cranin, Caleb.)

This became true of documentaries also, using them as a way to re-present facts of society back to viewers to inform, and to encourage change. A criticism of the Mass Observation Archive was that the information recorded was not representative of the British population, due to the selective nature of their observation groups, whereas a more modern mode of recording has a more scientific and valid approach.

Documentaries that recorded groups of people, mostly shared the same approach as the Mass Observation movement. They tended to generalise who or what they are communicating, therefore the same criticisms applied and have been raised by critics. Many did not truthfully portray what they intended; whether this is from the subjects selected, the style of filming, the clips used in the edit, or the pre-conceptions of the creators, who always will have a biased viewpoint.  These issues still feature in many of the television documentaries today, whether this misrepresentation was a result of the producers generalisation, or whether it was they way the viewer interpreted the information.

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The styles and techniques described above have prevailed into today’s documentaries; there are still issues of generalisation and validity, and many documentaries continue to adopt a ‘fly on the wall’ approach. However, over the years the purpose of documentary film moved away from the educational towards a source of entertainment.

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Participation in Documentary Today

In the UK, there were originally 4 television channels, BBC1 (launched in 1936), ITV (1955), BBC2 (1964), and Channel4 (1982). Channel 5 was launched in 1997, and was the final terrestrial analogue channel. With the invention of a large number of digital terrestrial channels, and when the entire country switched over to digital in 2012 came more competition between broadcasters to get the attention of viewers. This meant there was a need for programmes to create discussion from their viewers, creating a hype that would encourage others to watch the same programme to understand and engage in the dialogue. In terms of documentaries, they therefore needed to be more dramatic or controversial to entice viewers. Where producers could not create enough drama with topic, or scenario, they seemed to turn to subjects – whose behaviour could be used as a source of entertainment and discussion.

Creators have relied on the participation of others who allow access to their lives and thoughts, for the purposes of creating an entertaining programme. In this straightforward style of participation, the maker records these aspects, and edits them to create meaning, enforce an opinion, or to tell a story. Particularly in the process of editing, aspects of footage are either selected or rejected to create a particular message to the viewer. The problem this creates is that elements can become lost or the meaning can be changed, raising feelings of misrepresentation from the subject.

In ‘Educating Essex’ (2012) we really see the use of observational documentary for the entertainment of the masses. Embracing ‘fly on the wall style’ and pushing this even further, the directors used surveillance style cameras positioned around a school to capture the most natural behaviour over a series of weeks. This non-interventional style of recording aimed to produce footage with higher validity, as there was less of a presence of a camera, and students were recording in a more natural environment so were therefore less inhibited.

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Where documentaries such as this one are unable to escape from bias, is during the editing phase, as there must be a method of selecting and rejecting footage – choosing to emphasise a certain point of view. This point of view will vary depending on many social and environmental factors of the appointed editors, as well as the opinions and standards of the broadcasting channel.

Channel 4 explains this issue within their online ethical guideline, acknowledging their will always be some manipulation of events in the editing stage, but this should not suggest to viewers circumstance that are not true. They insist that viewer trust is more important than the entertainment purposes of the programme;

“The editing process will inevitably condense events which have occurred over a period of time this must not be at the expense of distorting reality and misleading viewers. The truth must not be sacrificed for the sake of a more entertaining programme if this means cheating the viewer. It is never acceptable to represent something as having happened that did not. If it is claimed or suggested that footage is actuality, then that is what it should be; if it is not, then that must be made clear to viewers”

Despite this many documentary makers and television producers do not seem to follow this, or they do not do so very rigorously. Certain programmes may twist the words or actions of those recorded for their own benefit; to gather more viewers by creating something that generates more discussion. For example Channel4‘s ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ which created controversy in the way it misrepresented the people living in the village of Grassinton in Yorkshire. The programme portrayed the largely white, middle class community as one which was uncomfortable with people of different races. They selectively chose clips which would highlight this message, perhaps to create a more interest and debate.

“The villagers must confront their feelings on racial diversity as a young black family compete against a Yorkshireman, his girlfriend and her three teenagers. Simone and Phillip, both 35, have three young children, sons Lewis (7), Joel (4) and Elliot (3). They currently live in Epsom Downs and felt the move to Grassington was too good an opportunity to miss. However, as a young black family they are conscious that they will be very conspicuous…”

Another style of documentary creation, that considers the issue of consent is those which record through hidden cameras, filming in secret.

Social media has given programmes, which are controversial or more dramatic, a platform from which to profit: for example on sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

The ‘Hash tag’ was created by Twitter, and is a form of metadata tag. It allows online material to be grouped together. The symbol may be affixed to the beginning of key words within an online post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, websites, YouTube and so on. This process groups together information, enabling people to review all posts which feature that hash tagged word.

Hash tags are now widely used by mass broadcasting media; to create collections of information surrounding their program, to promote a ‘buzz’ around their branding, advertise the program, encouraging interest from other potential audiences. ITV and Channel 4 have adopted the use of Hash tags on programs, and often display them in the lower corners of the screen to encourage viewers have a discussion around the program on social media before, during, and after the program.

This interactive element supports documentary and reality program makers who attempt to create debate around the issue they are exploring. However, those participating in these kinds of programs often become the topic of mass discussion, and so it is increasingly important that the producers portray them accurately. Yet there is an obvious incentive from producers to exploit the people, who they are recording, in order to achieve better success and increase the interest surrounding their program. They can do this by creating a more shocking and dramatic piece of television, at the expense of those on screen.

Alongside the Hash tag, television producers encourage people to discuss their programs on social media, by providing material to be ‘Shared’, ‘Liked’ and commented on. This creates profit, from advertising and generally promoting the program. Those who engage in the discursive online process are making the producers money.

Collaboration in documentaries and online media 

OWNERSHIP

VINE

FACEBOOK , YOUTUBE & SOCIAL MEDIA

HTML5

My Conclusion

Will add quotes from

Karl Marx (Capital)
Jon Dovey (New documentary Ecologies)

Mandy Rose (Interview)

Reviews of docs

ARTICLE Crain, Caleb, “Surveillance Society: The Mass-Observation Movement and the Meaning of Everyday Life” in The New Yorker magazine, September 11, 2006. Web, retrieved Oct 29 2014. http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2006/09/11/060911crat_atlarge

Benefits Street Debate

Deirdre Kelly (White Dee), who featured in the Channel 4 documentary Benefits Street (2013), explains in this Newsnight interview, how she and other subjects of the documentary felt misled and exploited through the way the production team portrayed their lives.

She expresses her feelings on how Channel4 and Love Production told them the concept for the documentary was about community spirit, and never said it would be about people living on benefits. She explains that it was not a fair representation of people as it only focussed on 4 individuals, some of which did not even live on that street.

The interviewer challenges Dee, who insists she has not made any money from the programme yet, that despite the negative experience she has had this could be an opportunity to improve her life through the offers she has received for work and public appearances.

I would however argue, that the offers Deirdre may be receiving are a result of her negative portrayal on the show, and that any press she may experience will either reinforce these views and damage her reputation further.

Within minutes of the programme being aired #benefitsstreet was trending on Twitter, with an incredible surge of aggressive comments and threats to the people featured on the programme and those who live on James Turner Street, the road which the documentary is based around.

http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/benefits-street-police-investigate-twitter-6475216

Since this Newsnight interview, White Dee has received a lot of media attention, and has maybe ‘done well’ off the back of the documentary, however this is arguably at the expense of others who are living in similar conditions, who have only been negatively effected by the programme.

The way the show communicated the lives of the subjects has dictated how the world has then seen them, and not only subjected other people on the street to the same criticisms, but also other people who rely on government benefits.

This news report from the Independent explains the debate surrounding the programme in more depth, giving the response from Nick Mirksy, head of Channel 4 documentaries;

“There’s no Tory agenda. It’s a documentary attempting to describe that world honestly,” said Nick Mirsky, Channel 4’s head of documentaries, in an interview with The Independent. “I’m aware it has created an enormous amount of heat both about Channel 4 and about the street. It feels like we have touched something that the nation is so concerned about. That has created an enormous amount of interest and heat. I think we have touched a nerve.”

In relation to the exploitation I discuss in my writing, this in my opinion is an example of a documentary which misrepresents its subjects, potentially with the aim of generating viewers, through creating a debate on social media, news websites, verbally between viewers, and on further programmes such as this Newsnight episode.

Rough draft of first 500 words

Are documentaries exploiting those who collaborate and participate in them?
When does collaboration and participation become exploitation in online media and documentary? How can you turn participation in documentary into positive social change?

Chapter 1

Participation

Participation is frequently within the nature of visual media such as documentary. For the purpose of this essay the participation I refer to is the act of taking part in programs which attempt to portray reality, such as documentary and reality programs.

Creators have relied on the participation of others who allow access to their lives and thoughts. This straight forward style of participation, where by the maker records these aspects, and edits them to create meaning, enforce an opinion, or to tell a story. Particularly in the process of editing, aspects of footage are either selected or rejected to create a particular message to the viewer. The problem this creates is that elements become lost or the meaning changes raising feelings of misrepresentation from the participant.

In this way, certain documentaries twist the words or actions of those recorded for their own benefit; to gather more viewers by creating something which generates more discussion. Social media has given programs, which are controversial or more dramatic, a platform from which to profit: for example on sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

The ‘Hashtag’ was created by Twitter, and is a form of metadata tag. It allows online material to be grouped together. The symbol may be affixed to the beginning of key words within an online post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, websites, Youtube and so on. This process groups together information, enabling people to review all posts which feature that hash tagged word.

Hashtags are now widely used by mass broadcasting media, to create collections of information surrounding their program, to promote a ‘buzz’ around their branding, advertise the program, encouraging interest from other potential audiences. ITV and Channel 4 have adopted the use of Hashtags on programs, and often display them in the lower corners of the screen to encourage viewers have a discussion around the program on social media before, during, and after the program.

This interactive element supports documentary and reality program makers who attempt to create debate around the issue they are exploring. However, those participating in these kinds of programs often become the topic of mass discussion, and so it is increasingly important that they are portrayed accurately by the producers. Yet there is an obvious incentive from producers to exploit the people who they are recording, in order to achieve better success and increase the interest surrounding their program. They can do this by creating a more shocking and dramatic piece of television, at the expense of those on screen.

Alongside the Hashtag, television producers encourage people to discuss their programs on social media, by providing material to be ‘Shared’, ‘Liked’ and commented on. This creates profit, from advertising and generally promoting the program. Those who engage in the discursive online process, are making the producers money.

To do:

Write section on Collaboration including my definition.
Mention media sharing sites like Vine encouraging remixing of media is also a way of exploiting. Issues of ownership in digital age where everything is shared/liked/re-blogged. Collaborative documentaries combining many people’s work. Use example of ‘Life in a Day’ documentary. Interactive docs which remix or display existing media are profiting off the back of others work.

– Give opinions e.g.
Karl Marx (Das Kapital)
Jon Dovey (New documentary Ecologies)
Mandy Rose (Interview)
Ethical guidelines (Channel 4)

– My own opinion / position at beginning of practical work.

Summer Research

Over the summer I have read the following books, some just the relevant chapters but others entirely to broaden my view of the topic I am considering.

‘The people’s platform – taking back power and culture in the digital age’ by Astra Taylor

‘The net effect’ by Beth Porter

‘Analyzing Social Networks’ by Borgatti, Everett and Johnson

The New Media Theory Reader’ by Hassan and Thomas

‘Share This!’ Deanna Zandit

‘New Documentary Ecologies: Emerging Platforms, Practices and Discourses’ by Kate Nash, Craig Hight and Catherine Summerhayes

‘The Documentary Film Book’ by Brian Winston

‘The Interactive Documentary as Living Documentary’

Initially I intended to explore the topic of Interactive Documentary: what are they, what makes them successful, how do they play an important role in social change?

However, after reading Sandra Gaudenzi’s essay ‘The Interactive Documentary as Living Documentary’, I found that interactive documentary has a variety of different meanings. Most of the research I found looks at the technologically interactive aspect – gaming, html3. My personal interest is in the participatory nature of interactive documentaries.

In Jon Dovey’s essay in ‘New Documentary Ecologies’ I read about his argument which questions whether these styles of documentary actually exploit the participants.

This is a point which I wanted to focus on- whether documentaries exploit their participants, or does the benefit of those involved outweigh the financial gain of the producers.

Aspects I wish to touch on in my research and practice:

1.  The idea of ownership: is it ethical for producers to remix other people’s footage and benefit from their work, e.g.

‘Life in a Day’ (2011)

– Pharrell Williams’s music video for ‘Happy’ (2014)

– Media sites like ‘Vine’ which encourage users to remix other people’s videos and put slight changes, and Mozilla Popcorn, again encouraging people to remix existing videos.

2. Participation: Are people in documentaries exploited?

– Examples include reality programmes and reality-dramas (mixing reality with partly fictional story lines). People who participate in these programmes often receive fame, but also may get abuse for how they are (often inaccurately) portrayed by the producers in order to increase viewings, and profit.

– Documentaries which portray the main characters/participants in a negative way e.g. Benefits Street (2014, Channel 4), ‘The Men with Many Wives’ (2014, Channel 4). This highlights the issue of consent – would these people be happy to participate if they knew that those creating the film were setting out to portray them in a negative light? How do you negotiate this ethically within a contract.

– Films which have successfully worked in a collaborative way to ensure that those participating receive due credit and benefits from working with the documentary makers. E.g. Hollow (2013, Elaine McMillon) Dark Days (2000, Marc Singer) , 4thought (2010, Channel 4).

– Films which may be harder to define whether they benefit the participants or the producers, e.g fly on the wall – ‘Educating Essex’ (2011, Channel 4) – ‘One born every minute’ (2010, Channel 4)  – ‘Goggle box’ (2013 Channel 4).