[Ind Media ] Q 3 Sound makes a good doco better

This reading material discussed many examples about how sounds are used in different documentaries. i have found the following two points interesting to me.

1. Jeffrey Ruoff pointed out that ambient sounds which compete with dialogue is  “unacceptable”. I have to agree with him base on my personal experience. I am doing a documentary project recently and the location I choose is a modern dance studio which teaches street dance. As everyone can imagine music is played at almost highest volume there. After I came back from my first visit and watched the video footage on computer, I found it was a disaster. As I collected the sound wih the cameras’ built-in mic, background music totally overlapped my interview, and yelling from other dancers are extremely distracting.

The next time I went to the studio I carried a shotgun mic just like Ruoff suggested, and it indeed collected the interviewee’s voice clearly. Moreover, less background sounds are collected this time. Also, this time all the background music and dancer yelling helped to create a very real and live atomesphere.

In my personal opinion, location sounds are annoying yet important factor in a documentary. They can make the documentary more vivid and real if used wisely, yet without proper measures they are just destructive.

2. Music copy rights issue in documentary is an essential topic to me! Ruoff mentioned that some filmmakers would use music segment as social document to avoid copyright fees. This indeed can help documentary makers, who usually do not have enough budget for money on music, including myself. I wound not hesitate to pay the copyright owners if I have enough money for using those popular songs in my documentary about dance, but currently “use music segment as social document”, e.g. use the music I recorded in the dance studio seems like the best way. Documentary makers who do this have to be careful, after all playing with law might hurt yourself in the end. What’s more, documentary makers create intellectual properties as well, and they should understand other copyright owner’s concerns.


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