DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKING - ETHICS - THE SOUL OF FILMMAKING | Hein Ungerer | Skillshare

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DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKING - ETHICS - THE SOUL OF FILMMAKING

teacher avatar Hein Ungerer, Filmmaker, Mentor, Trainer

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

5 Lessons (21m)
    • 1. Introduction to Ethics Course

      1:40
    • 2. 1. The Ground Rules - Dealing With Your Film Participants And Viewers In An Ethical Way

      8:36
    • 3. 2. Do You Or Don't You Pay - How Does This Affect Your Participants

      2:11
    • 4. 3. Media Freedom And Vested Interests - Be Careful

      5:53
    • 5. 4. Subjectivity In Filmmaking - How To Approach Your Film

      2:28
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About This Class

DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKING - ETHICS - THE SOUL OF FILMMAKING

Making documentary films, films about real people and real situations, this demands that the filmmakers at all times act in an ethical way. And that ethical way is focused on their dealings with people who are touched by the films that they make.

Documentary filmmaking is a multifaceted process – and there are several key elements that filmmakers are exposed to. And how you deal with these elements is at the heart of how successful you will be as a filmmaker.

Ethics is one of these elements.

When you make a documentary film – or a factual film as some people also refer to the genre - you deal with people, and here is that word again, you deal with real people – and these are in two groups – the first group consists of people who will watch your films and the second includes the people who will participate in your films – people who will become the subjects of your films. These people open themselves up to the scrutiny of others.

This short course will touch on those two groups of people and will also highlight the importance of you the filmmaker developing a personal production ethic in your dealings with participants and viewers. The key here is respect and compassion.

Enjoy the course and then also enjoy applying these basic ethical principles to your future film productions.

Meet Your Teacher

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Hein Ungerer

Filmmaker, Mentor, Trainer

Teacher

I have spent 35 years of my working life as a radio announcer, a television reporter, an investigative journalist and an executive producer for a national news and current affairs show. For the past 10 years I have been teaching at a documentary film school in Cape Town, South Africa. 

I am excited about my new journey into online skills courses and the overall positive response these have had. I really appreciate the time students have taken to review my courses. Feedback is essential for me and I invite students to tell me about their experiences.

To be clear – the courses I have uploaded are all aimed at beginner and intermediate documentary filmmakers. My focus is also more on content development than refining or improving your technical filmmaking s... See full profile

Related Skills

Film & Video Creative

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Transcripts

1. Introduction to Ethics Course: Making documentary films, phones about real people and real situations. This demands that the filmmakers at all times act in an ethical way. And that ethical way is focused on the dealings with people who are touched by the films that they make. Documentary filmmaking is a multifaceted process. There are several key elements that filmmakers are exposed to. And how you deal with these elements is at the heart of how successful you will be as a filmmaker. Ethics is one of these elements when you make a documentary film or a factual phone, as some people also refer to the genre you deal with people. And yet is that word again, to deal with real people. And these are in two groups. The first group consists of people who will watch your phones, and the second includes people who will participate in your phones, people who will become the subjects of your forms. These people open themselves up to the scrutiny of others. This short course will touch on those two groups of people. And we'll also highlight the importance of view the filmmaker developing a personal production ethic in your dealings with participants and viewers. The key here is respect and compassion. Enjoy the course, and then also enjoy applying these basic ethical principles to your future film productions. 2. 1. The Ground Rules - Dealing With Your Film Participants And Viewers In An Ethical Way: Ethics is that branch of philosophy that deals with right and wrong, what is acceptable, and what is not. And this is a universal phenomenon all over the world. People make judgments on an ongoing basis. Judgments that might differ dramatically from one society to another. But the concept of right and wrong is always present. And it's no different in filmmaking, especially documentary filmmaking, where we reflect fact and reality in our films. Ethics is a people think it is how we hope to run our lives. It's the blueprint for our actions and interactions. This lesson is not a comprehensive look at the role that ethics play in a film makers life. It is simply a brief overview of some areas where we should tread carefully and with great circumspect. And of course, any discussion about ethics will involve asking the question, what's the difference between ethics and morals? What works for me is the following. Ethics and models of very similar, similar, but not the same. It's how they affect our lives and the choices we make with the difference lies. Ethics is about right and wrong. Models, on the other hand, is about us feeling good and bad, and the latter involves guilt and blame. There is no universal set of ethics that govern all the people on our planet. And in this century, in particular, social justice issues under the spotlight. And there is serious conflict in certain areas. Traditional ethics that once only focused on people now include environmental and animal concerns. These now embrace human interaction with the non-human world. And in particular, animal ethics is looking at human animal relationships and the model considerations of how non-human animals ought to be treated. In fact, it asks the question, should non-human animals at all be used for human benefit? For example, these chiasma baboons were wild, caught and confined to the small cages. While scientists did research on what the impact would be of inhaling as best as particles on human lungs. After a set time of inhaling the asbestos particles, the baboons were killed and the lungs inspected. Now, is this right or wrong? Once upon a time, people would claim that the deaths of the baboons served to save the lives of humans. Today, that reason might find some serious moral opposition. The animal rights ethics says that all animals have the right to live out their lives in a natural environment and should not be used for anything to do with benefitting humans at the cost of their own lives. The scientists, of course, have a different ethic. So how does all this affect filmmaking? You may ask, well, ethics change and what was acceptable a few years ago is no longer acceptable. So we need to be aware and flexible enough to adapt to any new rules. Ethics give you the overall rooms with which to approach your profession. While models measure how well you have achieved your ethical responsibilities. And that determines how you feel about your behavior. And that in turn determines whether you feel guilty or not. Let's look at some of these central ethics now that guide our filmmaking actions and behaviors. Let's start with honesty and being truthful and furthermore, reflecting that truth in our filmmaking. Another central ethic is integrity and making decisions that are based on fact for your phone. Being loyal and trustworthy are also central ethics that govern filmmaking. Here you're dealing not only with the viewers who will watch your films, but also with the participants in those phones. Demonstrating and showing compassion and empathy with your participants also fall under these core ethics. When making films, you sometimes deal with situations in which your participants suffered badly, physically and emotionally. Especially when the results of a severe attack has left someone incapacitated. And not only they, but their families now have to cope with a tragedy. Show compassion and empathy in your dealings with the family. Being reliable in your dealings with people is another core ethic. Adhering to all breaking any of these ethical rules then brings us to moral behavior. And how we conduct ourselves then leads to guilt or shame when we break the ethical codes, or of course, pleasure and pride when we adhere to them. For our purposes, let's say there are three areas in particular where ethics come into play for us as filmmakers. The first is the interaction between you, the filmmaker, and the participants in your phone. The second area involves viewers who will be watching your phone and take away certain convictions and interpretations from your story. The third area is, of course, you and your own personal production ethic. How will you, the filmmaker, react to the development of the narrative of your story? How will you reach your decisions in terms of developing your content? Let's take a look now at some of these core ethics we spoke about earlier and how these relate to our filmmaking. And let's start with you and your phone participants. The very first thing I want to highlight here is that you need to respect the people's lives you are portraying in your phone. And that respect should stretch to acknowledge that most people are not used to being faced with a camera and interviewer. So allow some room for them to familiarize themselves with aspects of production. Help the interviewee and don't apply undue pressure. Then also, you need to be honest with your participants about what do you want to achieve with your phone. Never lied to them about your intentions. Another core ethic is to have compassion for your participants. Develop a genuine empathy with the people whose lives you will be exposing in your phone. Following on from empathy is respect. Telling a person's story is a kind of honor. You are being given. It's not your right to just barge into people's lives, they give you permission to do so. And you need to reflect this story in a way that leaves their integrity intact. And remember, your own personal conduct while producing your phone is always under the ethical spotlight. And nowhere more so than in your personal interaction with people who are part of your phone, always acknowledged their roles, they made a contribution. Then in terms of interviewing, I'm an absolute stickler for doing full transcriptions of all interviews. And one of the reasons for this is to help me understand and reflect real content of what the interviewee is saying. Make sure you reflect content accurately. And of course, bear in mind what impact your documentary could have on people participating and on your own life. Think ahead and be careful, but of course, don't hold back on confidence, especially if you are dealing with investigative stories that cover tough issues. 3. 2. Do You Or Don't You Pay - How Does This Affect Your Participants: And then of course, there is the issue of payment. Is it ethical to pay people for being participants in your phone? Well, some documentary filmmakers and journalists say no. And they have a point. If you pay people, they might feel they have to tell you what they think you want to hear. And of course, that remains an issue even if you don't pay participants in your film simply might just want to please you. My own feeling is a little cloudy as a rule. I don't pay participants, but I have interviewed people who don't know where tonight food is coming from. All people who need money to travel to our arranged meeting place. People might spend time with me on location when they could be earning cash. One documentary I worked on focused on male sex workers and how some of them through their pumps, addicted to heroin. One of the participants insisted he be paid his hourly rate. And we had to make a decision. Would we be breaking any ethical rules if we did pay? And we needed to ask the question, would he have come on board for the foam if we hadn't paid him. And was he going to now give us answers he thinks we want to hear or the real ones, that's always a danger. For us. The ethic was that we needed to be conscious of our phone participants circumstances. For us it was the right decision, but many people will disagree. Follow your own judgment here. Finally, there is the extremely important core ethic of trust. And we need to respect when told that something is on the record or off the record. If a participant wants to have certain information kept out of the story, then avoid breaking that trust. 4. 3. Media Freedom And Vested Interests - Be Careful: When we talk about ethics in filmmaking, we also need to look broader at the rights of citizens in terms of media freedom. This differs from country to country. So make sure you understand what your media freedom is in the country where you live. In South Africa, we have a constitution that guarantees media freedom and also Code of Ethics drawn up by the press Council of South Africa. To quote from our South African code, the media exists to serve society. Their freedom provides for independent scrutiny of the forces that shape society and is essential to realizing the promise of democracy. It enables citizens to make informed judgments on the issues of the day. A role whose centrality is recognized in the South African constitution. For South Africans, the message is clear. We not only have the freedom to express our viewpoints, we also have the duty to provide relevant and accurate information to our fellow citizens that will enable them to make informed decisions about the world that they live in. As a documentary filmmaker, get as much information as you can about the position of media freedom in your own country or any country you are visiting. It is very important when you start producing material for public distribution. Not only does this apply to you directly as a filmmaker, it also touches on the rights of your phone participants. It could also affect your views depending on where you upload or make your film available to the public. And one, we are talking about viewers. Let's take a closer look now at the role that ethics play in making films for those viewers. The first guideline when you make your film is to aim for the truth, which of course, you achieve through thorough research and your own judgment based on that research. Remember, you have an obligation to bring the truth to your viewers. And this is especially true when you cut your footage. Repeating footage in a story is acceptable if it is part of your visual style for your phone. But be careful that the repeater footage does not start implying that the events depicted happened more than they actually did. That would be unethical. Finally, avoid falling prey to interest groups that will limit your freedom of operation. Be vigilant that your phone does not become an instrument serving those interest groups and not your viewers. One of the most difficult decisions one has to make in terms of media ethics and of course, documentary and factual filmmaking is to identify the different influences interest groups can have on your stories. And these interests can come to the fore in many guises. So it's up to us, the filmmakers to ensure that should these interests become part of our narrative and it cannot be avoided. Our viewers are aware and informed. These interest groups can take many forms and can have a minor or major impact on how stories are told. In the private sector, these interest groups are usually motivated by the bottom line, getting maximum viewership for maximum profit or influence. So sensationalizing stories is one tactic that brings in increased viewership. If the motivation is simply more viewers and more money, then the ethics of your story could be in danger. If you are going to try your hand at investigative stories. Then again, be vigilant when dealing with companies, with financial interests, political spin-doctors, or any government departments that become part of your story. In fact, any organization or person with power and influence could push their own agendas on you. So becauses and always bear in mind that most institutions have their own code of ethics through which they want to control the behavior that affects them. These rules are normally seen as a code based on shared models. The problem, of course, comes in when the ethics of an organization that you work for clashes with your own model code and how you deal with that affects your phone. As you progress with your documentary filmmaking, you will learn to trust your feelings. It's not always simply about facts and figures. Sometimes it starts as just a feeling, trust that feeling, and see where it takes you. But of course, don't just believe everything you hear, listen and nurture and trust your inner voice. And finally, grow a production ethic. Be demanding of yourself and your product. Make sure your phone is technically audio and visuals the best you can do. It's all about presenting a skillful phone in the end. No matter how great your story is, if the polish is not there, you run the risk of disappointing your viewers and they're missing your meaning. 5. 4. Subjectivity In Filmmaking - How To Approach Your Film: And finally, maybe just a note on subjectivity in documentary filmmaking as opposed to objectivity. The very essence of documentary or factual filmmaking is built on fact, fact, and not fiction. But having said that, let's bear in mind that documentaries are also like fiction films made by humans. And as such, when we make our documentaries, we do so through the choices we make of what we include and what we leave out. And that makes our phones unavoidably subjective even when right at the start, you researched several ideas for stories and then based on that research, you decide on which story develop. That decision is made subjectively and you make it your story. And don't let anyone tell you This is wrong, or that you should do things differently. The story you tell could be about anything. But the fact remains that it is you telling it. And in my opinion, it really is not important how hard you try to be balanced or tried to remain impartial about the story. The fact that you are telling that story already puts you in the realm of subjectivity. But there are, of course, filmmakers who claim that all documentaries should be objective and balanced. But I'm not one of them. I believe that my own subjectivity actually allows me to access the human side of stories. It allows me to develop that very important component of empathy when I tell someone else's story. But having said that, remember, part of your subjectivity demands that you treat your phone participants, narrative, and your viewers with the utmost ethical respect. Documentary filmmaking is about a wide circle of trust. Your participants trust you. Your viewers trust you. And above all, trust yourself enough to ensure that what you portray in your narrative has its roots firmly fixed. In fact, happy filmmaking.