DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKING - RESEARCH - FACTS VERSUS OPINIONS | Hein Ungerer | Skillshare

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DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKING - RESEARCH - FACTS VERSUS OPINIONS

teacher avatar Hein Ungerer, Filmmaker, Mentor, Trainer

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
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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

6 Lessons (34m)
    • 1. Introduction to Research Course

      2:16
    • 2. 1 - Researching Your Stories

      5:24
    • 3. 2 - Fake News

      6:03
    • 4. 3 - Separating Fact From Fiction

      8:21
    • 5. 4 - Research Sources

      9:28
    • 6. 5 - Three Source Rule

      2:54
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About This Class

DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKING - RESEARCH - FACTS VERSUS OPINIONS

Documentary filmmaking is a complex process – and in the name itself – documentary – it pre-supposes that we are dealing with reality, dealing with current or past realities, and therefore we work in the world of FACTS!

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of sound research practices in factual filmmaking and filmmakers should become adept at how to avoid the trap of fake information in their films.

With the escalating numbers of people posting information on the Internet, fact checking, is more crucial now than ever. This lesson takes a look at how facts should be checked and how we should distinguish between what is opinion and what is fact.

A lot has been said about FAKE NEWS, it’s not really a new phenomenon – it’s been around even before radio and films – but what is different now is that with the Internet and a host of social media sites to choose from – and millions of viewers watching films – FAKE news can very easily be shared – again, and again and again – and it is a lot harder now to stop FAKE NEWS because as you know this continues sharing can so easily go viral. So we must ensure that we include FACTS in our films. Remember we reflect REALITY – how things are now or how things were then.

If we start disseminating FAKE information, the problem simply gets bigger and is soon out of control.

In this course we take a look at how you can do your research, where you can do research, we also look at how your stories can be influenced by outsiders and we touch on how you can KNOW that the facts that you are including in your stories are in fact - FACTS!

Enjoy the course and enjoy researching your stories – one of the most rewarding activities in documentary filmmaking – the ability to tell REAL stories about REAL people.

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

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Transcripts

1. Introduction to Research Course: Documentary filmmaking is a complex process and in the name itself, documentary. It presupposes that we are dealing with reality, dealing with current or past realities, and therefore, we work in the world of facts. I cannot overemphasize the importance of sound research practices in factual filmmaking and filmmakers should become adept at how to avoid the trap of fake information in there foams with a escalating number of people posting information on the Internet. Fact checking is more crucial now than ever. This lesson takes and look at how facts should be checked and how we should distinguish between what is opinion and what is fat. A lot has been said about fake news. It's not really a new phenomenon. It's been around even before radio and films. But what is different now is that with the Internet and a host of social media sites to choose from, and millions of viewers watching films. Fake news can very easily be shared again and again and again. And it is a lot harder now to stop fake news because as you know, this continued sharing so easily go viral. So we must ensure that we include fats enough homes. Remember, we reflect reality, how things are now, and how things within. If we start disseminating fake information, the problem simply gets bigger and soon it's out of control. In this course, we take a look at how you can do research, where you can do the search. We also look at how your stories can be influenced by outsiders. And we touched on how you can know that the effects that you are including in your stories are, in fact, facts. Enjoy the course and enjoy researching your stories. One of the most rewarding activities in documentary filmmaking, the ability to tell real stories about real people. 2. 1 - Researching Your Stories: Hello again. In this lesson, we're going to look specifically at research, the process of gathering information, and the role that plays in making documentaries. No matter what your story is about how straightforward or complex your narrative is, how long your phone will be, who's in it or where you want to upload it to. You will need to do research. And the amount and type of research you do will depend on how much factual content your story will rely on. All documentary or factual type films start out as an idea, whether you see yourself as a citizen journalist or a more conventional storyteller. Your foam idea probably came from someone you know, a newspaper or magazine article or any online sites and newsletters that cover your specific areas of interest. That's one of the best ways to start filtering your ideas using resources that cover your interests. But ideas for stories are exactly that. Just ideas for them to become real stories that will successfully translate into foams. You need to know more. And whether you are working as a citizen journalist or as a storyteller, you will need to know the who, the, what, the why, the when, and the where of your story. The five basic elements of a focus statement. This will become your spine and guideline that keeps your research on track. Not only that, your focus statement helps you decide what your research includes and what it excludes. Of course, this might change as your research progresses, but in the initial stages it guides you. So now you have some story ideas. What's the next step? How do you take these story ideas forward? What is fact and what is opinion to enable you to decide whether your films content will be interesting enough to make a foam that will draw your viewers. You need to have a feel for the truth. If you found your story ideas from new sources that have a solid reputation, then a lot of the research will already have been done. What you will now have to do is to start looking for story content that will translate into the visual medium, enabling you to develop your narrative in pictures. Let's take a look now at how a story can go from an idea to something more substantial. So let's say you hear a conversation in a coffee shop where you and a friend are sitting, what you hear is that a group of young people from a very poor community started a canoe club and will be joining the top can newest in your city on a weekend workshop. So this sounds interesting and you now want to find out more about this group. Young people. Start with your focus statement for your story. So you need to find out who is doing what. Also establish why they are doing it and when and where this will be happening. So you do some research and you find that there are two brothers, Let's call them john and Peter. That the who part of your story. They started a canoe club. That's what pot. And there are a few reasons for this, and that's your y pot. Firstly, they had a badly polluted stretch of wetland near their community where people threw away they refuse, some animals drowned and the reads were clogging up the waterways. The second reason was that the young people in the community were bored and didn't have anything to do during the day. So starting a canoe club involved them. And the third reason was that established canoe clubs in the area offered their help to obtain funding and training. So already we see there is a whole story developing here. The where was the town? And the when highlighted that this was taking place now and more importantly, the weekend meeting with the other clubs was coming up. Now that you have a full focus statement, you can start deciding who you will be interviewing, what Bureau you will be shooting, and whether you will be covering the upcoming event with a story. Your production planning flows out of your research. Also very important are the people you want to feature available and prepared to give you interviews. Where will you foam and how will you get the humans also stay on top of things and follow how the story is developing. So essentially your research has helped you decide that this is in fact a good story and will now guide you in how to tell your story visually. 3. 2 - Fake News: As you well know, one of the most talked about issues right now is fake news. And how we as filmmakers, as journalists, must try and avoid spreading fake news or even creating more fake news. Whatever stories we still need to be well-researched to ensure that whatever we put out is accurate and the truth. As filmmakers, we have a responsibility to make sure that what we collect, rework, and put out there is accurate and true. This is especially important when we bring other people into our stories. We need to make sure that what they contribute is fact and not fiction. Now let's take a slightly more complicated story and please understand that probably none of the facts are true. I used this example simply as a way to explain the concept of research. So let's say your next story, you find while you are hiking on a very popular trail in the iconic Peninsula mountains around which Cape Town is built. On this mountain range, there are several wildlife species who have survived the urban onslaught into their territory. One group of wild animals that Chuck baboons have lived on the mountain for many years. On the hike, you meet some people observing these baboons. And from them you learn that the number of the chocolate baboons on the mountain has seen a sharp decline over the past couple of years. And these observers claim that it is the conservation officials in the area who are killing them. That sounds like a story. But of course, this is only an idea at this stage and perhaps it is only an opinion your fellow hikers have. What you need to do now is to research this claim and find out how accurate it is. It's a great story, but you need the facts. The first step would be to establish the current number of baboons there are on the mountain. How many individuals are there today? You contact the relevant conservation authorities, as well as some NGOs working for the protection of the animals. And you find out that there are currently 274. The second step would be to find out whether they have been passed annual counts. And if there are, then get these figures for five years back. Again for this exercise, let's say five years ago, they were 1002634 years ago, 9783 years ago, 8762 years ago, 4891 year ago, only 320. Now, step number 3 would be to study these numbers and establish whether the decrease is significant. This will show you the following drop in numbers for the past five years. 284 from year 52 for a 102 from here four to 3387, from here, 322169, from here two to one, and 46 from year one to the present. This now allows you to see that there were significant decreases from year 524284 animals died. And again from here 32 to win, 387 animals died. The next step now is to approach the conservation authorities to confirm the figures and to investigate their understanding of what took place. Also, you will need to get their fingers on how many animals they killed during these periods. That might give you an indication of possible other factors at play. They might have been an outbreak of a disease amongst the baboons. Why you are with the authorities, find out what their policies are regarding killing baboons. In other words, find out how and under what circumstances they decide to kill. Then at the same time, you now make contact with one or more of the NGOs who are working for the protection of the baboons, again, test their understanding of the figures and also get their interpretation of what is going on. Check the figures the conservation authorities gave you in terms of how many baboons they killed and then check these with the NGOs. Also get the NGOs take on the reasons the conservation authorities gave you for killing the animals. Once you have all this information, then it is time to write up your focus statement for your story. The WHO in this case is going to be the chocolate baboons. The what is that? The numbers have dramatically dropped from one hundred, two hundred, two, only 273 over the past five years. And that the conservation authorities are being blamed for some of the deaths because they are killing the animals. The Y relates to the conservation authorities blaming the animals will becoming raiders and general nuisances As they read homes and refuse bins. Dispersing males are also killed if they move out of the birth troops and attempt to find new troops. And in the process end up becoming a nuisance in urban areas. The when covers the past five years and right up to the present. And the where is the peninsula mountains that the seven baboon troops call home? With this focus statement now written down, you can start planning your interviews with both the conservation authorities as well as the baboon protection groups. Your research is well underway and your story is developing. 4. 3 - Separating Fact From Fiction: So we do our research to establish what the facts are in our story. But remember, we are dealing with human beings, those who participate in our foams and also our viewers. And some people are extremely convincing when they tell you their stories. So how do we distinguish between what is fact and what is opinion? In other words, really, what is true and accurate and what is belief? Let's do a quick exercise. Sometimes knowing what is an opinion and what is a fact is not so easy. Today with the Internet taking over much of the communication in our lives. People in groups with agendas can very easily pretend to be what they are not. Putting up. A fake website featuring fake news is very easy. So as factual filmmakers and journalists, you have to develop a nose for fake information. Bold your critical thinking skills, and make sure that you use only reliable sources. Let's take as a definition that facts can be proven to be true. So water boils at a fixed temperature. Adding five to six gives you 11. If you drop the temperature of water low enough, it freezes. An opinion, on the other hand, may or may not be based on fact. The danger comes in when these opinions, our past Office fact, and are presented in such a way that people take them to be facts. Here are a few statements now, let's work through them and you can decide whether each statement sounds more like a fact or an opinion. And then let's discuss the results. Make a note for yourself about each statement. Okay, ready? Here we go with the first five statements. My mom is the best mom on the planet. Molly bongo away at two comma, three meters tall, says he is the tallest man in the world. My telephone number is impossible to memorize. The deepest part of the ocean is 35 1813 feet. More people die in car crashes, then are killed by lions. So let's see now, first statement. My mom is the best mom on the planet. You might agree, but it's only your opinion. Molly bongo away at two comma three meters tall, says he is the tallest man in the world. Moneyball way might think so, but that's only his opinion. My telephone number is impossible to memorize. Again, your mom might think so, but that's only her opinion. The deepest part of the ocean is 35 1813 feet. And interesting statement. If you know this or research this, you will find that it's a fact. More people die in car crashes then are killed by lions. This statement requires some research, but the immediate field is that it is fact. So how did you do? Here are five more statements. You can minimize your chances of contracting COVID-19 by washing your hands for two minutes using a medicated soap. Next one. Dogs make better pits than turtles. Swimming in the ocean should be banned because of shark attacks. Smoking is bad for your health. When you see an owl, it means someone will die. Let's look at these statements. You can minimize your chances of contracting COVID-19 by washing your hands for two minutes using a medicated soap? Well, this was advised just about the world over and one presumes the statement was supported by research. So yes, a tentative fact, but more research might prove something different. Dogs might better pets than turtles. Should any animal be a Pitt? Who knows? In this case, I would think it's an opinion of someone who likes dogs. Swimming in the ocean should be banned because of shark attacks out and out. An opinion, if you take into account how many people swim in the sea and how relatively few attacks take place. Smoking is bad for your health. Well, smokers might disagree, but this is a fact. When you see an owl, it means someone will die. This is an old superstition. There is no connection between an owl and people dying. So. An opinion. Okay, so here are the last six. Poor people cause crime. L populations in urban areas are dying out because they eat rats who have ingested rat poison. But Balboa is poor because she is lazy. 85 percent of lung cancer cases in the United States are caused by smoking cigarettes. People should stop hiking up the mountain because they will be attacked and robbed. Divorced people are happy. So what do you think? Well, let's look at them one by one. Poor people cause crime. This is an overall statement looking at poor people as an entity. Some poor people might resort to crime, but not all poor people will. So it's an opinion. L populations in urban areas are under threat because they eat rats that have ingested rat poison. This is effect as outlined in various research studies by Boulware, is poor because she is lazy. Again, this sounds very much like an opinion, as they may be several other reasons why Babylon is poor. 85 percent of lung cancer cases in the United States are caused by smoking cigarettes. Statement that is supported by various research studies. So it's fact people should stop hiking up the mountain because they will be attacked and Rob. Very much someone's opinion given how many people hike up the mountain and how relatively few people are robbed and attacked. Divorced people are happy. Well, say no more. I know many married people who are happy and some divorced people who are unhappy. So again, no connection and it's an opinion. So how did you do Was it easy to distinguish between facts and opinions? Do you understand why it is important not to push opinions as fact? Having said that, it's important to follow only facts, it is equally important to not simply discard opinions. Remember, we all have the right to opinions, but do not pass opinion off as fact unless of course you can prove it through research. Many opinions ultimately turn into facts. So when you have a story idea and it's based on an opinion, then do your research and prove or disprove that opinion and become more critical in your thinking. Question, everything you hear, see and read. Your aim should be to do critical thinking all the time. That's right all the time. And this means to apply sound critical thinking and reasoning. Whenever you evaluate information. Through critical thinking, we constantly measure and improve our skills to judge, well, what will help is if you never assume that you know at all, always be critical, even when you think you know, be skeptical of others, but also of yourself, you will reap well earned rewards if you question all the time. 5. 4 - Research Sources: So we have established now that it is important to do research when we make films. In fact, we cannot write our shooting script before having done so. But the question now is, of course, how exactly do we do research? What resources are open to us and which can we trust? Okay, let's take a story now with a bit more of an investigative field to it. And let's say it came to you in a rather roundabout way. So you are shopping for some great food to eat over the weekend. And you happen to see some olive oil at a really good price. And the label says, it's extra virgin OIL, cold pressed, and it comes from a well-known region in Italy. So you buy three bottles. But in the back of your mind, you have this little voice saying to you, this is simply impossible to get genuine olive oil this cheap. So what do you do? Well, first you get on the internet and you start googling. Cheap olive oil, olive oil, scams, fake olive oil, et cetera, et cetera. Then you find that selling fake olive oil is quite a big business out there. And that there are several companies that have done this in the past. Now ask yourself, will this make a good story if you research your oil purchases will view as k. And of course they will, because who wants to buy a fake product? A product that you have no idea what you are actually buying. Step number 1 now is to go out and see if there are other stores also selling cheap olive oil. Let's say you find another two stores that do, and these oils are under a different label to the first one you bought, then buy a bottle of each of these as well. So your theory now is that fake olive oil is being sold to customers as genuine olive oil. Now, you have to prove that theory. The next step is to have your three bottles tested in a reputable laboratory to prove whether they are extroverts and cold pressed olive oil or not. If they are, you don't have a story, and if they are not genuine, you have a great story. So the results come back and show two of the bottles are in fact sunflower seed oil and not olive oil. The other one is genuine. Now, what next? Well, you write up your focus statement. The Who is the store you bought the fake olive oil from? The what is the fake oil? Under what labels are they being sold? The why is that the fake oil is being passed off as genuine? Because the sellers or producers of the oil wants to sell sunflower seed oil, which is cheap as olive oil, which is more expensive, thereby making a neat profit. The where is the store you bought it from? And the when is now current. Let's take a look at the various avenues that are open to us in our research. Now, where do we go to get the facts? So let's start with the elephant in the room. They Internet. The Internet can easily confuse you and take your story in several directions at the same time. So keep track of what information you want to find out. Always remain skeptical about what you find. Until such time as you find the same information from several unconnected sources, you will probably want to do a lot of your research on the net. I think it's a good place to start for your initial research. And it's a wonderful place to find story ideas. But these ideas need more research before turning into stories. But having said that, let's immediately qualify. The Internet is not a reliable source of information. I'm not saying you cannot do research on the Internet, but at all times be careful not to simply take what you read and see as the truth, whatever you find the check it out. Some people post information on the Internet that they have not really checked out. So they say it's a fact, but it's simply opinion. What you then find is that more and more people simply repost the opinions as fact. This gets challenging when the next person to read this information takes it as fact and then decides to share that information even further without checking at the cycle of non facts, then only gets bigger each time the information is re-posted. Anyone can post anything on the Internet. So information there has not been assessed for truthfulness. Many websites have commercial sponsors who pay for content to promote their products or even ideas. Some websites have serious agendas and we'll push their ideas and opinions and claim them to be fats. People with political agendas will use websites to foster and promote their ideas, quoting supporting opinions, and declaring them to be fact. So be careful that you do not buy into their propaganda. So make sure you check any information you find on the Internet to make sure you are pushing fact and not opinion. So if the Internet is a place to be wary of, where do you find your research? Well, let's start with eyewitnesses. They are extremely good at telling you what they saw and they interpretation of events. However, they are not necessarily reliable sources for providing perspective on why things transpired. So use them as color for any activity that took place and that they witnessed. And bear in mind that they might have been under stress and strain when they witnessed the event. Use that for your story, but put a question mark in terms of accuracy. Then we can also use research studies and the findings of those studies. But a word of caution on quoting scientific and academic research before blindly accepting conclusions, check the methodology used to arrive at those conclusions. If a study was done over one week with only 10 subjects, be skeptical and question more and find other research to back up the first finding. If you then find a second study done over a 12 month period with 2500 subjects and the conclusions were the same, then you are getting closer to something you can use. But check some more. Let's say the third study lasted five years and involved a 100 thousand subjects. And this study gives the same findings as the other two, then probably the accuracy is good. But what you find is nothing is ever as simple and clear. So be vigilant. Another thing about studies, if you're doing a story that relies on study's findings in statistics, it is always a good idea to credit your sources in your story, especially if there are conflicting findings and stats around. If you do that, your viewer will trust your telling of the story because you are not saying something on your own. You are quoting people who are experts in the field. Another good way to collect information Is a one-on-one interview, especially if you are talking to recognize the experts in their field. You can also attend events that relate to your story. Go out and take a look for yourself. Talking to many people, giving you various viewpoints will ensure that you have a broader picture. Your story. Always question what you find. Remain unconvinced until you start finding the same information in several different places and make sure it's not just the same information that's been re-posted and shared. Another good research principle is to go directly to the source of your story. Either people immediately involved in an event or people who are experts. This approach will also help you to decide who to interview for your story. And of course, that's when you can start drawing up the questions you will need to get the information you want from your interviewees. And finally on where we find our sources. Be aware of your own and other people's biases, makes sure that you don't fall into the trap of pushing your own agenda. No matter what. If your story takes a different direction to what you thought it would, follow the research findings and respect the facts of your story. No matter how sexy the opposite is. Approach your story with genuine curiosity and use that as your driving force in your research. Question. Everything, including your own premises. 6. 5 - Three Source Rule: See now that there are many sources that we can use to gather information about the story that we are doing. And as journalists, storytellers, the more we dig, the more layered are narrative becomes. But when we do reach the point where we think we know that what we have collected is actually true. But there is still a lingering doubt. Well, then there is still the standard old research standby. It's called the three source rule. And this is what it's all about. This sounds like a daunting task, but it's really quite simple. Try and get as many sources confirming your information as you can. Especially when you are working with statistics. Research findings of different studies on the same subject will also benefit if these give you the same information, makes sure that the different sources you are using are separate and non-related. This ensures you are working with credible sources. The three source rule is not always possible. But when you do manage it, you will feel a lot safer with what you can then call your fats. Remember, your mom, your local preacher, or your friend down the road are not the three credible sources you need. Fact checking is essential for documentary filmmaking. It's probably a good idea to make the three source rule, your own rule when dealing with tricky stories, especially stories that rely heavily on facts. Make sure your sources are credible and non-related, and make sure that those sources are not just repeating other people's findings and information. Let's sum up some of what we have learned. We now understand that research is an essential part of the documentary filmmaking process. And it is a process that depends very much on Separating fact from fiction, true news from fake news. And this is not always easy. We have to verify the more important elements in our story with more than one source. Also, it is essential that we do not confuse fact and opinion. If we do, we run the risk of perpetuating a belief rather than effect? And finally, enjoy fact-finding. Make it pleasant and rewarding. Remember, you are after the truth and telling that truth to your viewers will ensure that they receive an accurate message. Enjoy your filmmaking, and see you again soon.