Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Filming Fencing: the production of Fencing

I just felt that due to my POV of fencing, which is in stark contrast to Tom's, it would be useful to maintain my ignorant POV and remain a fly on the wall (or a fly in flight, as I was handheld with the camera) and just objectively absorb everything as an observer. 

Fencing is a short documentary and reflective wiki that I co-created with my colleague, Thomas Wiltshire, for our final year BA (Hons) documentary project. The project was orchestrated between October 2012 to April 2013. For a more detailed overview see Fencing: an examination of the sport and an exploration of the documentary medium.

Presented here are all the posts from the wiki that deal with the production and filming of the documentary. It is pretty self-explanatory each of the six shooting sessions is presented in its own section with details on the planning behind each shoot and any reflections drawn from it.

As we learnt while filming the documentary, the filming period acts as an additional research period in which you become much more involved with your subject and that involvement goes on to inform the overall shaping of the documentary and the way in which you approach it from a filmmaking perspective.

Introduction to the wiki production section

It should also be stated that Tom is was not always able to assist with the filming on the Thursday shoots as these coincide with his coaching and training commitments to the club. However, this is not to say that he did not done any filming on the Thursday sessions, as he assisted where he could. The only filming session Tom was unable to assist with was Shoot 2. Tom has also booked the entirety of shoots 5 and 6 off so he could be involved in all of the filming on those Thursdays.

A shoot had originally been schedule for the 28/01/2013. However, due to other work commitments and general fatigue this filming was moved back to the 31/01/2013.

At the conclusion of Shoot 6 Tom and Pete agreed to arrange an additional pick-up shoot if any additional material was needed. However, for the narrative structure they have decided on, they feel they have enough footage to satisfy a 6 minute documentary.

10/01/2013: Shoot 1 (Practice, Character Study)

Location: University of Bath, Flounders Hall

Time period: 18:30 - 21:00

The primary objective of this first shoot was to capture all the footage needed for the character study. However, it was also an opportunity to practice at filming the Bath Sword Club. As Tom had to coach and practice on this night the organisation of the filming was very precise and done to a strict itinerary.

Character Study shot list 

  • Tim Interview. 
  • One on one coaching with Tim Footage of coaching 
  • The children warming up with Tim. 
  • Tim fencing. 
  • General footage of the Bath Sword Club. 

Tim had agreed to come in twenty minutes earlier to film his interview. Then when his student arrived the filming of the one-on-one coaching was conducted. The remainder of the filming was done by Pete, as Tom had to see to his usual fencing duties.

Pete's Approach

As I more distanced to the subject of fencing, my approach with this first filming session was to be very observant of everything that was happening around me but to remain very distant from it. Therefore, unless someone actively engaged me in conversation, I didn't make any effort to interact with the members. 

This wasn't because I wanted to be antisocial I just felt that due to my POV of fencing, which is in stark contrast to Tom's, it would be useful to maintain my ignorant POV and remain a fly on the wall (or a fly in flight, as I was handheld with the camera) and just objectively absorb everything as an observer. 

Compared to Tom's POV, my position as an observer is much closer to the audience's POV and by actively maintaining that POV the audience remains very much a presence in our process of making the documentary.

This also allowed me to test the boundaries, so to speak. I had only been there once, this was the first time I had done any filming of the club and I wanted to see how the members would react. If there were going to be problems then it was better to get them sorted early on. Fortunately, there were no problems, everyone just let me get on with it.

I also made a very conscious effort to identify as many potential problems as I could, because I really didn't want to be fixing them in postproduction. Therefore, other things I tested were:
  • The 417 microphone in Flouders Hall in different spatial locations. 
  • The smaller external microphone that comes with the NX5. 
  • Using the camera on the tripod. 
  • Using the camera handheld. 
  • Trying the different handheld image smoothing options in the NX5s menu. 
  • Comfortably how close I could get to someone while they were fencing.

While I was filming the one-on-one coaching with Tom the impracticality with filming fast moving subjects became apparent as we very quickly abandoned the tripod and went handheld. Tom and myself are very split on the tripod, he very much wants to use it has much as possible to main a smooth and steady look; whereas I am more in favour of handheld because you become the camera and you can much easily capture anything that occurs in an organic fashion. 

Also, as I discovered when I was filming on my own, moving the tripod from A to B gets to be very cumbersome after a while. My thinking was if I'm having problems with it now then I'm going to have more in future so I should start practicing handheld. Overall I found it easier. 

I had read that with handheld you should slightly bend your knees to better absorb the movement of the body and maintain a smooth and steady image. It took me a while to get used to that because it feels very strange but gradually the logic of it became apparent. Other issues encountered:

  • Even with the NX5 being slightly lighter than the Z1 because of the unusual position I have to keep my arm in it inevitably starts to ache. However, I found that stopping every 5 - 10 minutes to have a stretch would take care of this. 
  • Loss of situational awareness. Obviously If I have my none-viewfinder eye shut and have the headphones on the only things I can see and hear is what the camera sees and hears. This can be a bit daunting when you have to move amongst people who are actively attacking each other. This is where the second person comes in handy because they can guide; however, I had to make do with guessing as best I could. I was concerned that if I got to close to a couple who were fencing that I might get my none-viewfinder eye poked out, but Tom later assured that this is incredibly rare and advised that I stay about a meter away.

Generally, I tried to identify as many of the logistical problems as I could because one of the great things about having organised some many different filming sessions is you have time to iron out the problems and get the best possible footage you can get. 

The only footage I forgot to get was the children warming up and that was because I was absolutely gobsmacked when 60+ children came swarming into the sports hall! However, this wasn't a huge problem because we had plenty of other filming sessions to capture this footage.

17/01/2013: Shoot 2 (General footage)

Location: University of Bath, STV (Student Training Village)

Time: 19:00 - 22:00

As this was a Thursday session Tom was not able to assist with the filming but the shot list had been agreed on previously by Tom and Pete.

Tom and Pete had agreed to focus primarily on capturing footage of the children.

Shot list: 
  • 19:00 - Warm-up 
  • 19:30 - Footwork 
  • 19:45 - Putting kit on 
  • 20:00 - 22:00 Individual and onmass fencing.

Pete's Approach

This shoot was really taking everything we had learnt from the initial practice shoot and to put it into practice.

However, as I hadn't been in the STV before I also treated this shoot as a kind of practice shoot again, because I didn't know what logistical problems I was going to experience. Fortunately, there were not many and as the photo above demonstrates the only real problem was with space and having to film around the fencers. However, this wasn't too problematic once I had about an hour practising at it.

Ultimately, I was on my own for this shoot and the thought of capturing footage of children can seem a little daunting when their parents are in attendance. Fortunately, I had done something similar in the Summer for BIME (see Pete’s research) where I had to capture footage of young, disabled children using the products that BIME produces at a public event, their parents were also in attendance.

The BIME event was actually the first public filming I had done. I hated it at the time because I felt incredibly uncomfortable. In hindsight, though, I figure that experience has set me for life because if I can successfully film young disabled children without any problems from their parents then what else can I possibly worry about filming.

Therefore, filming the children didn’t really faze me so I just got on with it. However, the only piece of footage I refrained from capturing was the children putting their fencing kit on. Previously, when we had discussed the planning for the shoot I had agreed with Tom that I should film this from a distance and use the zoom.

That way it wouldn't look so bad in their parents eyes. However, Tom had said this with the Flounders Hall location in his mind where the kids get changed in the sports hall so you have plenty of space to film from a distance. In the STV they went out into the entrance area which is vastly smaller and would not have allowed me to film from a distance.

I just didn’t feel comfortable following the kids out into a small room and filming them up close, so I refrained altogether. After all we did have additional shoots scheduled to take place in Flounders Hall so we could just has easily get the footage then.

As I did with practice shoot my approach with this shoot was to remain the outsider and just observe and capture things as they happened: the fly in flight. Certainly, this time around I enjoyed it more because I felt less self-conscious.

With this second shoot I started to become aware of a force that would go on to plague both myself and Tom in the successive shoots: fatigue. I have so much work at the moment I work all day, all week (including the weekend) and by the time I’ve hauled the equipment up to the University of Bath (I don’t drive) I have to do filming between 19:00 and 22:00 and it is exhausting!

I know Tom works as hard as me AND he has a job AND he trains for fencing, so I can only imagine how he feels. However, I started to feel it on this night. It was a disadvantage because I found it harder to concentrate on what I was doing but it had an advantage because it reduced the amount of footage I shot.

I do have a tendency to overshoot, the final video I made for BIME (see research) was a 2 minute video and I shot over 4 hours worth of footage for it!

Other than these main points, I captured everything we had agreed upon and really just refined the approach I had adopted in the practice shoot.

21/01/2013: Shoot 3 (interviews: board, general footage)

Location: University of Bath, STV (Student Training Village)

Tim: 19:00 - 20:30

Tom had a play with the camera and filmed some symbolic artistic shots.

Tom conducted some Interviews while Pete filmed.

While documentaries are often considered by popular opinion to be realms of fact and detail. The best often include a sense of cinematography which appeals to both hemispheres of the brain, in order to better convey the message.

With that in mind, I have in this session put together some choreographed, artificial sequences to add an artistic flavour to the final work.

In addition to this we decided to experiment with our interviewing technique. This was sparked by Andy's natural engagement with the camera (see the pic. below). Pete was filming and I was asking the questions, but I did not indicate that I desired his eye contact and after briefing him on the questions he just turned to the camera and began the answers.

AndrĂ¡s Barnemisza, fencing coach

It was quite unprecedented and exciting, but after experimenting with such a style for the second time with Mike (below). It occurred to me that few of the people we would go on to talk to were comfortable enough in front of the camera to conduct an interview without the interviewer's eye contact encouraging them.

Nevertheless these two interviews will serve to vary the impact and relationship we have with our audience. Contributing to a diverse and intriguing final product.

This shooting session brought home a rather vexing reality to Pete.

That while Bath Sword is one of the largest fencing clubs in the country, there will always be evenings where the attendance numbers are very low. Whether that is as a result of weather or familial engagements. I was aware this would happen due to my long experience coaching there, it was initially disappointing, but we rallied very quickly.

Deciding that despite having less impressive numbers, that meant we could take more time to better assess our environment, converse with the attendees in more detail and plan ahead in much greater detail than usual for the following shoots.

24/01/2013: Shoot 4 (Interviews: Coaches & Members, General Footage)

Location: STV

Time: 19:00 - 22:00

Tom did the filming for the first half of this shoot and Pete did the filming for the second half.

This shoot was divided up as follows: 
  • Tom filming the children. Pete suggested that Tom have a go at capturing some footage of the children, as it had only been Pete’s POV capturing them thus far. 
  • Interviews with some of the coaches/board. Pete and Tom did this together. 
  • Pete capturing physical differences of fencers: young, old, male, female, tall, short, fat, thin, etc. Therefore, they could visually bring out the fact that fencing is a universal sport that anybody can participate in. 
  • Pete conducting and capturing interviews with members of the Bath Sword Club. Again focusing on physical differences. 

Questions for Coaches and Board

  1. Why do you coach?
  2. What is it that attracts you to fencing?
  3. What are the challenges facing fencing today?
  4. How would you rate the Bath Sword Club's contribution to fencing?

Professor Sue Benney, fencing coach

Gillian Aghajan, board member & coach

Questions for club members
  1. What is your name and what is your occupation?
  2. What is it that makes fencing popular?
  3. What are the challenges facing fencing?

Valerie Young, Club member

Marcus Cindomau, Club member

Robin Davenport, Club member

Pete's Approach

I suggested Tom capture some footage of the children because he is a fencer after all and will focus in on things that I would miss. By letting him capture some footage of the children we would be giving ourselves a greater variety of footage to choose from in the edit. 

The interviews that we conducted with Gillian and Sue we tried to give present an air of professionalism that would make their footage stand out and, therefore, make them visually appear official and the authority on the subject of fencing. To this end we had the camera on the tripod, we had the coaches sat down with the children warming up in the background and we used the radio mic.

Tom conducted the interviews while I did the recording and kept and ear on the sound. While Tom was conducting the interview he would always ask me if I had anything I would like to ask. I usually start worrying when he asks this because I always want to push the boat out further. But with Gillian I was very precise when I asked her to elaborate on point she had made about the type of children who take up fencing. 

The whole subject of why children take up fencing fascinates me because I can't really get my head around it. Yes, Tom explained that if you offer a child an opportunity to hit someone with a sword they're not going to refuse (as Tim himself said in the Character Study). But I couldn't get my head around why a child would stick with it. 

Gillian basically explained that the children who take up fencing are usually very smart and socially inept children; she even compared them to chess players and this got my head going because suddenly I saw more clearly the kind of mental discipline that was required for fencing. 

It's not just about the physically gratification but about discipline and focus it affords a person and I'm glad I asked Gillian this because it elaborates on the motivations of fencing, which is completely relevant to the perceptions of it.

I grabbed footage of physical differences where I could and I attempted to represent this with the interview subjects I selected. I know people can get nervous about doing interviews, interviewers and interviewees. However, I had done a day’s worth of going up to people and asking them for an interview during the summer while I was filming at the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering. I didn't encounter any problems and everyone I asked was happy to participate.

There was a particular piece of footage I was glad I captured; it was a match between an old chap (Robin Davenport, who I also interviewed) and a young chap. As I was filming it I began to notice very quickly it was playing out something Tim had spoken about when we interviewed him for the character study - how experience is a major advantage in fencing and how you can see this in older fencers. 

Indeed, Davenport was obliterating the younger chap who was becoming more and more annoyed as a result; in fact, he wouldn't even let me interview him after the match. That part of Tim's interview had been something I had wanted to use in the character study because for me It summed up one of fencing's key strengths but I didn't end up using it because I didn't have the visuals to back it up. However, that I do have the visuals maybe I can go back and re-edit the character study or use this particular material in the main documentary.

My approach shifted in this shoot because I became less of an outsider now that I was actively interacting with the members and subject matter. I didn't mind this and I knew it was always going to happen once I started interviewing, I'm just glad I had an opportunity in the practice shoot and shoot 2 to remain the outsider and capture as a fly in flight.

However, my perspective definitely shifted in this shoot and I found after I had interviewed the coaches and the members that I felt more attached and even protective towards fencing because I had heard first-hand how highly some people regard it. I also felt much less ignorant towards it.

Again, the fatigue was there during the shoot but I found as long as I kept moving and interviewing I could very easily stay on task.

31/01/2013: Shoot 5 (Interviews: Parents & Coaches, General Footage)

Location: University of Bath, Flounders Hall

Time: 19:00 - 22:00

In this session Tom is able to film with Pete because he has declined to train with the club for the sake of getting as much quality footage as possible.

It was incredibly satisfying to work in an environment I'm so at home in and really attack some of the interviews with Pete as a well-oiled team.

With that in mind here is the planned shot list for Thursday night:

Interviews: (6 interviews have already been shot by this point, but during this evening we intend to cover the vast majority of the rest)


  1. Parents & Coaches 
  2. Why do you think fencing is so popular? 
  3. What is the specific attraction to the young...and the old? 

Enthusiastic Children:

  1. Kids and Parents 
  2. why do you like fencing? 
  3. how did your son / daughter get into fencing? 
  4. who enjoys fencing the most? 

Variety of People:

  1. what do you do in real life? (recreational) 
  2. why do you fence full time? (professionals) 


Kate Williams, Parent

Ali and Rob Parry, Parent & Grandparent

Josef Harle, Parent

Alexa Gibson and Heidi Kaye, Parents

Rosie Dejeu Castang, Parent

Dennis Hunt, fencing coach

Pete's Approach

The fatigue was at an all-time high on this one. I said to Tom I was so tired I felt intoxicated and I know Tom was feeling similar. To this end, we were all over the place during this shoot.

We started by capturing some interviews of parents with me filming and with Tom conducting the interview. However, we very quickly swapped roles because I found I could not concentrate on the filming and I don't think Tom was very comfortable with going up to random parents. I actually found the process of interacting with the parents kept me awake and on task; as well as giving Tom a chance to capture some interviews via his POV through the camera.

As I said with the previous shoot, due to actually interacting with the subject matter, via interviewing, my approach to the subject had changed and this shoot really just extended that. What I found with interviewing a lot of the parents who don't do fencing themselves is they have a similar POV to me or at least as it exists now. Initially I remained the ignorant outsider, then I moved towards interacting with the subject (interviewing the coaches and members) became slightly more knowledgeable with it and now with the parents I almost have the same amount of knowledge as they do.

Then Tom went around and captured some general footage. I helped were I could but mostly I just took photos.

We also managed to capture another interview with one of the coaches.

Tom says we were a well-oiled team during this shoot, but I would disagree. Overall, we were very tired and perhaps weren't as precise as we could have been, but we still managed to achieve everything we had planned to do.

07/02/2013: Shoot 6 (Interviews: coach & member, general footage, shooting outside the box)

Location: University of Bath, Flounders Hall

Time: 19:00 - 22:00

In this final shoot Tom and Pete captured everything they hadn't already captured or were lacking. However, they largely used it as an opportunity to grab material that they hadn't plan for but which might be useful in the edit. The incentive behind this final shoot was: what can we get that we might need in the edit.

At the conclusion of this shoot Tom and Pete agreed to arrange an additional pick-up shoot if any additional material was needed. However, for the narrative structure they have decided upon they feel they have enough footage to satisfy a 6 minute documentary.

Nathaniel David Lewis (Nate), fencing coach

Philip Marsh, fencer

Pete's Perspective

In all of these shoot reports I have highlighted the fatigue experienced by myself and Tom. Due to our poor performance in the previous shoot, I had suggested to Tom that we meet up a bit earlier to get ourselves in order before we started shooting. While we were extremely tired, we were very fortunate in that there was a relatively low turnout at the fencing club. From a perspective of the material we needed to capture it essentially reduced our options but it was meant there was less of a burden on each of us and we could just take our time.

I took this photo to see if I looked as tired as I felt. I did.

We agreed that we needed to get an interview with another coach, we should get some footage of the children changing into their kits and just to try to capture anything that occurred to us that might be worth having, even if we hadn't agreed on it previously. I liked this because now that we had already got everything we already needed we could afford to think out of the box, be more spontaneous and take on a slightly different aesthetic.

Shooting outside the box so to speak.

This was helped by the fact that Tom had a PD 175 with him which he could shoot on while I filmed on the NX5, so we were free to do our own things.

Something I captured quite a bit of were the parents either sit on the side lines looking absolutely bored or sit on the side-lines reading a book or sit on the side lines on their laptop. It's rare to see a parent who is actually watching their child fence. This was something I spotted very early on and something I'm keen to include in the eventual documentary.

I did most of my filming sat down with the tripod - that is how tired I was.

As Tom didn't have a mic kit and because he was going mobile I gave him the external NX5 mic to use and I used the K6. I put it on the floor just in front of the NX5.

Something else I captured was footage of the ceiling. Why? Well, again this was something I had noticed previously the fact that Flounders Hall is falling apart and this especially appeals to my realist sensibility. Maybe we can use symbolism of that: fencing endures while its surrondings crumble.


Tom really orchestrated these. I just composed the shot, operated the camera and kept my ear on the sound. 

I didn't feel there was anything further we culd divulge from the interviewees.

The final thing we shot was a fencing match, which we did with both cameras. I filmed on the ground looking up and Tom filmed looking down. I hope I got some good footage, but I was pretty dead by this point.

With the filming done, we were ready to undertake the adventure of editing the documentary and of re-figuring out the fencing documentary we were creating. The editing log that we updated as the editing progressed is a very detailed examination of the documentary editing process...

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