Thursday, 12 June 2014

Focusing Fencing: the preproduction of Fencing

As will be revealed in the Documentary, Bath Sword is a incredibly influential fencing club in this part of the country. It boasts the largest number of members in the west of England, with a program designed specifically to accommodate both professional and recreational fencers.

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 preproduction concerns of the fencing documentary. I say "preproduction" in the broadest sense, because, as you'll see from reading what is collected here, some of the material is from the production period and this should really illustrate the constantly evolving back-and-forth nature of documentary making. 

Devoting a great deal of time and effort to your preproduction period is vitally essentially if you want to produce a strong result; as you'll see, our preproduction period enabled us to iron out many of the kinks in the project.

Project Overview, as outlined by Tom

Below is the initial project overview we outlined during preproduction in preparation for filming.

The venue closest to Bath Spa University, where anyone can try and take up fencing is Bath Sword Club.

It meets twice a week in the evenings on Monday and Thursday, with a kids session followed by an adult class.

I train and coach fencing at Bath Sword regularly and have a large number of good friends there.

A factor which has been paramount in making permissions, access and general ease of filming run far smoother than could possibly have been imagined.

I also fence every week in Bristol. However, the fencers there are far more competitive than Bath and do not necessarily excel in the qualities we most want to project (the notion of recreational fencing for anyone).

Nevertheless, if our minds change later in the production process the opportunity to film in Bristol will never go away.

As will be revealed in the Documentary, Bath Sword is a incredibly influential fencing club in this part of the country. It boasts the largest number of members in the west of England, with a program designed specifically to accommodate both professional and recreational fencers. With specific focus on the younger children who decide they would like to take up the sport. To accommodate such an interest at a young age there is a wealth of coaching staff and a veritable warehouse of equipment which can be borrowed by anyone. You are unlikely to find a better ambassador for fencing than Bath Sword Club in the entire country.


An examination of Fencing as a sport and a hobby as it exists in the modern idiom.

Combating assumptions about elitism and identifying challenges to both professionals & amateurs.

Culminating in a thoroughly entertaining, charming and interesting experience which will leave the viewer with a respect and admiration for a sport which truly deserves it.

Key topics of discussion which will be covered in interviews and expressed in visuals:


Why do you do fencing?

Will you keep fencing in the future?

26/02/2013 - Tom, over the course of our filming we have naturally encountered some resistance from a couple of the parents. With this in mind we took the decision not to interview the children and use visuals to express the answers to the questions we would have asked them. There is of course still time at this early stage to go back and pick out a few kids and there is a likelihood of that happening but we would like to get a first draft of our edit done first. To see if it would be entirely necessary.


Why do you coach?

Threats to modern fencing, difficulties, obstacles etc?

Changes in fencing in recent history?


What have you learnt from doing fencing?

Why at your age did you take up fencing?

What do you enjoy about fencing?


Whose idea was it for your child to fence?

How did they start?

Narrative Structure and Sequences

Preliminary plan


Considering engaging a female narrator to describe the initial stages of the introduction. It would make an interesting contrast to the common misconception that fencing is a sport almost exclusively dominated by men.

Visuals of fencing as an elite sport. The best squaring off against one another under dramatic lighting, stylised post production effects and varying degrees of speed.

Quick, fast, aggressive editing to inject a sense of pace.

Cut to...

Warm up - young and old jogging and loosening up for exercise in a large sports hall. Very slow and pedestrian speed compared to the previous footage.

Cut to...

Interviews about how much individuals enjoy fencing (without mentioning the sport directly by name).

Persisting with momentary disbelief on behalf of the viewer that these thoroughly unprofessional people could never be engaging in the elite sport they just witnessed. 

This next section has a slightly faster pace to than the one before.

Cut to...

Footwork - practised by young and old at the direction of a coach. 

The notion that fencing is popular among these people steadily starts to dawn.

The speeds of cutting increases again by a similar factor.

Cut to...

Young and old in full kit: walking around the hall, facing one another, no fencing as of yet.

At this moment the incline of pace is broken. There is an expectant lull.

Cut to...

Everyone fencing. The cutting and speed of action is now far more aggressive and fast than in the previous shots. Building up to a climax.

1st half of the middle

Changing assumptions

  • Interviews -> 1 long, minimum of 3 short, parents & coaches. 
  • Visuals -> high angle (balcony overlooking sports hall), multiple tracking shots, on mass warm up & footwork.
Enthusiastic Children: 
  • Interviews -> very large number of short statements by kids, several longer observations made by parents & coaches 
  • Visuals -> close ups of happy, smiling faces. Eye level with kids, showing them both fencing and refereeing, the vast number of children running across the hall in stark comparison to the parents reading books and playing on ipads around the walls.

Variety of People:
  • Interviews -> ask people what they do in real life, contrast this to a slighlty longer interview with people who have fencing as a real career.
  • Visuals -> montage of each person after they state their job, contrast to the fencers again

Recreational Sport: 
  • Interviews -> focus on older generations or veterans (40 & over) talking about how much fun fencing is, perhaps collect together specific words which different people repeat time and again to create a montage. Finishing with one of the oldest member of the club sitting next to the youngest saying why they like fencing.

26/02/2013 - Tom:

Since this time our narrative has shifted and changed to suit the circumstances and time constraints we encountered.

The formula now is to take some of the old features and re-arrange them:

The introduciton will remain the same.

It will then be followed by two pieces: the popularity of fencing and fencing as a recreational sport.

The second half will begin with a look at the enthusiasm of the children fencing. Followed by an observation on the variety of people who fence.

Finally culminating in a take on the problems which modern fencers encounter, threats to the sport's way of life.

Pete and I have not yet decided on a final theme for our conclusion but rest assured it will be magnificent.

07/01/2013: Location Recce

Locations: Flounders Hall & the STV

Time: 19:00 - 20:00

As Tom already frequents these locations on a weekly basis he arranged for Pete to come up and have a look so that they could collaboratively assess the locations. This was done to assess their suitability for filming and to generate further ideas for the documentary.

Of the two locations, Flounders Hall was the only one they actually went inside and assessed (as Pete didn't have a pass, gaining access would have been problematic). However, they did have a look at the STV's entrance hall and the through the observations windows into its various sports halls. This gave Pete an idea of the space and lighting they would have to work with.

Detailed below are the main points of discussion that we raised.


Tom had cited the lighting of Flounders Hall as being potentially problematic.

Flounders Hall is completely flooded with the sickly orange hue of the lighting. It doesn't help that the floors are reflective and the walls are of a similar colour!

However, Pete said that if there were problems with white balancing the camera then they could always colour correct in postproduction.

Tom even pointed out that the visual impression of the dingy quality of Flounders Hall could be contrasted with the pristine quality of the STV and we could incorporate this into our design for the narrative we wanted to tell about fencing - use the two different visual impressions to highlight two different aspects of the subject.


Again this was something that Tom had already given some prior thought. However, Pete was adamant that they speak to Rich Wood to insure they got the right mic for the locations so that they didn't spend extra time during postproduction fixing the sound. 


As the Bath Sword Club were using the location it gave Tom the opportunity to introduce Pete to the hierarchial figures of the Sword Club. This is also where permissions to film the Sword Club and assemble a documentary were obtained.

Tim - Character Study

Likewise with the hierarchical figures, Tom was able to introduce Pete to Tim and secure his permission to make a character study based around him.

Filming locations

The filming of the Bath Sword Club is taking place in two locations at the University of Bath.

Founders Hall

Aside from the lighting which the NX5 struggles to white balance against, this location has lots of space to operate in, a balcony to film from and pretty good acoustics.


As editing begins I'm becoming more and more aware of the advantages the difference in lighting yields.

It can - and most likely will - be employed to both emphasise and enhance certain scenes which bare association with a deep, warm colour palette.

Making the contrast in pigmentation - developed between the Founders Hall and the STV - provide a potentially dramatic and captivating dialogue between visuals and interviews in the editing choices.

The lighting isn't a problem in the STV, the acoustics are fine and there is enough room to film in. The only real problem is that the fencing club uses two different sports halls which means you can miss something interesting in one hall while you're filming in the other.


Sony HRX-NX5 Camcorder Kit

Tom and Pete decided to use the NX5 due to its overall similarity to the Sony Z1 and mainly because it captures straight to scratch disk which eliminates the need to log and capture from a mini DV tape.

While their experiences of operating the NX5 have been largely without fault, they have encountered some problems with the log and transfer process for importing the digital files from the scratch disk.

Sony PD 175

As Tom had booked out a PD 175 for another project, he decided to use this in addition to the NX5. 

The PD15 did create aspect ratio problems but those complications have been easily bypassed in the early stages of the editing process.

Having a second recording of the skilled fencing bout was absolutely necessary. It is actually developing its own interesting solution, because it represents a type of footage, which in comparison to 1080i, looks quite archaic. Just like a large number of contemporary opinions about fencing itself.

Radio Microphone

The radio mic has been used when interviewing, as it provides very clear sound because it is attached to the interviewees. However, most of the shorter interviews have been done with the NX5 external microphone.

I cannot even begin to adequately express the praise necessary for this piece of kit. In two locations where sound quality is constantly compromised by shouting children, clashing swords, buzzers and quite frankly sonorous walls they were a complete life saver for some of the more shy interviewees.

NX5 External Microphone

Essentially a miniature version of a 416 or K6, this microphone attaches to the NX5 and still captures a very large sound field that sounds nearly as good as anything the 416 or K6 would capture. For this reason the external microphone has proven to be the dominant microphone used throughout the shoots. It has even been used to capture the audio for some of the shorter interviews, Tom and Pete have found that if the interviewee is close enough the microphone is able to clearly pick them up.

The NX5 with the NX5 external microphone attached.

416 Microphone Microphone Kit

Rich Wood suggested this microphone after the issues with acoustics in Flounders Hall were explained to him. It was used while filming the one-on-one coaching in the character study. However, it was very quickly abandoned due to difficulty with using it when filming solo and generally be a nuisance in regards to the cables when the camera is handheld and in motion. However, it was retained for shoot 2 in case the NX5 external microphone failed.

K6 Boom Microphone Kit

The K6's overall similarity to the 416 necessitated it being booked out when the 416 became unavailable. It was retained as a back-up for shoots 3 - 6.

Notice the size difference between the K6 (top) and the NX5 external microphone (bottom).

Manfrotto Tripod

This has been used for its wide functionality for a variety of camera moves and its sturdy form which enables it to sit quite firmly in one position. While it has been used throughout all the shoots, it hasn't been employed with every shot. Both Tom and (especially) Pete have expressed irritation with the time and energy that is wasted with moving and readjusting the tripod.


This was retained in case it was needed to assist with either the K6 or 416. Ultimately, it wasn't used.

High Visibility Jacket

Pete has been wearing one of these as an extra means of reassurance through the shoots and also because he is less familiar to the members of the fencing club.

After all this research and preparation we were surprised to find that in documentary making the filming period also acts as an additional research and adjustment period...

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