Documenting the Documentary

For my last semester of Journalism school at Ryerson University, I only had two courses: the very theoretical Journalism Law and Ethics; and the very practical, challenging, exciting and awesome course called TV Documentary.

TV Documentary is a fourth year destination course for broadcast journalism students. Students not taking this course can choose between Radio Doc, Senior Reporting, Advanced Photojournalism and other courses that require individual effort. TV Doc, on the other hand, is all about team work. Students are divided into a team of five and choose their roles within the team.

My group consisted of the amazing Joseph Casciaro, our Producer who was responsible for overseeing the entire process; my very talented best friend, Sachin Seth, was the reporter for this project; Phoenix Tarampi, who I interned with earlier at Daily Planet, was the cinematographer; and Christine Fitzgerald was the senior researcher. Just as I had wanted, I was the editor of the documentary.

As painful as it sounds, locking yourself and editing a piece is actually one of the funnest things I got to do at Ryerson. And this is the part: When you work on something, for say a few hours, and bring in your team members to the edit suite to show them what you put together, and they like it – that’s such a rewarding feeling! On the last day of class, our professor also mentioned that editing really helps shape the final product, making it a very important part of the process.

And I am happy that I got to see this piece from start to finish. I had pitched the idea of doing a story about the men who get mail order brides: what are they like? why do they choose an international marriage service to get a wife? what kind of backgrounds do they come from?

After some weeks of intensive research and solidifying the topic, we found a few very interesting characters, just one small problems: they were dispersed all over Canada. We applied for a grant, but got rejected. That didn’t dampen our spirits though, and we traveled to British Columbia and Quebec to shoot parts of our documentary.

Sachin interviewing CBC Reporter Kathy Tomlinson in Vancouver, British Columbia

Phoenix shoots the interview with CICs Anne Dello in Toronto, Ontario

My camera is rolling as Sachin sits down with the owner of, Dmitri Bereznyakov, in Montreal, Quebec

After nearly a month of shooting, began the very painful and time consuming process of shot-listing and batch-capturing (also known as “batch-patching”, copyrights of Joe Casciaro). I would recommend future editors of TV Doc to batch capture their footage as soon as the tapes come in to save you the pain of doing it all at once. Batch capturing is a real time process and with 16 tapes full of footage, it wasn’t a pleasant one for our team.

Our rough cut screening, did not go well, to say the least, so there was a lot of work to be done in the last two weeks before submission. And then one day… our hard drive crashed. I will not mention on a public forum that Sachin dropped it (oopss..) but after spending a few hours trying to recover it, we decided to leave that behind us and start fresh.

Within the next twelve hours, we had all the tapes re-batch-patched and also had a brand new time line ready to go. Then began the endless, sleepless nights of editing, re-editing and my personal favourite, sound editing. My eyes were sore looking at the same footage over and over again and my ears were burning listening to some of the quotes. But then there is the fun part: making sequences, adding motion to steady photos, doing pull quotes, making more sequences, syncing audio from two camera to make more sequences… Did I mention sequences already?

And somehow, this Tuesday, we had a final product that we were all very proud of. We showcased In Sickness and In Wealth to our class and got great feedback, and also some constructive criticism on how to make it better. Then we took a big group photo and said goodbyes.

But making Docs doesn’t end here for me. This process, with all its ups and downs, has just reinforced my passion for documentary films. I am on my way to buy my own camera and hopefully shoot some more independent stuff before I can (hopefully) do this for a living.

5 responses

  1. Awesome blog Roop! Think you’ll upload the doc online? We should have a j-skool screening, I want to see everyone’s docs!

    • Thanks Jacky! I am still sort of hopeful that we may be able to market the doc, which is why I don’t want to put it up just yet. I will cut a trailer and put that up on the website soon.
      And you are more than welcome to a personal screening of the doc – I’d be happy to show it to you.

  2. Hi lovely! I really enjoyed reading this (although I got lost in the ‘technical’ stuff at the end)! I’m super happy it ended up being a positive experience overall (I hope?). I think the best thing about university is that it shows us what we love and what we don’t, and this helps us decide which path we’ll go down when we’re done, so I’m happy that even with all of the pitfalls you are still just as passionate (or more!) about what you want to do. That’s amazing 🙂 (and that second-last sentence there was really long!).
    I can’t wait to see all of the work you’ve put together! Have an amazing trip!!
    Sheila xoxo

  3. Pingback: In Sickness and In Wealth « roopgill

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