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Should I Use Sound Effects In My Documentary?

by Ben
(United kingdom)

Documentary Sound Effects

Documentary Sound Effects

Question: I know it isn't common to use sound effects in a documentary. I want to use the sound of a ticking clock on a shot of students taking an exam as it adds tension to the scene. Should I use the sound effect as it is or distort it so its more like music?

Desktop Documentaries | Answer

Hi Ben.. it's absolutely fine to use sound effects in your documentary. You are making a film and creating an emotional experience for the audience.

This is where a documentary is different from news gathering. Definitely in news, music and filmmaking techniques are not typically used or allowed in a purely journalistic endeavor. Facts and just the facts.

But for a documentary, there's a lot of more wiggle room. As a former television journalist turned documentary filmmaker, I learned this first-hand.

Think about all the documentaries that include recreations and special effects such as Man on Wire and King Corn. Even my own documentary, Briars in the Cotton Patch, has recreations. For example, I used the sound of a gun shot to create a sense of danger.

As long as you are remaining ethical to the story and not trying to trick the audience into believing something that isn't true, you are totally fine coming up with creative storytelling techniques that help make the experience more interesting or entertaining for the viewer.

Does that help?

Anyone else have ideas or feedback for Ben? Please leave comments below.

Comments for Should I Use Sound Effects In My Documentary?

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Oct 18, 2013
Pens Scratching On Paper
by: Anonymous

Perhaps the idea of time ticking by quickly could be more dramatically suggested by pens scratching on paper feverishly? Having written my fair share of exams, that sound will forever haunt me.

Jan 25, 2014
Thanks for this
by: Ben

Sorry for this late reply i really appreciate your help. I also asked some people on linkedin for an answer and someone provided this:

"The issue is what do you call a documentary. The term, in recent years, has loosened up to include a wider range of advocacy productions. You will note that even Frontlline, with its famous narrator who is able to maintain a narrative totally devoid of dramatic emphasis, uses music to convey some emotional content.So it depends on your purpose - how much is presentation of issues and how much is an attempt to influence. "

Jan 25, 2014
great
by: Desktop Documentaries

Great feedback from LinkedIn. Thanks for following up Ben!

Let us know what you end up deciding on for your documentary. In fact, upload the clip on YouTube and please share your work here when you're done.

And I see that you just posted another question about documentary ethics and whether it's okay to set up a scene in advance. Here's a link to that question and my answer:

Is It Okay To Set Up A Documentary Shoot In Advance?

Great job asking all these questions! That means you are being very conscientious about your filmmaking and making sure you are doing the job right.

You may also be interested in this article:

Journalism 101 | Filmmaking Ethics

Good luck Ben!

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