Janice Finch talks about the size of documentary film crews in the 1980s

So my first taste of programmes was helping out one weekend on a mammoth documentary Granada was making about the Liverpool-Everton Milk Cup Final in 1984. That was my first taste of working with a documentary crew and I remember on that occasion there were eight people. Wherever you went filming, even in people’s living rooms, tiny homes, you had eight people traipsing in. It always struck me how overwhelming it must have been for people doing interviews with so many people around them.

That really was the case for the few years after, once I started working on ‘Union World’ and then on other documentaries. You would have a crew of that length of time. Obviously in the sixteen years I worked at Granada that went through an enormous transformation because I think about the late 80s that was when Granada moved from using film and moved to tape. I was working at that point on ‘World in Action’ when that huge change came in. I remember that it took a long time for people to understand how tape was going to make life easier for them and that no longer would you have to prime your interviewees to speak in ten minute bites for a film roll.

So when you went out with a film crew, who would be on that film crew?

I would be the researcher and you would have a cameraman, an assistant cameraman, a sound recordist, assistant sound recordist. There would be an electrician, a PA who would be logging material as you went along and there was a director. All in all there would be about eight people on a crew. By the time I left, you had two, if you were lucky. Now since I’ve left Granada most of the time you’re lucky to work with one, although on the current project I’m working on the director is even shooting his own stuff. It’s gone really to the other extreme. I do think eight people was rather a lot when you were making really small documentaries, and obviously it was quite an expensive process.

Was it necessary to have all those people?        

I don’t know, I don’t know enough about film to say whether or not. The medium of film meant there was no way of making sound and vision with one person but when you moved to tape that was possible. I also think it was, given the type of intimate films you’d sometimes be working on, it was ridiculously overwhelming to have so many people in a room. Maybe people who are used to giving interviews to TV, maybe they wouldn’t be put off but the average person who has maybe got some story to tell, or a terrible tragedy to relate and they’ve agreed to be interviewed in their own home, it must have been an ordeal to have eight people squeezed into one little living room to hear your story. It just seemed to me to get in the way.



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