Boer War Page 42

Program Innovations 1: The Great Anglo-Boer War

Film Making Behind the Scenes: Program Innovations - To try to make their television programs more interesting for the viewer, the best filmmakers are constantly trying to create new elements and approaches in storytelling so that their programs will have more appeal for television watchers. Below are some ways we have departed from the standard conventions of documentary creation and introduced new techniques.

Program Innovation : Ambush Email

Be sure to read all about our innovative AMBUSH EMAIL which we designed to promote our program. (Page 44)

"Hello. This is the best email that I have ever received. Well done."

- Toronto Web Site Designer

Harry Macdonough (1871-1931): "Where is my Wandering Boy Tonight" 1901

You are listening to one of Canada's very first recordings, made c.1901, and featuring one of Canada's earliest recording artists, Harry Macdonough singing "Where is My Wandering Boy Tonight," a song popular on Canadian Gramophones as the casualty toll started to arrive from South Africa. It is the theme song for our television program and plays over the credits on all the programs.

Innovations Summary

We wanted to make a history documentary with a difference, one that departed in significant ways from the standard forms used in making "traditional" history documentaries.

1 - Do an unprecedented amount of shooting on real locations - We feature setups at 83 real, identified historic locations, probably the most ever in a history documentary.

2 - Use a multi-host format - Our program features 104 standups from 15 on-location presenters, probably the most ever in a history documentary.

3 - All our experts would present straight to the camera, probably the most experts ever talking directly to a camera in a history documentary.

4 - All our experts would be on the "actual historic locations" - 15 experts give 104 presentations at 83 historic locations, the most "expert presentations" ever shot on location.

5 - Our experts would perform in "site demonstrations" - not just do the ususal interviews - at historic locations. Our program has the most "actual site demonstrations" we have ever seen in a history documentary.

America the Beautiful!
Feedback: #70: New York, NY, USA - "Superb job! Just a quick line of thanks for the job you did on the Boer War Videos. Poignant ..but not maudlin. Loved the on-site shots and "local experts". The sunrise opening and close with "Last Post" are very evocative. I showed these to several of my friends who were marginally interested in the war. They are now devouring my books related to it. Thanks again for the super job."

6 - We would give a featured place to the "woman's voice" in a war documentary. Instead of using no women, or only one, as is the custom in traditional war documentaries, several women experts give key performances in our program.

7 - We would use vastly improved informational slates to flag program changes, and assemble the program using thematic modules. Our program is constructed with 43 five minute modules, to help viewers follow the plot line and keep them in touch with the time and place of the action.

BBC Move Over!
Feedback: #55: Toronto, ON - "First class! As a Brit - and a history buff - let me just say that it's as good as anything the BBC has ever done, and no doubt done with far fewer resources than the British national broadcaster has available."

8 - We would feature the colour record of history - often ignored in history documentaries. We feature over 200 original antique colour pictures, the most ever in a history documentary, all specially collected for this series.

9 - We would feature the memorabilia record of history. We feature hundreds of rare antique memorabilia items, the most memorabilia ever to be shown in a history documentary. Each of our programs features more memorabilia items than you would see in two or three programs of the Antiques Roadshow.

Oh Canada!
Feedback: # 41: Toronto, ON - "I thought your show was just terrific, just a gorgeous show! So much information so well presented. I just have to see it again. Just a fabulous show!"

10 - We would feature actual recordings of the time. We feature Canada's earliest recording artists by using the first recordings they made in Canada during the Boer War era.

11 - We would create a ground-breaking companion web site to support the documentary. Our website "The Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum" is the most extensive and most lavishly illustrated web site ever to accompany a documentary anywhere in the world. It has become an internationally praised standard setter for museums seeking to extend their collections on to the internet.

12 - Ambush Email. Design a unique way of promoting and advertising the TV broadcast.

13 - Fully legitimize the "other side," as a necessary part of the human story of this war. Our program provides an unprecedented number of "voices of the enemy" in a history documentary.

Feedback: #29: Edmonton, AB - "I would like to purchase "The Great Anglo-Boer War: The Canadian Experience." By the way, you did a superb job on the history of the event. I'll recommend it to others."

See Details Below

Creating a Documentary Style for:

"The Great Anglo-Boer War: the Canadian Experience"

Our Unique Approach: We wanted to depart in important ways from the conventional techniques followed by history documentary producers in the past. We believe these changes will make our program more interesting for television audiences.

Our Innovative "Expert-as-Host Technique: Powerful Experts Speak Directly to the Viewer

Historians Pam McFadden and Pieter de Jager are only two of the "experts" who give powerfully direct and innovative presentations to the camera lens.

Shot in Kharki: Pam explains the desperate plight of Boers who were in rags at the end of the war and were shot, if dressed in pilfered British khaki, as many were.

War Against Civilians: Explaining the first modern war that targeted civilians, Pieter tells the story of "Old Mrs. Otto" who refused to leave her house (background) even though she was told she would be shot if she did not. Pieter says she stood defiantly in her doorway, pulled her dress aside and shouted, "Go ahead. Shoot me. I've a big heart. You can't miss it." Her home was burned; this exact replica was rebuilt after the war.

Canadian Witnesses: Canadians may very well have seen this incident as they were part of General Walter Kitchener's army that was active here in early 1902. One Canadian, Otto Moody, (left after the war) passed by here and wrote in a letter home of two occasions when Boers wearing khaki were shot. One young Boer was executed for wearing a Canadian tunic, "All who were present said he died the bravest of any they had ever shot."

Feedback: # 43: Scarborough, ON - "It was an eye-opener for me, especially the last show. My family was raised in India and Egypt in the civil service of the British Empire. We were taught about great British triumphs like Lord Kitchener at Omdurman. But no one in school ever told us what he did in our name in South Africa. The concentration camps, and all the deaths of people who were just farmers. It is really quite unbelievable ..... what took place."


"The Great Anglo-Boer War: the Canadian Experience"

Innovation 1: We wanted to do extensive shooting on real historic locations.

The Standard: Assemble archival footage & indoor interviews.

Most history documentaries, odd as it may seem, are not shot in historic places. They are entirely constructed in editing rooms by assembling archival film and photos and interlacing them with interviews also shot indoors.

Viewers never get to see the places where history was actually made. Very few programs feature outdoor location shooting and the little there is is mostly play-acting re-enactments in some farmer's field. Shooting in historic locations is rarer still, and then done very sparingly - involving at most perhaps a scenic pan, a sit-down interview, or perhaps a host doing a brief walk about.

Our Camera Features Historic Locations: One of the hundreds of remote South African locations to which we took our camera, "Hell on earth," the British trench on top of remote Spion Kop. The dead lay three deep here in what was the Boer War's bloodiest battle, and a British defeat that shocked the Empire in Jan. 1900. A Canadian officer, Lt. J.W. Osborne, of Brantford, ON, lies in this mass grave. Our program explains how this came to be.
Our Approach: Shoot extensively on the actual historic locations.

We decided to depart from the normal convention and shoot our program substantially on the locations where history was actually made so that television audiences could "see" these sites which played such a major role in the lives of the "Anglo-Boer War generation."

We spent 2 months in South Africa, and drove 11,000 km, to take our camera to hundreds of Anglo-Boer War sites.

Our program, which features major explanations at 83 different historic places, offers, we believe, an unprecedented number of real historic locations for a history documentary.

Feedback: #21: Ingersoll, ON: "Thank you very much for your terrific production 'The Great Anglo-Boer War: The Canadian Experience'.

Towards the end of episode one, you talk about the Canadians boredom while stationed at Belmont and how they took to carving their names on rocks at Gun Hill. As the camera panned over the names of several of the troops still evident on the rocks, there it was - A. Woodward, RCR, London - my great Uncle Albert W. Woodward.

Thank you for giving this Canadian a personal experience."

Feedback: # 32: Petawawa, ON - "Very well done. Very balanced and informative. Quite interesting to see that many of the battle sites have remained virtually untouched for all these years. Again, thank you, and a job very well done."
Spion Kop
Mass Grave- Jan. 24, 1900
An Acre of Massacre: Above right, looming over the Tugela River, is the whale back summit of Spion Kop, where on Jan. 24, 1900, Briton and Boer fought the bloodiest battle of the entire Anglo-Boer War. Today, their quarrels stilled, over 1,000 of them lie buried on the top of this small piece of ground.

Innovation 2 - We wanted to create a "multi host" - not a "single host" - program, by turning all our experts into host/presenters.

The Standard: No hosts, and experts sitting indoors talking to the interviewer.

Most history documentaries have no "host" or presenter at all. A few use a "celebrity" host as a "narration voice" or as an indoor "studio presenter."

All feature their "experts" as "interview subjects" - a technique copied from news shows - and have them looking towards, and answering questions from, an off-camera director.

Far from becoming a host for the program, these expert/interviewees deliberately ignore the viewing audience and concentrate instead, on talking to the interviewer. In this technique, the television viewer is shuffled aside and treated merely as the "eaves-dropper" or voyeur, looking in on a typical "news" type interview.

Our Experts are Hosts: Historian Pam McFadden - typifying all our experts - is the host of the Talana Hill and Elandslaagte sections. She looks and talks directly at the camera as she stands where General Penn-Symons was fatally shot, and asks the audience to imagine the scene as the British general fell, while trying to rally his men to renew the attack against the withering Boer fire sweeping down Talana Hill, during the first battle of the Anglo-Boer War.
Our Approach: Our innovative "experts-as-hosts" technique.

We decided to depart from tradition and come up with a superior, more intimate and more modern approach in the use of hosts and experts.

Instead of a single host we would have many; instead of a celebrity "who pretends," we would harness the "real life" passion of our experts.

Who could possibly be a better host than the expert burning with the conviction from knowing the subject matter intimately?

We decided to make every one of our "experts" the "host" of his/her segment.

Instead of treating the viewer simply as the traditional "bystander" as an expert talks, our program would give the viewer pride of place as the focus for the entire program.

In this innovative technique, all the "experts" would, break with tradition, by not "answering questions" from, or towards, an off-camera director, but would instead, be "making statements" directly to the viewing audience, and breaking convention further by talking directly into the camera lens. This technique effectively turns each expert into a host.

We feature 104 gripping contributions from 15 expert/hosts in the program - an unprecedented number of hosts in a television documentary.

Feedback: # 47: Font Hill, ON - "The show was terrific! It was very well put together. Just fascinating!"

Feedback: # 52: Burlington, ON - "I saw all four episodes of your show. They were all really great!"

Pam McFadden - Talana Hill
Buried by the Boers: Above right, the last resting place of a British hero who, according to Winston Churchill, embodied all the finest qualities of a Victorian British officer. He died of his wounds after the British General Yule abandoned Talana, his wounded, and the dying Penn-Symons to the Boers. Boer General Piet Joubert buried him here and sent his condolences and the General's personal effects to his wife.

Innovation 3 - We wanted all our experts to have direct eye contact solely with the audience, to have the most intimate contact, NOT WITH THE INTERVIEWER - who by definition is a middleman who "interjects" him/herself between the expert and the viewer - BUT WITH THE VIEWER.

The Standard: Expert ignores the viewer and only talks to the interviewer.

All serious television documentaries have, for generations, had all their experts - who mostly sit indoors in a studio or room - look straight at the INTERVIEWER, usually the director, sitting behind the camera. They are issued strict orders - NEVER LOOK INTO THE CAMERA LENS. TALK TO ME, NOT THE AUDIENCE. PRETEND THE VIEWER ISN'T THERE.

And it's not improving. In what is a most disconcerting first in television, one Canadian series now even has the host avoiding eye contact with the audience, causing his eyes to play a desperate hide-and-seek with the behind the camera director as - in obvious discomfort - he walks and talks.

Our Experts Only Talk to the Camera/Viewer: Grietjie Erasmus - speaking directly to the camera - points to marks on her family house made by British canon fire during the Battle of Biddulphsberg in May 1900. She tells the audience that, during the battle, her great-grandfather was so terrified that he refused to come outside and had to be removed bodily from the house to safety.
Our Approach: Our expert talks directly to the viewer.

We deliberately departed from convention, telling our experts, rather than ignoring the audience, to speak straight into the camera, directly to the viewer.

In spite of the fact that it runs counter to the practice of every other documentary producer, it is a technique we have used with great success in all our programs for the past twenty years.

In our first one hour television documentary (aired on CBC in 1987), and in our award-winning television series (aired on Life Network 1996-98), interview subjects/experts were directed to talk straight into the camera.

Hopefully our continuing drive to publicize our innovative "expert as host" technique, will attract a few more converts among television executives and producers to our novel way of presenting the best an expert has to give and which has long ago won great acclaim among television audiences.

The Intimacy of Susan Botha: Many have noted that our innovative technique - we have been doing it for 23 years - of having the expert perform to the camera lens, has created television programming with an unparalleled bond of intimacy between expert and viewer that is impossible to achieve in any other way. Above Susan explains how soldiers bent the ends of cartridge cases to hold powder to start fires in cold weather.
Our innovative technique of getting the expert to perform straight to the camera is only possible because our cameraman is not only the director on all our shows, but also, a content expert in all the subjects we choose to feature in our documentaries.

Traditionally cameramen are not directors, they are told what to do by others who are. Cameramen are also not subject experts; they are almost entirely passive conduits, who are there as the technical experts in the recording process. It is others - writers, directors, producers - who research, write, and decide what the content of the show will be, and what questions the experts are asked.

That is why in other documentaries the experts NEVER look into the lens at the cameraman but always at the other people standing beside, behind, around the camera, who are asking the questions.

It is why the audience of other documentaries only ever gets to see the side of the experts' faces as they talk - and never, their most intimate parts - their eyes.

Our Director/Historian/Cameraman and "Stand-In" John Goldi csc: John Goldi's preferred technique over the past 23 years has been to act as a "stand-in" for the viewing audience when shooting experts for his documentaries. His pioneering innovation has achieved an unparalleled intimacy between the audience and his experts because, by getting them to perform straight to him - as director, expert and only incidentally as cameraman - he creates the illusion they are talking directly to the audience.
Our cameraman is different. As a content expert and director on all the shows we have shot over the past 23 years, he has directed that all his subject experts look him straight in the eye - the lens eye of his camera - as he expertly cajoles the subject information that he wants out of them.

As a long-time Canadian historian - and fellow expert on the Anglo-Boer War - John Goldi was able to prompt all his fellow historians into delivering their performances straight to him, into the camera lens, as he "stood in" for the audience.

By directing the experts to talk directly to him - his camera eye - he effectively takes his presence - as the interviewer - out of the communications loop. The audience is never aware of his presence; the annoying middle man - the interviewer- is gone.

The illusion becomes complete; the experts' eye-lines zero straight to the television audience. The viewer believes the expert is talking "to me and only to me" - not to some off-camera interviewer like in all other documentaries.

We believe this is a superior and more "classy" technique for shooting experts, than the traditional one, borrowed from the nightly news, which results in "off-axis" interviews conducted by interviewers who are never shown.

Feedback: #3: Toronto, ON - "I thought it was terrific - how it was put together. Lots of these other documentaries have far too much gobbledegook, too much stuff that means nothing in the narration. The way you tell the story is great. I never buy this stuff off TV, but I said I gotta have this show. How do I get it?"
Feedback: #9: Etobicoke, ON - "Bravo! Interesting, informative, and artfully presented."

c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000