The changing face of the art of Location Sound Recording practices within the Observational Documentary genre in UK TV; post 1990.

Project Details


A first journal paper will examine the changing landscape of Documentary programme-making in UK television since the 1990s, and particularly the usurping of the ‘Observational Documentary’ format (ObsDocs) in favour of the emerging ‘Fixed Rig Factual’ genre. Several factors contributed to this process; not least the implementation of the Broadcasting Act in 1990, which brought with it a change in structural regulations prompting a move away from Reithean principles to “…inform and entertain”, towards the primacy of a ‘profit-margin’ program-making ethos.

The article focuses on the effects of this shift on practices and on practitioners of location Sound Recording in ObsDocs. Emerging from my own deep professional experience in the industry, the discussion will be based on analysis of several case studies of ObsDocs produced at the apex of the genre such as Cutting Edge (Channel 4); Dispatches (C4); World in Action (Granada TV), This Week (Thames Television), First Tuesday (Yorkshire TV) etc, complemented by in-depth interviews with several other Sound Recordists who were working in the ObsDocs genre, throughout this market shift.

Scholarly writing on documentary film often prioritises the image over sound, as is the case with scholarly film analysis in a more general sense. The art of Sound Recording, as opposed to music, scores and post-production Sound Design has been even more neglected as an area of academic research. This article seeks to address this gap by drawing critical attention to the intricacies and skills involved in Sound Recording for Observational Documentaries. It will seek to show how the art of Sound Recording in ObsDoc has an integral and vital function within the creative process of production and in driving the narrative and the shaping of the text’s meanings. These skills, and their function in shaping the narrative have been rendered obsolete within the ‘Fixed Rig Factual’ format.
Short titleChanges in Sound Recording in UK ObsDocs, post 1990.
StatusNot started


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