Strengths of using interviews and voice-over in Dark Days documentary

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Use of Interviews and Voice–Over in Documentaries

Film makers have different approaches to film production, which include sound, mis-en-scene, real stories, narrations, interviews, among others (Tiwon 2014, p. 201). One of the most successful documentaries using the interviews and voice-over is the Dark Days by Marc Singer. The documentary focuses on the homeless people living in a train tunnel in Manhattan (Heumann and Murray 2015). The choice of the people featured in the documentary is influenced by the distinguished lifestyle, as it is unimaginable to most people how others would live in tunnels. Again, the quality of life in the tunnel full of rats, garbage, and high-speed trains signifies the hardships endured by the tunnel dwellers. Therefore, Dark Days documentary exposes intricate lifestyle unimaginable to most people. The producer relies on interviews and voice-over to bring out the suffering of the tunnel residents. This essay will focus on the strengths and weaknesses of using interviews and voice-over in the Dark Day documentary.

Strengths of using Interviews and Voice-Over in Dark Days Documentary

Interviews are the main pin for most documentaries and are used to disseminate necessary information in a story. Producers prioritize interviews and voice-over in documentary production as they warrant the production higher sales (Gentile 2012, p.87). Use of interviews and voice-over in documentaries are recommendable for the following strengths.

Clear understanding of experiences

Through interviews, the protagonists have a chance to tell about their experiences directly to the audience. For example in the Dark Days, the interviewees are able to explain their sufferings in the train tunnel one-on-one to the spectators (Heumann and Murray 2015). The listeners are able to articulate the voice of the interviewee to the meaning of the speech, which derives a clear meaning of the story. In addition, hearing straight from the affected person gives deeper understanding. It allows the audience to not only see the situation of the interviewee but also to identify with the experience through hearing.

When the interviewer takes over from where the respondent stopped through voice over, normally greater light is shed for the understanding of the context. Often, the interviewer will emphasize an important idea through the voice-over. This kind of repetition creates emphasis to ensure that the audience get a clear picture of the scene. Further, repetition through voice-over helps clarify points said by the interviewee that could have been unclear to the audience.

Therefore, interviews and voice-over in documentaries enhance audience understanding of the context. First, affected persons tell their story direct to the addressees which deepen the meaning of said words. Second, spectators can relate the voice of the respondents to the situation at hand, which fosters understanding. And finally, interviews and voice-over creates some type of repetition, which emphasises the intended meaning (Gerhardt 2015, p. 461).


Interviews and voice-over warrant film maker production accuracy. This is because the audience has a direct source in which they can see and hear the respondent as he talks. Unlike in the reported productions, interview documentary producers cannot alter what was said to suit personal beliefs. The audience can hear the speech directly thus the producer has no control over what is said. Again, although interview documentaries are subject to editing, they retain accuracy as the audience is more interested in what the respondents feel. Therefore, interview and voice-over documentaries are a reliable source of information for the audience. The spectators are sure that presented information is true and not exaggerated through the process of editing.

Authentic testimonials

Interviews provide accurate information as it is founded on personal feelings. Whenever the respondents give their testimonials, the interviewer cannot correct them since the message is based on experience. Therefore, data collected through dialogue is not subject to alteration. Again, when voice-over are used to complement the dialogues in Dark Days, the producer is either insisting on what the respondent said or seeking more details of a given point. Therefore, the response of a producer is tied to the choice and feelings of the interviewee. What is recorded is purely what the participant said and influenced by experience.

In addition, when the film makers approach the target population for a documentary, they may not be very clear that the collected views will circulate across the globe. Therefore, the respondents will share facts, feelings, and emotions as they are not seeking to please the audience. As a result, the information obtained from interview and voice-over documentaries is authentic and score high in personal emotions rather than producer’s thoughts.

Bias free

Interviews seek to collect perceptions and opinions of the people affected by an issue. For example, the film maker of the Dark Days broadcast exactly the opinions and perceptions of those living in tunnels. Therefore, the producer has no power over what the respondents say. In addition, the producer cannot alter the collected information to suit personal beliefs. The producer does not know the selected participants and, therefore, he or she cannot influence their opinions. Furthermore, the film makers of the Dark Days were not familiar with the lifestyle of the tunnel dwellers. Thus, they were learning as they interview the participants, which mean that they can hardly twist the information to favour their personal thoughts.

Detailed information

Interviews and voice-over documentaries allow the film maker to ask detailed questions concerning the issues of discussion (Shu-chin 2011, p. 17). Often, the film maker is new to the environment in context and therefore explores as much as possible to fully understand the situation. Again, the film maker researches widely on the topic of concern before stepping into the field to meet the respondents. Guided by a rough concept of what might be happening, the film maker enquires more to support what was learned and get new information. Considering the novelty of the situation, the same questions in the audience mind are similar to those of film maker. Hence, there is a tendency that the questions the film maker asks are of interest to the audience. As a result, the audience is provided with detailed information about the issue of discussion, which suits their quest for knowledge.

Ability to clarify ambiguities

During the shooting and recording of the interview documentaries, the film maker has the chance to clarify unclear concepts. For example, in the Dark Days, the film maker thought that it was an exaggeration when one of the respondents said they lived with rats in the heaps of garbage. To clarify the ambiguity, the interviewer emphasised on the response to find out whether the other interviewees would say the same. The point is made clear when one of the interviewees points a finger at a rat and the camera person is quick to capture it (Heumann and Murray 2015). Therefore, what can be thought unimaginable by film maker and the audience can be clarified in the interviews and voice-over documentaries for a clear understanding by the audience (Ellis 2011).

Easier comprehension

In interview and voice-over documentary films the choice of the voice is vital. Film makers always consider a clear voice with correct verbalization for the voice-over (Zhang 2010, p. 179). This ensures that even if the interviewee lack clear articulation, the message will still be clear to the audience as the interviewer will clarify. In addition, interview documentaries depict different perspectives of the participants involves which broadens the concept of the topic of coverage. Furthermore, the respondents have a clear understanding of the surrounding environment as most of them had lived in the tunnel for quite a long time. Thus, they are able to narrate a history of the development of the life in train tunnels, which shapes the audience understanding of the situation and what influenced it.

Have educational value

Often, interview documentaries are conducted among people who have the knowledge of certain issues that are unknown to a better part of the society (Denzin 2012, p. 342). For example, up to date many were not aware that some people live in train tunnel in Manhattan until they watched the Dark Days documentary. There is also a big percentage of the population that is unaware of the life at Manhattan tunnel because they have not watched the film. Therefore, film makers add educational value to the audience through interview documentaries.

In addition, interview documentaries provide the population with historical evidence (Marcus and Stoddard 2009, p. 281). For example, in the future when young people of Manhattan will be watching the Dark Days documentary, they will get an understanding of what has happened in the region. If the future, the population will be more sensitive not to repeat past mistakes. Therefore, film makers through interview and voice-over documentaries shed light on the past that constitutes to the history of the world.

Strengthens family ties

The Dark Days interview documentary when watched by a family leaves an impression of the essence of living in peace and working hard (Nistoreanu et al. 2017, p. 408). Again, the family members get different perspectives of what life means and they are cautioned against irresponsibility. For example after watching the Dark Day documentary, the film maker emphasised on the need to plan the future so that we will not be left homeless. As families watch the Dark Days film, parents encourage their children to work hard in life so that they secure their own homes. Therefore, film makers through interviews and voice-over documentaries seek to strengthen family bonds through focussing on beneficial aspects of the society.

Interview documentaries have an inspirational value

Film makers often feature people undergoing hardships in the interview documentaries. They seek to collect their feelings, emotions, and opinions of the situation the people filmed and relate it to the topic of discussion. Throughout the discussion, the film maker establishes in depth degree of suffering of the filmed persons. At the end, the film maker sympathises with the respondents and always has a word of support to them (Tiwon 2014, p. 203). The encouragement not only benefits the people filmed but also the audience. For most of the spectators, the inspiration is timely because interview documentaries are prioritized when the audience wants to learn something new.

Labour intensive

Unlike the cast films, the use of interviews and voice-over in documentary films makes production labour intensive (Shu-chin 2011, p. 21). Such films only require the interviewer and a few interviewees in addition to the mandatory personnel (director, the producer, the editor, and the camera person). Unlike other films that require many different characters, the interview and voice-over documentaries work with minimal participants. They are even more effective with few people unlike other film productions.

Weaknesses of Using Interviews and Voice-over in Dark Days Documentary

Small population sample

Interview documentaries are produced on a very small sample, which makes it hard to draw conclusions of the affected people (Cabeleira, Martins and Lawn 2011, p. 481). For example, the Dark Days films only four respondents whereas the Manhattan train tunnel has a very dense population. The circumstances that forced those people to live in the tunnel could be different for various people. Therefore, film maker collects information from few persons each with different views, which hinders accurate conclusions since generalisations cannot be drawn of a less than third of the total population. Again, different people might be having varied perspectives of how it feels been in a specific situation. For example, a person who has been brought up in the streets for his or her entire life may prefer life in the tunnel to life in the streets. For some of them, life may be better under the tunnel for they cannot be rained on. For most tunnel dwellers, life in the tunnel is not as hard as that of the displaced persons. Therefore, film makers limit accuracy by covering minimal respondents on the interview and voice-over documentaries.

Expensive to produce

For the film maker, interview documentaries are among the most expensive to produce. They require the film maker to learn of unimaginable situation and collect opinions of the affected people rather than creating the story. The most difficult part in producing the Dark Days documentary was that the film maker was not familiar with the place or the lifestyle of the filmed people (Heumann and Murray 2015). Therefore, it was difficult for him to create a rapport with even those who had not gone to school and convince them of being part of the documentary. Interview documentaries are also expensive to produce as the participants may not be equally flexible; they are available on different days and hours. Therefore, the film maker had to keep visiting the place of coverage until he or she accesses the entire required respondent. Considering that the Dark Days documentary was shot in Manhattan and produced in Britain, the expenses were maximal.

May contradict film maker’s vision

In situations where the respondents give contrary view to that of the interviewer, the addressees may consume the wrong concepts (Davidson 2012, p. 225). Considering the direct interaction between the listeners and the addressor, the film maker has no control over what the filmed persons say. Again, a film maker cannot alter what is said in an attempt to establish his or her vision. Therefore, interview documentaries have a greater risk of objecting the vision of the film maker.

Film maker inability to control the production

Often, interview and voice-over documentaries cover very novel ideas. For example, the Dark Days documentary covers unimaginable homelessness that even the movie producer was unfamiliar with. Therefore, the film maker was learning as he questions the respondents. Lack of facts to build the dialogue denies the film maker the ability to control the discussion. The film maker has to believe in what the respondents say as he is not part of the affected population. As a result, if the information collected is not accurate, interview and voice-over documentaries could be misleading to the film maker and the audience.

Should the People Filmed Always be involved in Some Form of Dialogue?

Interview documentary films are quite interactive which underscores the need to involve the filmed people in some sort of dialogue (Tiwon 2014, p. 201). The ultimate objective of the interview films is to collect feelings, perceptions, and opinions of population under uncommon situation. Therefore, the nature of the information required dictates the need to involve the filmed people in dialogue. Opinions and feelings cannot be observed or acted. Hence, the best way to collects opinions is through interviews where the respondents are given a chance to express themselves.

In addition, interview documentaries cover very rare circumstances which the audience can highly doubt. Therefore, there is the need to involve the filmed people in dialogue to provide testimonials for the film. Testimonials can be directly seen and heard by the audience, which amplifies the belief of the unimaginable. Again, involving the filmed people in dialogue enables the addressees to articulate what is said to what is seen. This creates a form of emphasis which makes it easier for the spectators to believe the film maker. Holding a talk with the affected person creates a feeling of originality to consumers, which reduces possibilities of film maker exaggeration.

Additionally, involving the filmed persons in dialogue in voice-over documentaries emphasises on their points made (Warmington and Grosvenor 2011, p. 557). Considering that documentaries are educative in nature, film maker need to provide evidence and reference for the quoted information. Allowing the respondents engage in dialogue is more educative as the audience can directly hear and see. Naturally, it is easier to learn visually than it is to hear from third party. Therefore, there is the need to engage the participants in dialogue in the interview and voice-over documentaries.

Furthermore, involving the sample population in dialogue in documentaries breaks monotony and allows the audience to identify with the issue of discussion (Rosenthal 2007, p.243). The acted films have the advantage of switching between characters, which keeps the audience attentive. Again, it warrants the audience a variety of source of information as opposed to listening to one person throughout a film.

However, the situation in which filmed persons are should be considered before the film maker decides to involve them in dialogue (Boon 2008, p. 154). In some instances, the participants may be too emotional to speak, which means that the audience may suffer emotional trauma as they listen. To protect the viewers and the respondents, a film maker should opt for a voice-over and cut away for the audience consumption. Language barrier not only affects the spectators but also the interviewer.


Use of interviews and voice-over in documentaries has been embraced since the inception of documentary production and is still valuable. The popularity of these genres of documentaries is influenced by consumer oriented nature. For example the Dark Days documentary reports the incidents in Manhattan tunnel in a viewer-friendly language. In addition, interview documentaries are less costly for the film makers, as they are labour intensive, have educational values, uses testimonials, which are more appealing to the audience and have inspirational value. However, there are a few weaknesses of using interviews and voice-over in documentaries as seen in the Dark Days. These include the difficultly of locating the unimaginable and making a selling story out of it, they may redirect the film maker’s intension and he may lose control over the production in case what he expected from the respondent differs from the actual findings. However, the weaknesses of using interviews and voice-over in Dark Days documentary are minimal, which fosters its sale.

In his documentary (Dark Days), Marc Singer involves the filmed persons in dialogue. This is rewarding to the film maker as it gives him time to learn of the unimaginable occurrence as the participant responds. Again, it allows the audience to direct interaction with respondents, which build on to loyalty for the documentary. In addition, letting the filmed to talk helps in bringing out their feelings, perspectives, and opinions of the context, this promotes the audience understanding of the scenario. Furthermore, involving the filmed people in dialogue helps keep the educative dimension of documentaries; both the film maker and the audience are given the chance to learn something new from the respondents. Therefore, it is necessary to always permit the filmed persons to give their view of the story in interview and voice-over documentaries.

To enhance the captivity of Dark Days, the film maker made use of background music. The musical tone perfectly connects to the moods of the story. Moreover, the film maker applied metaphorical connection between all the aspects of the interview and voice-over documentary (Gerhardt 2015, p. 463). This ensures that the audience can emotionally resonate to the film. In addition, use of interviews and voice-over in documentaries should be guided by the script. In as much as possible, the film maker retains control over the shooting process so that the respondents do not overpower him. Additionally, the film maker was guided by a shot list before the actual shooting. The shooting list enables the film maker to capture the most relevant captures during interviews and maintains the direction of the documentary (Warmington and Grosvenor 2011, p. 557). Finally, the film maker endeavoured to know the story before leading the audience to know it. He had enough time researching about the issue of concern before bringing it into tape. This certifies the film maker control over the production process.


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April 06, 2023


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