Making ‘Our War’- Colin Barr at Coventry Conversations

On the 6th October 2011, Coventry University were lucky enough to play host to the Executive Producer of the recent ‘Our War’ documentary series, Colin Barr. ‘Our War’ is a documentary series about the conflict in Afghanistan and was designed to reach a young audience. It all began from a small bit of footage which was filmed by a soldier a few years back and this footage made the BBC think about how much war footage filmed by the soldiers might be out there.

Colin Barr didn’t come onboard with the idea until the M.O.D had said that they would support the documentary series as without the M.O.D, it would have been far too difficult to get all the information needed. Mr Barr said that the M.O.D were ‘very very very nervous about letting us (the BBC) anywhere near it’ and that the M.O.D then took four months before getting back to them saying that they would support it. He added the M.O.D were ‘Happy with the reception of the series’ and had no editorial role in the making of the series, however they were shown the footage to make sure that there was nothing that could give information out which could tip of the enemy or should not get into the wrong hands.

A lot of the filming was done by helmet cams and these cameras weren’t supplied by the M.O.D or BBC but the soldiers themselves were buying them as around 2006/2007, they became cheap enough to get hold of and many of the soldiers liked being able to record what was going on. Mr Barr said that ‘Everybody’s a director now’ and that soldiers are ‘Filming in greater numbers now’ referring to how the popularity has soared and they all want to show the world what they do. Some videos filmed by soldiers have even ended up on websites like Youtube.

Written by Alex Maidment – First Year Student.

Mr Barr said that the programme took a lot of ‘Proper journalistic research’ and they would ‘Retrospectively build a story around the footage’ having spoken to the people who shot the footage and all the people who were in the footage and this meant they would have ‘Multiple perspectives’ of what had been filmed. Mr Barr also mentioned that there was 1000’s of hours of footage and they tried to ‘Grade the footage as they came in’ and one of the more emotional aspects of watching the footage was the fact that you ‘Never quite know what’s round the corner’ as said by Mr Barr when describing the analysis of footage.
He added that ‘When you’re stuck watching 45 minutes of someone panicking, trying to save their friend, it’s hard’ and that the videos are ‘Not at all romantic or heroic’ as you might imagine.

Something which was brought up during the lecture was whether or not it is ethical to broadcast people saying that they wanted to kill someone or that they enjoyed it, as these are things which they may get judged for.
Mr Barr said ‘We agonised over it’ when asked whether they had any doubt  about transmitting these clips with people’s true feelings about killing someone but Mr Barr also said ‘Both of those opinions from my point of view are really really important.’

As an Executive Producer, Mr Barr said his job is ‘Too make sure people don’t just turn off because it’s just too much’ and that he ‘Didn’t want to just put everything in there simply because we had it.’
He was also questioned about whether everyone involved needed to fill in a consent form and Mr Barr simply replied ‘Everybody who needed to give consent gave consent’ stating that it would have been a waste of time tracking everyone down and getting them to sign a form.

Mr Barr also went into how the interviews are made and that the big-close ups are used because they are powerful and because of the way the interviews are filmed. They use what is known as a mirror box which is where the interviewee looks straight into the Camera lens and can see the interviewer and part of the reason for doing this style of interview was to cut right across the actual film footage.

Towards the end of the Coventry Conversation on making ‘Out War’, Mr Barr said that ‘What we do as documentary makers, is make it emotional’ and he then said that there is ‘Always a market for great stories.’

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