The Production and Post-Production Criteria:
The initial 200 hours of footage shot for this documentary came together over a six year period and a dozen trips to SE Asia plus several to South Africa. Most of the filming was following up new leads from earlier visits and interactions with players on the ground. The approach was always event driven, with no script in place as it was about documenting the realities on the ground, filming events as they happened, in real time and involving real situations.
Most of the filming was done in an investigative approach. We had trail cameras in promising locations, we filmed from the hip, left cameras running on desktop counters while negotiating with shopkeepers, we used covert button-hole hidden cameras where we felt other equipment, or the situation, did not permit our "run and gun" technique. Traveling as tourists in the concerned countries, without filmmaker or journalist accreditation, meant tripods had to stay at home.
Over time, this approach, as well as going back and asking follow up questions of players whom we were now familiar with, helped to complete the overall picture. The emphasis was always on getting the full story, following established lines of inquiry; in the process, we often discovered new aspects. On some occasions, we did employ traditional style cameramen to round out with establishing shots, additional links, cutaways and pieces to camera.
As for the investigative filming done by our local operatives, this is a must in many locations where foreigners would not be taken seriously in the context of playing potential customers or partners. In such cases, the foreign language we had the audio files translated and transcribed, and then matched them to the relevant footage.
We recently decided to better the coverage by documenting new developments and scenic links using 4K cameras and drones, providing a blue chip, cinematic footage look-and-feel for these sequences. We hope that this results in a final cut more in tune with the stylistic trend that seems to dominate the film festival circuit - even when it comes to event-driven investigative exposés.
Combining a raft of different formats, quality of footage and styles in the final post-production cycle, was quite a challenge. Another challenging editing component involved test screening, to determine what the average viewer is able to live with in terms or hard-hitting facts and footage, and the proper level of political correctness in terms of finger-pointing; there are matters acquisition editors often consider problematic, even with the respective insurance coverage in place.
The biggest liability we face with this current cut is that we did not embrace the request for “Hope” and a ‘Happy Ending”; they simply do not exist on the ground and they would have taken this exposé from fact to fiction. Evaluating the remaining options, we found that the linear approach remained the most logical one. Brutal honesty remained one of the key criteria when we proceeded to the final cut and picture lock.