Jenny Kleeman: the journey behind a TV documentary

Jenny Kleeman, a reporter from Channel 4’s Unreported World, gave us a great lecture at University of Westminster yesterday.

She showed us one of her films – The Unwanted – and talked about its creation.

Speaking about how lucky their team was while making the film, Jenny Kleeman said that your luck works when you “maximise your opportunities all the time”.

And that means – surprise! – hard work.

First of all, obviously you have to do a lot of research before you actually go and do the shooting. You should also find a ‘fixer’, identify locations, arrange all the legal issues and ensure the safety of the crew.

It all pays back when, after two weeks of preparation, the team starts their ‘genuine journey of discovery’.

Patient, polite, honest and neutral

Jenny’s story of making the film was quite exciting and full of useful advice to journalism students.

“You have to be patient beyond what you are prepared to deal with”, she said.

Their patience was rewarded when, after hours of lying-in-wait in the darkness of the night at a Turkish beach, they met a people smuggler and had a chance to talk to migrants, who were desperate to get into EU.

“You have to be incredibly honest to people”, Jenny said. “If you can’t get your story out by being honest, then don’t do that story”.

She also noticed that journalists should approach people politely and treat them in a decent way.

Her honesty and politeness helped the crew to gain migrants’ trust and get some sincere and striking answers.

“Tell your story in as neutral way as possible”, the documentary-maker advised.

She never mentioned in the film how sorry she felt for those people who had left their motherland in search of a better life. Instead, she just let real people share their stories.

If you do that, the audience doesn’t need a reporter’s commentary to feel sympathetic, Jenny said. Indeed, the lives of the characters they interviewed were so dramatic, there was no need for any further explanation.

And that’s the way you get lucky and turn eight weeks of work into a captivating 25-minutes TV documentary.


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