Theories and ConceptsThe term ‘documentary’ was formed in 1926, by John Grierson. Documentaries have the purpose of to document an past event and can either use real footage from the time or the events can be reconstructed. They can use a voice over of a narrator to anchor the meaning, or they can use the narrator occasionally but rely mainly on the participants. Documentaries are not just about facts instead facts can be used to create socially critical arguments inviting the audience to draw their own conclusions.
Features of Documentaries:
In accordance to John Carner, from the University of Liverpool, there are 5 central elements of a documentary. These are as follows:
This involves putting the audience in a role of eyewitness, so the camera appears to be unseen. An indirect address to the audience is used, for example speech overhead.
This is simply the line of argument that the documentary is portraying.
Literally what the producers and the directors put into each frame. E.g. the mise-en-scene of an interview would be lighting and props.
Although a sense of drama is used in all documentaries, this is mainly used for the portrayal of people and events that the film maker is unable to gain access to in real life. Sequences as such are said to be based on fact.
Interviews are used by television documentaries to contrast observation sequences, they are structured in two different ways. They are either intercut fragments of observation or a completely uninterrupted sequence.
Type of Documentaries
These have a variation of at least six and consist of: full narrates, mixed, fly on the wall, docu-drama, self reflexive and a possible addition of docu-soaps.
A screen voiceover is used to convey the exposition in direct address documentaries. This can also make the narrator seem authorative concerning the topic which allows them to make sense of visuals.
Fly on the Wall
These rely almost wholly on observation as cameras are left to record with no interference and the audience come to their own conclusion.
A combination of observation, interviews and narration to advance the argument. The narrator is within the frame. This style is is most popular in news reporting.
The presence of the camera is acknowledged by the subjects and so they speak directly to the film maker. A view of reality is created as the attention is drawn to the camera.
This is a re-enactment of events as they are supposed to have happened. Fictional narrative is combined with elements of the exposition. However many critics claim that docu-dramas will deliver only fiction.
Such documentaries follow the daily lives of particular people, e.g. The Only Way is Essex. However it is argued that these are not real documentaries.
These are journalist based programmes of which aim to address new in more depth and are very different from documentaries. Such differences include deadline pressure, as documentaries can take several months to create which allows them to be more in depth; however Current Affairs require new stories daily. Moreover the audience varies for current affairs, for example some people watch for the information, whereas others watch simply for pleasure.
Supporting and Structuring a Documentary
Traditional conventions of a narrative are heavily relied on by documentaries. A structure is required, along with a variety of other conventions.
This must capture the attention of the audience. Central question of the documentary can be posed at the beginning in an intriguing way, an example is quick interview that capture conflict.
Commonly known as the ‘complication stage’ and so must be the most compelling. This often
examines the issue in human terms.
Here the exposition is made fully apparent by the resolution stage. By this time, the audience has no doubts what the argument is saying.
This can be caused between people with different beliefs, goals, circumstances or ambitions. However, it can be a single factor or a combination of these. Conflict is shown to develop through stages as this allows a narrative technique to be used by the documentary.
Sense of Movement
This stage adds strength to narrative elements. Three forms of movement are: physical, movement in time or psychological change.
Music and SFX
Sound effective in producing an emotional response in the audience.
Poor lighting is one of the first things to give away the portrayal of realism or authenticity.
Construction of Reality
When watching a documentary, it is important to ask yourself not only what are they showing you, but also question what is not being shown to you. The answer may be down to bias or preferences coincided with the selection and rejection of information.
What the audience see in the screen, as well as archive footage. To support intended meaning, stock materials are used.
Open: Audience left to make own conclusion at the end
Closed: A definite ending and outcome
Single Strand: Just one main plot throughout
Multi Strand: Many subplots which entwine
Linear: In chronological order. Time can be disrupted in same way i.e. via flashbacks