A2 G324: Advanced Portfolio in Media

Codes and Conventions: Documentary
Documentary film is a broad category of visual expressions that is based on the attempt, in one fashion or another, to "document" reality. Central to documentary is the notion that it focuses on and questions actual people and events, often in a social context.

Question: What’s in a documentary? Can you think of the different genres and name
some texts?

Documentaries often seek to persuade and inform and therefore also central to documentary is the key concept of representation, and more specifically, how a given subject is ‘mediated’ to the audience. Many recent styles have aimed to entertain and have been described as infotainment. Infortainment Documentaries purport to offer factual information about the world and will often make a case, present an argument or advocate a solution based on the concept of ‘realism’. Mike Edwards (2003) suggests that we make modality judgements about them (how realistic? how typical? how shocking? etc) Representations in media texts are unavoidably selective – foregrounds some things, backgrounds others and leaves some things out altogether – as part of content analysis it is possible to count how many instances we see one character against another, a statement or an event.

Hermeneutic Suspicion
Hermeneutic suspicion is the process of asking questions about the meaning of appearances. Richard Dyer (1993) posed a few questions to think about when analysing representations in media texts in general, but they can be very specifically applied to documentary – a text that represents ‘reality’. 1. 2. 3. 4. What sense of the world is it make? What does it imply is typical of the world and what is deviant? Who is speaking? For whom? To whom? What does it repesent to us and why – how do we respond to this representation?

As Mike Edwards (2003) suggests we can ask to what extent a documentary is truthful. Have the events described been manipulated? Through its reportage, documentary seeks actively to present a case through the structure and organisation of point of view. Sense of made of a topic through careful narrative construction and in this sense it can be said to have dramatic values in order to create an experience of the world, its people and its values.

A2 G324: Advanced Portfolio in Media
Documentary conventions
Michael Rabiger (1998) suggests a list of criteria that a documentary must fulfil: • • • • • • • • Tells a good story. Cannot be value neutral. Aim to convey a personal, critical perspective on some aspect of the human condition Interesting characters who are trying to achieve something. Include contextual information (not too much/not too early). Contain dramatic suspense via situations that intrigue the audience and make them judge, anticipate. Develop the audience’s knowledge of at least one situation or character. There should be a confrontation between opposing forces which reaches a climax and is then resolved. What production techniques do

Question: How are documentaries normally filmed?
they employ?

Documentary Documentary Filming Narrators
The use of a narrator behind the camera to anchor (Barthes Theory Of Anchorage) and link presentation together. They are the guarantors of authority and have been chosen on the basis of personal voice qualities that are likely to appeal to the target audience (think about Dr. David Starkey or Dr. David Attenborough►).

Camera Work
The producers use real locations, real people, real events. They use cameras to follow or more specifically endorse a particular point of view – to increase ‘reality’ there are often hand held camera shakes, zooms, pans etc. Audience sympathy is increased by close ups of faces. Some documentaries also use the style of cinéma-vérité, which originated in the 1950’s. The Cinéma-vérité include followings a person during a crisis with a moving, often handheld, camera to capture more personal reactions. There are no sit-down interviews. Cinéma vérité was dependent on some technical advances in order to exist: light, quiet and reliable cameras, and portable sync sound to film events on location as they unfolded.

A2 G324: Advanced Portfolio in Media
The directors of the movement take different viewpoints on their degree of involvement with their subjects choose non-involvement (or at least no overt involvement), direct involvement or even provocation when they deem it necessary. This is often known as ‘fly on the wall’.

Locations
The importance of using real locations and events often leads to the art of reconstruction or staging of events. Such techniques can be necessary to enhance the value of a report and can convery useful information to audience as a strong visual aid. This can support Investigative Reportatge of the piece.

Editing And Narrative
Documentaries appear to make the known appear strange and interesting. Fictional devices such as non-diegetic music and credits, non-continuity montage sequences are combined with continuity invisible editing techniques, reconstruction, open and closed narrative and multi-strand plots

Key Genres:
• • Institutional Documentary: (e.g. Children’s Hospital) Key Features: setting, celebrity presenter, everyday routine, practices, characters. Surveillance Documentary: (e.g. Road Wars►, Police! Camera! Action!) Key Features: surveillance footage has been used to construct a modern style of documentary, which is entertaining. Anchoring commentary and voyeurism. Docusoap: (e.g. Airport) Key Features: generic hybrid mixing social realism with drama. They feature everyday settings, typical problems and challenges. Narrative structure uses drama values of suspense with laughter and tears. Many of the people (characters) featured have gone on to be celebrities. Reality television: (e.g. Big Brother) Key Features: generic hybrid that adds game show or talk show elements. Set of contestants, a closed setting, creation of tension, conflict, relationships and drama, tears, confessional talk. Drama Documentary: (e.g. Threads (1984)►) Key Features: aim to create accurate representation of an historical event. Often biographical and featuring narrative, authoritative commentaries. Reportage/Investigative Reporting: (e.g. Panorama) Key Features: current affairs, link to political/news reports. Uncover reporting, scandals. Usually features a key presenter, often a respected journalist, who may go undercover. Historical Documentary: (e.g. Henry VIII and his Sixth Wives) Key Features: Regular professor presenter, ‘talking head’ ‘experts’, cutaways of reconstruction. Project Documentary: (e.g. Time Team►, Grand Designs) generic hybrid which can be historical, architectural etc. Usually feature a regular presenter and cast of characters/’experts’ in their field as well as technical reconstruction of before/after, race against the clock, etc. Behind the Scenes Documentary: (e.g. Doctor Who Confidential) Key Features: acts as a ‘making of…’. Interviews with actors/those personnel involved in a particular programme, film, album, video game. Science/Natural History Documentary: (e.g. Planet Earth►) Key Features: Investigation into an aspect of wildlife or natural history. Features regular, trusted expert presenter who place themselves in the action/amidst the subject of study. Increasingly

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A2 G324: Advanced Portfolio in Media
becoming expensive and feature advanced camera techniques. Travelogue: (e.g. Michael Palin’s Around the World in Eighty Days►) Key Features: video diary style documentary of a key presenter’s travels to a foreign, exotic land or location. Explores local customs whereby the presenters place themselves in the action. Often features interviews with indigenous peoples. Video Diary: (BBC Video Diaries). Short intense personal essays made by amateur filmmakers (the public) who tell their own stories. Very often now found on YouTube, MySpace whereby audience members relay one of their own problems/their interests/hobbies in video format and exhibits it online.

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