Videomaker – Learn video production and editing, camera reviews › Forums › General › Video and Film Discussion › Are Documentarys Real?
- This topic has 1 reply, 6 voices, and was last updated 3 years, 4 months ago by Tom.
June 25, 2009 at 7:52 PM #40400TomInactive
I just wanted to post this question as food for thought. This was a blog that I did a while back as well… but to me, I feel that there is no such thing are a truely real objective documentary. The reasoning is because every creator has a story that they are telling. So it’s not a true “fly on the wall” style format anymore. Although I freely admit to being a fan of Micheal Moore, Morgan Spurlock & counless others. The truth is, those works are very subjective…
June 25, 2009 at 10:19 PM #173530RobParticipant
i think it’s accurate to say documentaries are propaganda – propaganda and lies.
By propaganda I mean that the creators has a point of view that he wants to communicate and has the option to omit anything that conflicts with his or her point of view. Whether it’s a documentary, corporate video, whatever. commercials especially.
By lies I don’t mean that video tries to tell you that the sky is green and grass is blue, but you can see in reality shows, for example, that the events really do take place, just not in the way they happen in the final cut…
June 25, 2009 at 10:34 PM #173531EarlCMember
Fly on the wall = surveillance camera and IMHO documentary production was never intended to be spy-cam or fly on the wall, but rather was intended to convey a story about a person, event, place or thing or some plural derivative of the same. Will a documentary be unbiased. No way! If you want unbiased read your dictionary, and even then I sometimes wonder if the meanings cannot be somewhat skewed.
Documentary does not mean objective, unbiased “just the facts ma’am” video production, writing or audio. It simply brings about a focus on the intended subject, nothing more. Documentaries can attempt to change person’s mind, bring about a person’s awareness, or support a person’s viewpoint/opinion.
The “truth” in documentary production is that it almost always presents some facts that would otherwise go unknown, or uncover aspects of an event or subject that were otherwise not public knowledge. All documentaries are essentially, as Rob notes, editorials reflecting the producer’s POV or perspective.
If there are “lies” in some facet of documentary production it would be the BS that is otherwise referred to as a “reality” production. IMHO a true “reality” show would require a fly on the wall perspective with NO direction, no interaction between the people with the camera(s) or the folks tellling them when to shoot or where to point the lens. Reality is reality, what REALLY happened, and that simply isn’t what this particular genre depicts. I would suspect that reality programming is much more misleading and lies oriented than the predominance of documentary productions.
June 25, 2009 at 11:59 PM #173532composite1Member
Footage that documents ‘what really happened’ is usually called ‘evidence’. Even surveillance footage can be subjective. Way back when the Rodney King tapes hit the airwaves it was obvious to most people he got the crap kicked out of him from the police. However, only a portion of said footage was seen. When it was shown in court you had opposing sides looking at the same footage and giving their take on ‘what really happened’ and then the jury didn’t see a ‘King-sized Buttwhuppin’. Instead they ‘saw’ officers attempting to subdue a dangerous perpertrator. When it comes to humans looking at recorded images it harkens back to that old Richard Pryor joke, ‘Who’re you going to believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?’
The diff between surveillance video and documentary is documentary tries to tell a compelling story and it has to be ‘edited’ to make it watchable. The importance of surveillance video is ‘the fly on the wall’ aspect. But for it to be credible, it must be unedited and unretouched. Watching surveillance video is like watching your toenails grow.
July 6, 2009 at 3:26 PM #173533TomInactive
yes this is true, so may be the closestwe get to REAL documentation in a documentary, is a succesfull version of a real life event being told. Which doesn’t mean it’s true, rather the best attempt to replicate the truth… So, the most realistic story is the one that feels the most accomplished and documentarian like?
July 6, 2009 at 6:15 PM #173534AnonymousInactive
Well, according to Einstein, reality is merely an illusion, albeit a fairly persistent one. 🙂
Observing the state of an object changes that state. This is something that physicists have said for years about atomic particles. Just the act of observing them causes them to react differently than if nobody was looking. On a much bigger scale, the same is true for any film or video production. Even if you were to place a security camera up in the ceiling and record straight footage, sooner or later someone would glance up at the camera, and suddenly you’re not capturing “what would have really happened” anymore. So because we can’t observe the state of our subjects without changing that state, we might as well embrace it and tell a story.
And that’s the point of all film and video, documentaries included: they’re stories. Even if they’re true stories, they’re still stories. And the one endearing factor about stories is that they’re edited. Every last one. Imagine reading “The three little pigs” to your child, and needing to plod through 27 pages of the pigs going to town, getting a building permit, explaining their plans to the city inspector including why they believe a house of straw is structurally sound, buying material, digging the foundation, calling a contractor to install the electrical, explaining to the contractor why straw is structurally sound, etc… Even in the simplest of stories editing takes place to make the story flow. So there’s no fault to us when in telling our stories through the lens, we take the liberty of editing. The viewer doesn’t need to see every last minute that takes place, nor do they want to. What the viewer wants is a good story, and it’s up to us to deliver that.
So no, in the purest sense, no documentary will ever be the full story. But then, neither was the three little pigs.
July 7, 2009 at 7:15 AM #173535KenParticipant
jimcvideo beat me to it. Observing an event alters the event.
Watched “Cake Boss” on TLC earlier tonight (really good show, actually) and a bride came in to the bakery. She wasn’t satisfied with her cake, so when the Chef was in a different room, she grabbed bags of icing and started mutilating the cake. The cameras rolled the whole time. I was in shock. Seriously? Does this kind of thing actually happen? This is a $1000 cake. The Chef was mad, but I can’t help but think in his place I would have thrown the cake at her face. Really though, would she have done this had there not been cameras present? Was this encouraged for the sake of entertainment? It makes for more exciting TV, surely, but I think is a bit outside the normal boundaries of acceptable behavior… The presence of cameras changes everything. I don’t believe there is any true objectivity when egos and video mix.
July 7, 2009 at 5:29 PM #173536TomInactive
So do we suspend disbelief when we watch a documentary would you guys say? Even though it’s capturing a “real” story?
July 7, 2009 at 6:41 PM #173537AnonymousInactive
I think we’ve been raised trained to suspend disbelief. As I said earlier, even in books for little children, you find editing. You also find that a story is usually told from one perspective with one agenda. Again, looking at the three little pigs, we’re only really given the perspective of the pigs, namely the smart one who built his house of bricks. In the story, the Wolf is big and bad, and the first two pigs are foolish, and the third is wise. From a different perspective, we could say that the poor hungry wold was starving and desperate for a meal. Or we could Tell the story from the persepective of the poor unemployed pig who died unjustly because he couldn’t afford a building material other than straw and his jerk brother with the brick house wouldn’t let him crash there while he looked for work.
Every story has a different angle, sometimes an entirely different story. Sometimes we’re shown a few of these angles, but more often than not, a documentary is produced to show one main story, and because it’s how we’re raised, we ignore the other potential stories to focus on the one in front of us.
In the end, it all comes down to the fact that everything is a story, and even stories that are wholly true are still told from one just one perspective. But it’s what we do, we tell stories.
July 7, 2009 at 8:26 PM #173538TomInactive
We do tell stories. I know that when I have made a few documentary projects, I don’t necessarily “follow” the subjects with the camera. I tell them what I want to shoot ahead of time and then go attempt it in the most realistic fashion. Which is what brought me to this question in the first place. For instance, interviewing somebody about their love of comic books… then going to the comic book store to grab some b-roll of them looking through comics. Sure they weren’t GOING to go that day, or don’t normally look at those comics. But it tells the real story of what they do. Just by way of set up shots…
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