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Central to a documentary is the focus on andquestions, actual people and events, often in a socialcontext, placing the audience in a position to form anopinion about who or what we are seeing.The term documentary was coined by John Grierson in1926.The purpose of a documentary is to document somethingthat has actually happened. It can be shown using actualfootage or reconstruction. It can use a voice over(narrator) to anchor the meaning or rely on theparticipants themselves with perhaps an occasionalinterjection by the narrator.
FeaturesAccording to John corner of the University of Liverpool there are fivecentral elements of a documentary, these are:Observation (Fly on the wall)•The programme makers are observing the action•The camera is ignored by the people taking part – unseen observationputs the audience in the role of witnesses•There is indirect address to the audienceInterviewCan be used to make a contrast with the observation sequences. Theinterviewer is either seen or unseen. The interviewee addresses theinterview, not the audience. Pictures can be dubbed over the speaker’sreplies, in support of what has been said. Interviews can be constructed intwo ways:•Run fully•Segments of interview, with cuts
DramatisationAlthough documentaries use a sense ofdrama, this feature is specifically used toportray people and events the film makercould not gain access to. These sequencesare based on fact.Mise-en-sceneWhat the director or producers put into theframe, for example, props or clothingExpositionThe line of argument in a documentary
Types of DocumentaryFully NarratedDirect address, use of an off screen voice over to convey the exposition. The voice over helps make sense of the visuals and dominates their meaning. The narrator gives authority about the topic. Critics called it the “Voice of God”.Fly on the wallRely on the observation. No commentary or narration. The cameras are left to record subjects without interference viewers come to their own conclusions.MixedUses combinations of interview, observation and narration to advance the argument. Narration is often in the frame.Self reflexiveThe subjects of a documentary acknowledge the presence of the camera and speak directly to the film maker. This style makes a point of drawing attention to the film makers role in constructing a view of reality.DocudramaA reenactment of events as they are supposed to have happened. In the this style the elements of argument and exposition are combined with those of fictional narrative, the resulting story is based on fact.
DocusoapsA phenomenon of recent years which follows the daily lives of individuals with a designated job.Current AffairsThese are different from documentaries, they are journalist based, they aim to address news in more depth. For example, Panorama. The differences are:• Include the pressure of deadlines• They have to be up to dateStructureRelies heavily on traditional conventions of narratives. In other words, there is a beginning, middle and end. Strong focus on character and conflict. Other conventions of narrative forms are also used including music, special settings and lighting.BeginningThe central question is posed. Alternatively the most dramatic piece of action footage, or some quick interview cuts in conflict with each other can get audience attention.
MiddleKnown as complication stage, often examines the issue in human terms, with a focus on people and opinions. Conflict is strengthened to provide blockages for the fulfillment of the exposition. All complications must support the exposition.EndMakes exposition fully apparent by the resolution stage, the audience has no doubt what the programme is saying.ConflictCan be between people with different beliefs, goals, circumstances or ambitions. It can be within an indiviual, surroundings, generations or social classes.*conflict must be shown in action. Usually some kind of confrontation, for the camera. Often it develops through stages.
Sense of MovementAdd strengths to the narrative of the documentary, there are three types:• Physical e.g.. Change of location• Movement in time e.g. change in season• Psychological changes e.g. ex prison adjusting to outside worldMusic and sound effectsSound is effective in producing a emotional response.LightingTo achieve realism and authenticity you must ensure good lighting is used. Poor lighting gives it ways.Construction of realityWhen you watch a documentary you need to ask not just what they are showing but also question what they are not showing you. This could be due to bias or preference along with the selection and rejection of information ‘gate keeping’.VisualsWhat we see in the screen included with achieve footage stock materials are used to support the intended meaning.
Narrative StructureOpen- Audience left to make up their own mindClosed - Definite ending and outcomeSingle strand- Only one main plot throughoutMultistrand -More than one main plot, they can cross overLinear- In chronological orderNon linear- Is not in an orderCircular- Question at the start is revisited at the end. Circular can tie in with open.Voxpops -Short for the ‘Voice of the People’, consists of street interview of public, each person asked the same questions, the answers are strung together in fast sequence. These are good for suggesting either a general argument or opposition.