Whether you’re a documentarian, writer, photographer, videographer, journalist or whatever else you could be, looking at the works of others in your field is essential in developing your style, creativity and overall vision for your work.
Although, I’ve watched a lot of documentaries in my day, now that I’m actually working on my own, it’s completely different. I have a more specific idea of the questions I’m trying to answer and details I’m looking for.
As I’m coming down to my last couple of interviews, I’m trying to figure out how everything is going to be pieced together, which has a lot to do with narration.
A lot of documentaries go from a personal perspective or participatory. The latest example I’ve watched was GMO OMG. It started with a guy talking about his son and how he learned to read and write from seed packages. He takes an active role in documentary, investigating how GMO seeds affect seed diversity, loss of seed diversity and corresponding laboratory assisted genetic alteration of food affects his young children, the health of our planet and lack of awareness and knowledge about the subject, which limits our choice and the ability to Opt-out. He documents his journey and even includes his family. He was also overly dramatic and that turned me off of some of the points he was making.
Although I’m interested in the arguments for and against GMOs, this film got a lot of negative reviews for lack of focus on the actual science. I was mainly looking for the way they put everything together. He went with a more involved narration where he and his family were part of the story. I think it does have positive aspects and it’s important for people to be connected with the documenter, but the idea of being personally involved in my story doesn’t interest me.
A couple of days later I watched Fed Up with Katie Couric as the narrator. Fed Up talked about the role sugar plays in childhood obesity. As a news anchor, she brought more of a broadcasted type feel, where she opened up with a simple statement about how this simple story turned out to be something much bigger and she ended the documentary with a similar statement. This technique is actually called narration, or expository, but the rest was a narration with her not being personally involved other than the idea that she was doing a story about it. She did a voice over and connected the points, but she had three kids, who gave that personal feel to the story line. I think it did a good job of combining many different parts of the conversation without being all over the place. The reviews are much better, so I can watch this looking for answers to more than one question. There were still critics that complained about the science, but it’s impossible to have every angle covered when there a huge list of people, who refuse to be interviewed. Overall I think she did a good job of presenting the information without being overly dramatic.
After writing all this I found this video from Martin Scorsese that talks about documentary vs. a narrative. It has some interesting thoughts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJtBd0VdImw&feature=youtu.be There is a difference between recording a documentary and interpreting a narrative.