Alieen – The Life and Death of a Serial Killer is a participatory documentary that follows Alieen (a convicted serial killer) whilst she waits for her death sentence the be carried out. This documentary includes a lot of montages. A montage is a series of clips/images that are edited together to create a narrative or to inform the audience. Montages in documentaries are usually linked with words that the narrator/characters say, this is to give the audience a clearer a better understanding of what they are saying. For example, in this documentary, at the beginning the filmmaker is talking in a voice over and is stating facts about Alieen and why she is awaiting the electric chair and why she is in prison, whilst he is talking there is a montage of the crime scenes, pictures of Alieen’s mug shot, newspaper articles, videos of the victims families and other things relating to Alieen and her crimes. This has been included so the audience can get a sense of realism and to grip them in to the storyline by showing the real life pictures of the crimes scenes and other things like that. By showing these clips and images, it gives the audience reason to carry on watching the film because they are now interested in the reasoning behind her killing all these ‘innocent’ men and by showing the audience images of the dead victims and newspaper clippings, it makes them understand that this is a life real case and that 7 men were actually killed.
The Performative Mode
Supersize me is a documentary that follows Morgan Spurlock (the filmmaker) on a mission to show the world what McDonalds food can do to your health. During this documentary, Morgan eats nothing but McDonalds 3 meals a day for 30 days straight. The film follows him as his body and health changes, the emotional and physical pain he goes through and the medial effects of what McDonalds food can do to you. This documentary is in The Performative Mode. The Performative Mode is a type of documentary that welcomes direct engagement between the filmmaker and the film subject. The filmmaker becomes involved in the events being recorded prehaps participating in something he or she wants to prove. Supersize me fits this mode perfectly. For example, Morgan wants to prove to the audience how bad the effects can be from excessively eating McDonalds food like many Americans already do. To achieve this result, he carries out the experiment himself
and he is very direct the audience about his opinions. By the filmmaker himself carrying out the experiment, it makes the audience a lot more interested in what is happening as he is just an ordinary man who is willing to put himself through this just to prove how bad McDonalds is for you. This is appealing to an audience and will attract them to the documentary as it is easy to relate to him because he isn’t a doctor or a professional telling you its bad, its a normal man who becomes genuinely ill by carrying out this experiment and this could scare viewers and open a lot of people eyes to the effects of McDonalds which is why the participatory mode is very effective in this documentary.
The Reflexive Mode
Catfish (The TV Show) is a reality-based television docu-series that uncovers the truths about online dating. Each episode they will help somebody who has reached out to them via email, the person they are helping will be in an online relationship but will be unsure the person they are talking to is the person they really are. The process is Max and Neev (the two presenters/filmmakers) doing research on the person of interest and digging up the truth and uncovering if they are ‘real’ or a ‘catfish’. This docu-series is made in The Reflexive Mode. The Reflexive Mode is where they acknowledge the constructed nature of documentary and ‘flaunts it’. This mode will convey to people that it is not necessarily truth but a reconstruction of a truth, the audience are aware of editing and blatant dramatisation. Catfish fits perfectly into the reflexive mode. For example, in all of the episodes, at the end/near end of the show there is a meet up between the two people who are in an online relationship and the truth is uncovered as to whether they are a catfish or not, and this scene is always very dramatised. The audience are aware of this dramatisation and the fact that parts/all of the conversation is scripted/fixed even though it is filmed to make it look like they are real life natural events. This is very entertaining to the audience because even though a lot of this scene will be scripted, it is filmed with a hand help camera which makes it look real and there are entertaining events that happen that seem natural even though they aren’t.
Fly on the wall/Reality TV/The Observational Mode
Celebrity Big brother is a reality tv show in witch a group of celebrities, also known as housemates, are put into a custom built house where they are isolated from the outside world for an extended period of time. There are cameras in every corner in the house and they are being filmed 24/7 for the public to see. Each week, one of the housemates is evicted by a public vote, with the last housemate remaining winning the title. Reality television is a genre of television programming that documents ostensibly unscripted real-life situations. They are designed to be entertaining rather than informative so in a lot of reality shows, there will be things planted in their lives to create an entertaining reaction. Reality TV has become extremely popular over the past 10 years and there are hundreds of reality TV shows surrounding famous people, for example, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, What Katie Did Next, Celebrity Wife Swap and many many more. Reality television shows aren’t just on famous people, there are hundreds that are based on every day people and usually the popularity of the show itself will turn these ordinary people into celebrities. Celebrity Big Brother is a perfect example of reality television, people are being continuously filmed and they are always being put in situations that will gain an entertaining reaction which is appealing to its audience. In Big Brother, the creators will purposely choose curtain people who they think will spark controversy/arguments/entertainment, they do this because reality tv shows like Big Brother, its audience are looking to be constantly entertained and by putting people in the house who will start things like arguments or romance is perfect for its audience. Celebrity Big Brother is filmed in The Observational Mode. The Observational Mode is a type of Documentary that shows an objective view of reality with the filmmaker as a neutral observer, the filmmaker is behind the camera and is ignored by the surrounding environment. In Big Brother, the filmmaker is never shown, the only thing shown is the housemates and the events that happen between them, the entertainment comes from watching celebrities interacting with each other without an interviewer/presenter getting in the way and influencing the events, this is why Big Brother is the observational mode. Similar to observational, Big Brother also uses the documentary style, fly-on-the-wall. Fly-on-the-wall is a style of documentary making, the name came from from the idea that events are seen candidly, as a fly on a wall might see them. In the purest form of fly-on-the-wall documentary-making, the camera crew works as unobtrusively as possible. Fly-on-the-wall documentaries are made by filming people as they do the things they normally do, rather than by interviewing them or asking them to talk directly to the camera. Big Brother is a perfect example of fly-on-the-wall filmmaking, for example the cameras are hidden behind mirrors and they are in every corner of the house so the housemates are never off camera, this is so the filmmakers can be sure that no action will be missed. The way the audience see the events taking place is literally like they are a fly on the wall, this makes the audience know that what they are watching is unscripted and natural as they know that the housemates aren’t aware of where the cameras are so it is hard for them to hide away which is appealing to an audience that likes reality television.
Narration/The Poetic Mode
Frozen Planet is a BBC 7 part Docu-Series that focuses on life and the environment in both the Arctic and Antarctic. The Docu-Series is narrated by Sir David Attenborough. Narration is a voice over that is used to deliver a commentary to accompany the scenes that are taking place. For example, in Frozen Planet, David Attenborough will speak the entire show but you will never see his face. He will speak about what is taking place on screen as you watch, also, when he talks about the animal that is being focused on in Frozen Planet, he will give you detailed descriptions about them as a species and their place on the food chain. Narration is essential in Frozen Planet and works very well, the audience become much more interested in watching these animals in their natural habitat when their is somebody narrating and will talk in a way that will grip their attention, without this narration the audience will have no interest as all they are watching is animals doing their own thing, adding a narrator makes things much more interesting. Another example of how narration effects this show in a great way is when we are watching a fight/a hunt between animals, David Attenborough will talk in an excited manner and will make the scene much more fast-pace and interesting, atmospheric music also helps create a tense scene.
This Documentary is in poetic mode. The Poetic Mode is a mode of documentary where there isn’t a typical narrative structure, the focus is more on creating an artistic piece of film rather than telling a story. In poetic documentary filmmaking, particular moods/tone are created usually by the use of music (in this case, narration and music go perfectly together to create tense moods during fight scenes) Frozen Planet is a very aesthetically pleasing documentary, there are constant shots of animals swimming past the camera very peacefully and beautifully, to create a calm atmosphere the filmmakers will put peaceful music over the top of these shots and this will make the scenes seem very beautiful. Just like poetic documentaries, Frozen Planet doesn’t have a typical narrative structure, there isn’t a point they are trying to make, there isn’t a storyline they are following, instead they just observe and talk about what is happening and create it to look very artistic which is why this is a poetic docu-series.
The Imposter is a documentary that tells the story of Frederic Bourdin, a con artist who seemingly tricked a Texas family into believing he was a relative who disappeared years earlier. Although Bourdin had brown eyes and a French accent, he convinced the family he was their blue-eyed son, saying he had escaped from a child prostitution ring, he lived with the family for almost five months until 6 March 1998. The story is told by Frederic Bourdin himself. This documentary involves constant interviews with the missing son’s family and Frederic, it also frequently includes reconstructions/dramatisation played by actors recreating events that the interviewees are talking about. Reconstructions are dramatised scenes of an event which has been reconstructed and acted out on film based from information of the event. Reconstructions generally provide factual information, and give the viewer a sense of realism. They are used a lot during this documentary to allow to audience to be instantly engaged with the story as they can see the story in a filmic way rather than just hearing about it from the interviewees. The reenactments allow the documentary to be more exciting than a conventional documentary with just talking heads and a narrator, these scenes also help create a suspense throughout the film for the slowly unfolding mystery.
The Participatroy Mode/Expose/Presenter
Louis Theroux is famous documentary filmmaker, in 2003 he made a documentary called ‘Louis and the Nazis’ where he follows modern-day nazis/white supremacists in America. In Louis’ documentaries he usually picks a person/family to focus on and he will follow them around in their everyday lives and interview/talk to them about the subject of his documentary. Although Louis does voice his opinion in some ca
ses, he is a very neutral and un-bias presenter and leaves the audience to interpreted what they are seeing for themselves and to gain their own opinions. This type of documentary is Participatory Mode. The participatory mode is when the filmmaker is involved with the subject onscreen, not only is the filmmaker part of the film, we also get a sense of how situations in the film are affected or altered by their presence. Participatory documentaries are very engaging for audiences as they can get involved in the story and
engage with the filmmaker unlike a lot of documentaries where they are mostly just sat down interviews etc. By Louis Theroux getting involved in all aspects of the documentary, especially when talking to the subjects, the audience get a much more honest and real documentary, this is because he has conversations with them whilst he interviews them/asks them questions that they might not have expected and by doing this he gets a more honest genuine answer rather than normal interviews where the subject could have already come up with their answer. This happens a lot during Louis and the Nazis, at one point Louis says to a group of Nazis “what if i were Jewish?” and the Nazis got very angry as Louis wouldn’t answer to whether or not he was Jewish, it got to the point where the Nazis asked the camera crew to turn the cameras off which made a very scary atmosphere for the audience and Louis, this is entertaining to audiences because they know that they are watching real life confrontation that isn’t scripted in any way. During this documentary, the audience are exposed to a lot of content that they usually wouldn’t be, modern-day Nazis aren’t really heard of and people don’t know a lot about them so this documentary involves a lot of exposé. Exposé means to expose something that was covered up/not publicly known. The issues in this documentary aren’t exactly covered up but they are extremely shunned by this generation and they are a very small minority of people that nobody really knows much about so Louis and the Nazis is very much an exposé of modern nazis. For example, a part of this documentary that is particularly shocking is when Louis follows two 12 year old girls who are a singing group that sing songs around racism and white supremacy, they take Louis to a ‘Nazi/Skin Head Festival’. This documentary was aired on the BBC and Louis is English, for a British audience, watching how open and accepted extreme racism is within a certain community is very shocking as in Britain you would almost never hear of a white supremacists festival so to watch this being exposed is very new and shocking to its audience. Obviously as this documentary is a participatory mode, Louis is the presenter. A presenter is a person who introduces and appears in a television/documentary or radio programme. As Louis is the presenter and the filmmaker the audience engage with him a lot more than a documentary with no presenter in would because they have someone to lead to story and engage the audience into the subject they are making their film about.
Dallas Buyers Club is film set in 1985, it follows the story of an electrician called Ron Woodroof as he works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is diagnosed with the disease, the film also follows a transgender women (Jared Leto) and her journey along side Ron Woodroof. This is a true story that has been dramatised to become a film, which is what makes this film a docudrama. A Docudrama is a genre of film that turns real life events into a film. Docudramas are usually popular films because the filmmakers will make these docudramas based on what is happening in pop-culture. For example, the subject of transgender individuals and things such as HIV and AIDS are a very talked about subjects in recent times and aren’t as taboo as they used to be, so the filmmakers of Dallas Buyers
Club would have found an interesting true story based around these issues and made a film about them as they know people will be interested. Docudrama’s about famous people such as Steve Jobs (2015) are also very approachable to audiences as the filmmakers have picked a person people are interested in, such as Steve Jobs as Apple is a huge phenomenon in our generation and his death shocked many people, filmmakers would have taken people’s interest in him and made an actual feature film rather than a documentary, they would have done this because docudramas are much more approachable to a wider range of audiences as people see these types of films as just ‘normal films’ and a lot more people prefer ‘normal films’ to docmentaries which makes docudramas so approachable and popular.
Diaristic/Archive Footage/Cut Aways/Docu-Series
Netflix have recently released a new Docu-Series called Making a Murderer. A Doc-Series is a documentary in the form of episodes rather than a feature length film. Some filmmakers may choose to create a Docu-Series rather than a feature length documentary because they can add much more detail and more of the story in because they aren’t restricted to the normal feature film length of around 2 hours. By choosing a docu-series an audience can become much more invested and interested in the story because of the amount of detail and the fact that there is a
whole series rather than just a one off 2 hour film, is very appealing to an audience who is interested in the subject of the documentary as they get more out of it than a normal documentary. Making a murderer is a 10 part docu-series that follows a man’s story called Steven Avery. He was put in jail for 18 years in 1985 for a rape that he didn’t commit and after he was released because he was found innocent, he tried to sue the county for millions for wrongfully accusing him. A few years after his release he was put in jail again and was accused of a brutal murder. The documentary is a mix up between interviews with Steven’s family and friends about how the felt whilst the trail was happening and a huge amount of archive footage from when his trail went ahead in 2005. Archive footage is recorded material, such as film, that is kept by a television network or other media outlet to be broadcast when a subject relating to images in the material is discussed. For instance, almost all of the footage shown in making a murderer (apart from interviews) is archive footage as the documentary was made years after the trail went ahead. The archive footage includes film from the court room as it follows his trail. The documentary is Diaristic and archive footage is very important when making a diaristic documentary. Diaristic is when a documentary shows footage, evidence, happenings that happen over a specific period of time and making a murderer is a perfect example of this because the whole documentary is uncovering evidence and showing archive footage of his case and what happened over that period of time. The archive footage is used throughout the series because without it there wouldn’t be an interesting documentary, having just interviews with the family would be extremely boring and by including all the important bits from the court room, it really grips the audience in as we know we are watching a real life trail and it makes the series much more interesting as what we are watching is the real footage rather than recreation or just a narrator telling us what happened. To also keep the documentary aesthetically pleasing the film makers have included a lot of cutaways. A cutaway shot is usually an aesthetically pleasing or informative shot used to breakup a scene, perhaps an interview or a long narration within a documentary to keep the viewer interested and visually stimulated by what they are watching instead of perhaps a still interview containing maybe two shots in total. This is used a lot in Making a Murderer as there are huge amounts of interviews involved in the series, they use a lot of cutaway shots that show articles from news papers that are relevant to what the person being interviewed is saying, this makes the audience more interested and in what the person is talking about and it is also more informative.
Mockumentary/Interview/Hand Held Camera
A mockumentary is a type of film or television show in which fictional events are presented in documentary style to create a parody. The TV show “Parks and Recreation” is a comedy and politically satire mockumentary, it is set in Pawnee Indiana and is based around the counties Parks and Recreation department and the leader, Leslie Knope. This TV show is a perfect example of a mockumentary as the
characters in the show all have moments where they talk to the camera in an interview style as normal documentaries do, interviews are when the film maker/presenter will ask questions to the subject, sometimes you hear the questions being asked and sometimes you just hear the subject talking to the camera, they are used in the majority of documentaries and using them in mockumentaries are very important to get a sense of a real documentary. Even when they aren’t being interviewed they sometimes address the camera by giving the audience ‘a look’ and the camera will zoom in (these conventions are also used in the The Office, another mockumentary very similar to Parks) and this adds to the documentary feel as we know that they are aware that they are being filmed. When they aren’t being interviewed the way the show is filmed it is in the style of hand held camera. Hand held camera is a technique used a lot in documentaries for many reasons, convenience is one of them, another is to add realism to what is happening onscreen which makes the audience feel like they are watching real live events rather than a scripted performance. Although all of these conventions are used throughout the show to give the programme a documentary feel, the audience know that the characters are acting and it isn’t a real documentary as they are well known actors and everything is done in a comedic way unlike normal documentaries.