When Documentarians Go Bad

f-for-fakeBeen reading producer David L. Wolper’s autobiography, Producer, wherein the author details how his production company essentially invented the ?dramatic re-enactment? in their television documentaries of the 1950s. It’s interesting to consider that such scenes, now ubiquitous on cable and beyond, were once considered verboten by networks and journalists alike. I ‘ve appeared in similar reenactments for the History Channel’s Man, Moment and Machine ??my star turns included a Macedonian messenger who proved the exception to the ?Don’t kill the messenger? rule, as well as a Desert Storm-era Iraqi soldier in the precious seconds before obliteration. Admittedly, I’m a fan of the form.

In the short-list of docs I ‘ve produced, I might have preferred to shoot the entire project as a ?dramatic re-enactment if I had the option. On a gig about Napa’s erstwhile food, wine and art center, Copia, we had to re-shoot 30 percent of the footage because the joint had a habit I ‘ve laying-off the staff we had just interviewed. Eventually, the cable channel that hired us also went under. My dramatic re-enactment would depict the behind-the-scenes frustration (read: Lorne Greene classic death pose) experienced by my collaborator Raymond Scott Daigle whenever I mentioned the prospect of a re-shoot because another executive head had rolled. Our only salvo the copious amounts of wine with which we were plied. Of course, this interpretation would technically be a ?docudrama? (the fact that the term doesn’t raise the hackles of spell-check suggests the breadth of its acceptance).

This approach would permit us to sidestep the foibles of our colleagues as uncovered in a disturbing report recently published by the Center for Social Media at American University, titled ?Honest Truths: Documentary Filmmakers on Ethical Challenges in Their Work.?

In the report, Patricia Aufderheide, Peter Jaszi and Mridu Chandra reveal a film genre blighted by ethical issues (find me one that isn’t). From snapping bunny legs to aid a flailing predator’s on-camera kill to using photos purchased from a flea market in lieu of actual archival material. Both these examples are explored in an interview with Aufderheide by On the Media’s Bob Garfield:

?Filmmakers also face pressure to inflate drama or character conflict and to create drama where no natural drama exists,? reads a portion of the report. ?They may be encouraged to alter the story to pump up the excitement, the conflict, or the danger.?

They may also be encouraged to drink lots of wine, you know, because in vino veritas.

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One response to “When Documentarians Go Bad”

  1. <span class="topsy_trackback_comment"><span class="topsy_twitter_username"><span class="topsy_trackback_content">When documentarians go bad. http://lumaville.com/bad-docs/</span></spa

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