Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Crafting of the Documentary Narrative

Franklin20's picture

                                                       Crafting The Documentary Narrative


For my final web project, I wanted to explore the ways in which the notions of creation, critique, noise and information, which we have explored in GIST this semester, interact with documentary filmmaking. Particularly, I was interested in the way in which documentary filmmaking allows one to alter reality

An important part of filmmaking is story boarding – knowing what you want to say and how you want to say it. Very often, the original storyboard is the tool that the filmmakers will use as a guideline in the filming process.   Therefore, even before shooting footage of an event, the filmmaker has already crafted a narrative that he or she wants to convey through the film. As film comes to stand in for that which it captures, this pre-conceived story becomes a critical component in the alteration of reality. Once an intended story has become constructed, the filmmaker (and by extension the viewer) now has a lens through which the details of the event recorded can be considered information or noise. This value judgment has a profound effect on the ways in which an event is documented. For instance, if I was told to document a train ride, I could highlight my trip to the train station, the motion of the train from one point to the other, and then me getting off of the train. If that is my narrative, then actions such as planning my itinerary, buying a ticket, looking for a seat on the train, the time I spend sitting on train, eating, etc, (all things that happen very often a train ride) becomes irrelevant and have the potential to be left out of the way we document (and remember) the event.

But beyond the filming process, the editing process is one in which multiple narratives can also be developed. A good filmmaker shoots too much even if they deem the subject of their filming to be unimportant. If need be, this extra footage can be used as transitional footage or auxiliary footage in their narrative. However, in the process of filming too much, the filmmaker makes enough footage to craft multiple narratives. The filmmaker can choose to stick with the original storyboard or, using the material that the filmmaker has collected, he or she can form a completely new narrative.

One can craft multiple narratives from the same footage because the process of editing is essentially the process of reducing footage to something that is easy to consume by viewers. It is extremely difficult to convey the complexities of human interaction. Therefore, dynamic characterizations are reduced to a core static one. Humans become characters. This corresponds to notions of creation and critique. The way in which the film maker is able to make value judgments, deem certain stimuli as information or noise, and craft multiple narratives from one story is a form of critique. Yet, this critique ushers forth the creation of a document that is altered from the recorded reality.

In my project, I wanted to explore these complexities by making my own documentary style film. This differs from my previous film biography because the task in documentary filming is to document in object event. Before, in my film biographies, I was tasked to represent a subjective notion of myself. I was most interested in exploring documentary filming because documentaries are supposed to stand apart from subjectivity. About a week and a half ago, April 27, my friend Deanna went to go get her first tattoo and I was allowed to go along and document the process. Using the footage that I shot when I went to go with her, I made two videos. The first, Deanna’s Tattoo - version 1, is based off of my original storyboard. I wanted to highlight both her journey into the city and her excitement about getting her first tattoo. The second video, Deanna Tattoo – version 2, I made after looking over all of the footage, specifically examining the footage that did not fit into my original storyboard. In this video, I highlighted another mood present in Deanna’s trip, the nervousness she was trying to hide about getting her tattoo. Overall, my goal was to highlight the fact that I could take the same event in the editing process, craft two completely different narratives.