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Documentary Codes & Conventions

Richard Gent | Thursday January 25, 2018

Categories: GCSE, A Level, Analysis, Film Analysis, Genres & Case Studies, Documentary, New Spec, Theory

Below is a list of conventions applied to Documentary film making – it must be remembered that not all conventions apply to all film texts:

  • Hand held Camera -  encoding realism and ‘truth’
  • Narrative Voice Over -  leading the audience into a preferred reading
  • Vox Pops and Interviews with experts / witnesses / participants
  • Often a shorter running time than non-fiction feature films
  • Intercutting / Parallel Editing linking key scenes
  • Use of Archive footage to support filmed scenes
  • Surveillance (information) decoded by audience (e.g. about McDonalds in Supersize Me)
  • Mediated culture – documentaries select and construct, thus encoding opinion and subjectivity
  • Selective editing crucial to constructing meaning
  • Often point of view with encoded ideology, preferred meaning
  • Use of Establishing Shot and Close Up
  • Observational, Interactive, Reflexive, Expository in format
  • 3 act structure, closed investigative narrative
  • Often single stranded, linear – one subject is often the topic
  • Exploration of narrative themes, messages and values
  • Different purposes – to entertain, inform, educate, satirise, shock, satisfy, provide voyeuristic pleasure and for propaganda purposes (see Triumph of the Wild and Crown Film Unit documentaries – Fires Were Started, Britain Can Take It)
  • Characters are often hyper real, exaggerated stereotypes e.g. Charlton Heston and Michael Moore himself in Bowling for Columbine
  • Audience cultural capital needed to deconstruct some of the narrative content – more niche target audiences
  • Active and passive consumption
  • Mainly niche but sometimes mass audiences, dependent on distribution
  • Hegemonic and Pluralistic representations

Technical & Symbolic Codes and Conventions

Lighting

  • Low key lighting – social realism / mood / tone / artistic reasons
  • High key lighting – moral, idealistic realism / encodes POV
  • Key and fill lighting – Documentary realism

Camera and The Shot

  • Close up / Extreme close up – emotions /...

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