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Old April 2nd, 2009, 04:11 PM   #46
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Mike - Your definition of the 'fail' is absolutely accurate - for your definition of 'truth'.

Which is the point. The actual definition of the word, SAYS that the truth is subjective. Simply using the word as some sort of metric - proves that the 'truth' is what is true to both the FILMMAKER and the audience.

I've seen a number of documentaries that seemed 'true' to the audience - but it seemed false to me because they didn't cover a particular aspect deeply enough, or long enough, or 'glossed over' some point that I thought was very very important to the subject.

The word 'verisimilitude' - simply implies that the film is emparting a telling of 'truth' in its statement. NOT that it "IS" truth...

There are facts. And then there are INTERPRETATIONS of facts. This is the fundamental struggle of any documentary filmmaker.

Every. Single. Decision. We. Make. Is. Subjective.

Period.
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Old April 2nd, 2009, 05:34 PM   #47
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Doug Bennett View Post
here is the defininiton from Webster's College Dictionary 4th edition:

1. the appearance of being true or real
2. something having the mere appearance of being true or real

Vasco -the adjective you are looking for is verisimilar.
Yes, Doug, of course.
"Vero" in Italian means true, and "simile" means similar -
and Italian being my mother tongue, the meaning of "verosimile" (verisimilar)
is pretty obvious to me.
What I fail to understand is your statement that
(quote) "in documentaries it would be a backhanded compliment, hinting at deception of some sort."
Thanks for pointing out the adjective.

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Old April 2nd, 2009, 05:51 PM   #48
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Very interesting discussion.

Perhaps the problem is not with any of the concepts of truth, or truth as seen in the view of the observer, but rather with the way films are currently labelled. In films, the word documentary has come to imply that the film depicts a strong measure of objective truth.

This is not necessarily the case with books. One does not find books in a library labelled 'documentary'. They are labelled with words such as 'fiction' and 'non-fiction'. Note that the word is non-fiction, not 'truth'. Within non-fiction works the labels are words such as history, environment, current affairs, biography, etc. All of these types of books present their information with a slant, and often a very strong slant. Readers know this and judge the book and its interpretation of the information based on their own logic and knowledge.

I wonder what would happen to film-making if the documentary shelf disappeared and was replaced by a section called non-fiction within which were many shelves with names similar to books. Would it allow a more innovative complexity of films to be made without any sense of guilt associated with "taking liberties" to make your points? Would viewers, like readers feel more at liberty to engage the film in a personal dialogue, just as one might with a good book?

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Old April 2nd, 2009, 06:08 PM   #49
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I should have noted that my interest in this was because I am making a film about two real caterpillars fighting over a leaf. I will add music, voice-over and foley sounds for eating and when the caterpillars bashed each other. For fun in the VO I named the caterpillars "Slim" and "Curley". The events are all absolutely real with no visual trickery. I edited out long sequences where there was no action, but there are minute-long battles.

So I asked myself -- what kind of a film is this anyway? The added audio makes it engaging and easy to learn about the complexity of nature, but the audio is fake, and there was no background music, my VO is my interpretation of what is going on.

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Old April 2nd, 2009, 06:26 PM   #50
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Originally Posted by Alan Emery View Post
So I asked myself -- what kind of a film is this anyway? The added audio makes it engaging and easy to learn about the complexity of nature, but the audio is fake, and there was no background music, my VO is my interpretation of what is going on.

Reminds me of a lot of some African wildlife films I've seen in the past where a narrator tells the "story" of a lioness (named something that sounds African) and her cubs (also named).

It's an interesting narrative form. Is it a doc? I don't really know...
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Old April 2nd, 2009, 07:04 PM   #51
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Alan,

Well, to a certain extent - the word 'documentary' in film-making simply means 'non-fiction narrative' in marketing terms. Though I get your point. It can become confusing when you have to create 'fictional narrative' sections to fill-in for footage that doesn't/can't exist - for instance recreating a discussion that took place centuries ago. "Docu-drama" is another term that merges/blurs that distinction, and is becomming more and more popular.

Your 'wildlife film' or 'nature film' is a sub-genre of 'Documentary'. To be more specific - its also a 'short'. But yes it is a Documentary film. And puts me in mind of the early Disney 'Nature films' where a narrator told the story of a rascally - (insert cute animal) as it followed him during the course of a year or so.
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Old April 2nd, 2009, 07:34 PM   #52
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Appearance vs Reality. The two are presented more often than not, as opposites. If you say "It looks real" the implication is that it may be fake.

But does it matter? Not often perhaps, but sometimes it does. A convicted cop-killer was released from prison after 15 years on death row because of Errol Morris' "Thin Blue Line". Watch the re-enactments Morris used - they were highly stylized, no-one could possibly mistake them for documentary footage of the actual events. And because they could not be mistaken for something they were not - those re-enactements claimed more authenticity, a greater veritas (transcendent truth).

Shaun are you implying that the lions in those films don't use their real names?
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Old April 2nd, 2009, 08:59 PM   #53
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I like the way Pablo Picasso phrased it.

"Art is the lie that makes us realize truth"
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Old April 3rd, 2009, 09:03 AM   #54
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Magritte, late '20s:
the painting depicts a pipe; at the bottom there's a line
of text that reads: "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" (this is not a pipe).
Magritte asked: can you stuff my pipe?
Obviously not.
Image (or depiction) of reality vs. reality itself: old story, I guess...

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Old April 3rd, 2009, 10:08 AM   #55
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Originally Posted by Peter Ralph View Post
Shaun are you implying that the lions in those films don't use their real names?
Well, perhaps their traditional African Lion names are being Anglicized, much as the Portuguese "Joao" becomes "John" in Canada...
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Old April 6th, 2009, 01:14 PM   #56
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Great discussion everyone!

I was still uneasy about the word "documentary" and its relationship to "truth", so I posed the question to one of my cousins who wrote her thesis on the topic of documentary film-making, and currently is the program director for a film festival. Her reactions are interesting:

"Hey Alan -- I think your film sounds fascinating and I think it is definitely a documentary short. ALL documentaries are hugely edited and made to tell the story the filmmaker thinks should be told! For instance, we had a documentary short last year called "Safari" and it was an elaborate set up of bugs running around in a terrarium (of a sort) in the filmmaker's apt. Our description of the film was ... "When a New York City cockroach returns to the "wild" (it's actually an elaborate rainforest constructed in the director's studio) we witness its stuggles and interactions with the environment's other inhabitants."
So, it sounds similar to your film. I could go into a long history of documentary film but from the very beginnings it was altered to suit the filmmaker so no documentary is completely truthful but more often they simply aim to show reality. So, I think what you made is definitely a documentary.
Anyways, hope that helps!"

So an expert is not so concerned about accuracy, but instead mostly about intent.

Perhaps the issue remaining is how to let the viewer know what the intent of the film is before they see it so that there is no misunderstanding about the degree of accuracy and the degree of interpretation that the documentary film maker intends to portray.
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Old April 6th, 2009, 02:33 PM   #57
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alan Emery View Post
So an expert is not so concerned about accuracy, but instead mostly about intent.
Accuracy is still important, but there is a point where one can get too obsessive.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Alan Emery View Post
Perhaps the issue remaining is how to let the viewer know what the intent of the film is before they see it so that there is no misunderstanding about the degree of accuracy and the degree of interpretation that the documentary film maker intends to portray.
I think you're worrying a bit too much about this. You are obviously concerned about making an honest film. Trust your own moral compass; go forth and make your doc! :-)

your friend mentioned something about how the first docs were "altered to suit the filmmaker" which is true. In Nanook of the North the filmmaker had the Inuit he was filming use hunting tools that were previously used by the Inuit people instead of the modern hunting tools (eg. rifles) that had already been adopted and that the specific Inuit hunter was accostomed to using in his normal life.
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Old April 10th, 2009, 02:08 AM   #58
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Thank you !

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Originally Posted by Michael Nistler View Post
Hmm, I can see all the pundits are going to weigh-in on this one so count me in to join the fun!

If I'm doing an audio-only interview, I'll profess to be heavy handed in the editing process. I'll cut out the "ah's", stammers, excessive pauses, suppress extraneous noise, enhance the audio with special mics, adjust the level with compression and equalization, and more. If the interviewee makes an obvious error (as using the wrong name, bumped mic, etc), I'll even cut-and-paste the correct word. And I get even worse! When the subject jumps all over the place, sometimes I'll have to cut-and-paste a series of sentences to another part of the interview in order to keep continuity.

Bingo, to me it's all about continuity. So as long as I'm maintaining integrity of the subject's message, I'll freely make cuts where I'm sure our more conservative folks would avoid. But then again, long before I start the interview I fully disclose my methods and obtain the interviewee's concurrence - IN WRITING. I also remind them of this at the start of the interview, recording this fact along with their acceptance. Actually, my subjects are much more relaxed with this arrangement, knowing I'll be editing the audio to make him/her come across in the best light. In fact, I advise them they can always give me editing commands during the inteview, such as:

- "Strike that"

- "Let's redo that, I want to answer it differently"

- "That's ambiguous, please reword the question"

And if that's not disturbing enough to some of you, I advise my interviewees they can belatedly have their interview edited. So if I'm still in the editing process, with cause I permit them to belatedly strike portions of their interview.

So for better or worse, I'm far from doing "raw" interviews. For instance, on my last director's commentary the audio track needed lots of tweaking - even for my standards. Off-color remarks about the actors were whacked out. Retorts that would psychologically diminish the quality and value of the video (after his second glass of wine) were similarly excised. And tons of dead space were whittled out to improve the pacing of his dialog. Again, my bottom line is continuity, as long as the integrity (IMHO) of the interview remains intact.

Okay, flame on...

Warm Regards, Michael
Thank you Michael, I absolutely agree with you. Especially with interviewed persons I feel I have a responsibility and part of that is to not abuse them, even though they sometimes make it impossible to avoid looking dumb, stupid, arrogant or whatever...its the context!!
I agree, the word documentary has been stretched and we now have mockumentaries and some people think Borat is a doc. film, but the original question about the audio to me only shows that there seems to be no clearly defined sub categories to label the types of film. I would call it a "nature film" and give you permission to do all the audio fx and tweaks you like and need, to bring your story across.
ciao
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Old April 10th, 2009, 05:41 AM   #59
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Originally Posted by Matt Buys View Post
But where is the line between capturing the truth as it is recorded and misrepresenting reality?
Somewhere this side of Michael Moore
Quote:
Is adding extra noise to a bike crash in a documentary morally questionable?
Is the sound recorded by your equipment then played back by the theater equipment real or altered reality anyway ....
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Old April 23rd, 2009, 12:32 AM   #60
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Originally Posted by Hanno di Rosa View Post
Thank you Michael, I absolutely agree with you. Especially with interviewed persons I feel I have a responsibility and part of that is to not abuse them, even though they sometimes make it impossible to avoid looking dumb, stupid, arrogant or whatever...its the context!!
I agree, the word documentary has been stretched and we now have mockumentaries and some people think Borat is a doc. film, but the original question about the audio to me only shows that there seems to be no clearly defined sub categories to label the types of film. I would call it a "nature film" and give you permission to do all the audio fx and tweaks you like and need, to bring your story across.
ciao
Hanno
Howdy Hanno,

Yes, as I initially mentioned on this post, I've seen top docs like History/Discovery Channel overlay sound effects to create a mood with "possible" animal sounds. To be sure, no microphone is going to capture a baby polar bear whimpering in high winds when the cameraman is maybe 1,000+ feet from the subject! And I'd simply love to see the audio engineer wire the baby polar bear with mom nearby - now THAT would make a great doc!

Getting back to interviews, I've done audiocasts (podcasts) where a senior SME (Subject Matter Expert) has long pauses and regularly stammers. When I'm through with the edits, the subject sounds clear, crisp, consise - they way they did in their prime. So, is that ethical? IMHO, it depends on the context. If the interview was for a job candidate, someone seeking political appointment with regulary public speaking, etc, then I'd say doing so would be a no-no. Prez George Bush #43 would be a good example - it would be a distortion to miscovey his speaking acumen (or shortcomings). OTOH, if I'm interviewing a SME that's something like a book author, then I'll certainly clean-up the flubs since his speaking skills are not relevant to his core competency. However, if he/she might be going out on a speaking circuit, then I'd better carefully consider toning down the edits. Incidentally, another editing factor would be the genre and the news source. So audiences generally have come to expect a different shade of "truth" in a documentary from Michael Moore than one from Ken Burns.

In summary, editors worth their salt always ride a slippery slope with varying shades of verisimilitude. But as all of us Stephen Colbert fans know, it's all about truthiness... (Truthiness - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)


Happy Trails, Michael
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