Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why I Prefer Narrative to Documentary

Documentary is a wonderful medium that freely offers what many narrative filmmakers tire endlessly to achieve, namely the ability to convince the audience of the film's reality. The more Joe Moviegoer is convinced of the reality the filmmaker has crafted, the more likely he is to emotionally invest himself in it. Documentary implies that from frame 1, what he is seeing is real, and exists in the same world he does. With narrative, it is much more difficult (if not impossible) to reach this level.

But certain techniques and production styles that narrative filmmaking allows (and that I personally employ) are usually looked down upon in documentary as distortions of reality. These techniques-- thin depth of field, dramatic music, heavy color grading, etc.-- are not distortions; rather, they accentuate and bring the film's reality closer to how we perceive our own. When you remember a particularly emotional or traumatic event, you don't remember how it "actually" happened, but rather you recall certain elements that your mind chooses to isolate. The freedom that narrative gives us, both in production and post, to "accentuate" in this manner can be used to bring Mr. Moviegoer into that "real" headspace we yearn for.

I believe good film works on an un/subconscious level just as much (if not more) than on a conscious one. Documentary rarely allows for this type of manipulation to the extent of narrative, and it's for this reason if nothing else that I prefer the latter.

1 comment:


    This applies to story structure as well. If a filmmaker is trying to express specific ideas, it's far easier to do so by writing a new plot element or character into the script than hoping something comparable will happen of the course of the shoot, and trying to make it work in the editing room.