CODES AND CONVENTIONS
of the documentary genre
The majority of the documentaries I studied were closed narrative and the question being investigated was answered by the end. Some documentaries however e.g. The secret life of a manic depressive left a lot of questions unanswered, making it open narrative. A lot of documentaries tend to be multi-stranded, exploring various topics and questions within the same theme or multiple themes.
In all of the documentaries I watched the camerawork followed a similar theme using a combination of typical shots such as long shot, close up, two shot, establishing shot etc. Establishing shots are generally used to display location and maintain the viewer's understanding of where and what is going on. Long shots tend to be used to show a person and their relationship with their surroundings then close ups and extreme close ups are sometimes used to close in on detail or an individual person. Two shots are commonly used in interviews to establish the relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee and show both of their expressions throughout. Two shots were used frequently in 'The secret life of a manic depressive' to highlight similarities and differences between the two sufferers of depression and magnify how the illness can manifest itself differently. 'Supersize me' opted to just use a mid shot of the interviewee with the interviewer out of shot which shows how their views are unbiased and all their own. Establishing shots do not differ in style or purpose throughout all the documentaries I analysed.
In all the documentaries I watched the components of the documentary have been applied to suit the themes of the documentary well - the more lighthearted documentaries like Dogs decoded and Supersize me using more complex and interesting editing techniques and graphics and Sound and Vision and The secret life of a manic depressive using basic editing and sound so as not to draw any attention away from the more serious themes.
A key component in all of the documentaries was using a scientific or medical location e.g. a hospital or lab. This reinforces the scientific and professional nature of the documentaries and expresses to the audience that the research conducted in all of the documentaries is formal and valid. Locations shown in interviews was a key aspect of the mise-en-scene and varies in different documentaries with the interviews in 'Supersize me' being conducted on the street with randomly selected passers by and the interviews in 'Sound and vision' being done against a blank background with carefully picked celebrities and friends of David Bowie. These are both significant in conveying the right message and sticking to the themes of the documentaries with supersize me focusing on the general public and their relationship with food whereas sound and vision focuses solely on David Bowie's life. The difference in lighting was most comparable in 'The secret life of a manic depressive' and 'Dogs decoded' with the latter using more bright and pure light to anchor the more positive and lighthearted theme; the secret life of a manic depressive tended to use natural light which was often duller and more overcast to highlight the realness of the documentary topic and not sugarcoat the severity it can have on people's lives.
Non diegetic sound is used to similar effect throughout all the documentaries I studied, using a voiceover as a narrator to provide audio explanation of what is going on. The differences were within who the voiceover was - in Supersize me and The secret life of a manic depressive the narrator is the main individual shown in the documentary and a relationship of trust and understanding is built between them and the audience. Alternatively in Dogs decoded and Sound and vision anonymous narrators are used who are never introduced on camera which keeps them as an unbiased voice of authority whose purpose is simply to inform. Other non diegetic sound is mostly being incorporated through a soundtrack e.g. sad music is conveniently played over sad or more serious scenes in The secret life of a manic depressive and more fun, uplifting music is played over footage of dogs playing in Dogs decoded. In sound and vision, David Bowie's music is often faded from non diegetic into diegetic by playing a song before showing footage of a live version of it.
Other diegetic sound is typically dialogue or everyday sounds from scenes of the documentary which add a sense of verisimilitude e.g. sounds of traffic, sounds of people eating...
Editing is kept low key in the documentaries I looked at and complex editing techniques were rare. This is most likely to keep the focus on the themes of the documentary instead of on the way it is presented. Common editing techniques were continuity editing to keep all footage appearing chronological like a journey and fades to keep a flow between scenes in different locations.
Archival footage is obtained from a film library or archive and inserted into a documentary to add detail or show historical events without the need for additional filming. Archive footage was used in all of the documentaries I analysed, making it a key convention of the documentary genre. A lot of archive footage is used in Sound and vision to support all of the information and stories given about David Bowie; whereas in Dogs decoded it is used to show old footage of how dogs would have been in the wild if they were not domesticated. All archive material is suited to the key themes of the documentary.
With the exception of 'Supersize me' there was minimal use of graphics in all of the documentaries I analysed. In supersize me, graphics were used in the form of maps and animations which act as scaremongering and negative propaganda towards fast food chains in America. In the other documentaries I watched, the only use of graphics was in location names or people's name and title which ran through all the documentaries I studied. This adds to the professionalism of the documentary and highlights the reliability of the expert opinions - the fonts used are bold and easy to read which again ensures that the audience know who is speaking and their relevance to the topic. A clear convention in terms of graphics is using them to introduce people or places.