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Simran Hussain

Codes and Conventions of A Documentary


What is a documentary?
A documentary explores factual subjects in the world. It could be about a specific topic,
question or event. In relation to our production, since it is a social context the audience are
placed in a position to form an opinion about who or what we are seeing.
Documentaries can be recognised through their unique format of presentation which is
hugely diverse from the films. They have a main purpose; this is to present fact-based
information to its audience. Another factor that helps identify a documentary is the on-screen
labels that are used to inform the audience (usually) about an individuals name and
occupation/role or the name of place. The effect this has is that it allows the audience to
believe that the information is accurate.
A documentarys main necessities are a camera person and sound person. This is because
while the camera person is recording, there is not always time to go back and check the
sound is rightly recorded because with documentaries, especially while filming occurring
events, everything must be right the first time it is filmed, there is no going back once it has
been done. Therefore, a sound person is also required to be present in order to ensure this.
There are a number of ways to present the factual information, three of which are:
1. Compilation film the documentary would be made up of an archive of footage e.g.
historical documentaries.
2. Interview Which is where people talk about their personal values on a specific
topic, in our case, online dating.
3. Direct cinema were events are recorded as they happen
Narrative structure:

Much like films Documentaries, must have a structure in order to tell a story about a
certain event or matter. These can be done through a variety of different ways:
- Voice-overs
- observations
- Interviews
- Music
- Footage, of course
- Planned events
- Or improvised events
Nowadays, documentaries take a more observational route, rather than planned, this
keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.

Conventions
Actuality Footage this is footage of a real event that does not involve any actors.
Voiceover Unseen commentator who explains or tells a story during the documentary, as
an audience we are encouraged to believe what they say and claim it as the truth.
Narrativisation to communicate (events or experiences) in narrative form, in order to
better understand them
Interview This allows people being filmed to speak directly about events prompted by
specific questions. Interviews in a documentary give viewers a sense of realism.
Interviewees generally answer questions looking at the interviewer, this is done to gain
emotion, and it is proven that a person will give far more emotion looking into the eye of
someone rather than a camera.

Simran Hussain

Codes and Conventions of A Documentary


Text The insert of information, dates, time etc. New programmers commonly use this to
their advantage; its a quick way of conveying and reiterating information or can be used to
give further information that may not have been previously presented.
Sound This is used to give off a certain effect, for example in Supersize Me they use
childish music to undermine and degrade McDonalds as a business.
Dramatization This is the reconstruction of an event played by actors, which is used to
give the audience a further insight into the real event that occurred.
Realism Documentaries may achieve this through: archive footage, interviews, and
location shooting and following the action.