Article about “Why Documentaries Matter”: – Nick Fraser

Throughout my research into the different ways in which writers successfully appeal to an audience through their writing; such as their tone of voice and the different lexical techniques they use, I came across the following article  on The Guardian website called “Why Documentaries Matter” by Nick Fraser. Although it’s not an article specifically about one single documentary I like the style in which this article is written and the techniques used by Fraser. I think Fraser’s technique of quoting to back up his opinion is very effective. I especially like the way in which he quotes the dictionary. Fraser captures a informal tone of voice, although he uses a sophisticated lexis such as “scrupulously” he makes his article seem less formal by including abbreviations such as ‘docs’ and uses humour to appeal to his audience; he comments “I didn’t much like Ferguson’s leather jacket” – although this has no relation to the topic of discussion it shows he has a sense of humour and opinions beyond documentaries.  He also uses inclusive words such as “we” and “you”, by addressing the reader he is including them into his debate, a very effective and appealing technique often used by article writers. The use of rhetorical questions is also very effective and engages the reader, gets them thinking about the point that is being made. From reading this article by Nick Fraser I would say it was written for a more mature audience, the lexis is fairly sophisticated: “Of the current manifestations of contemporary culture, which would you choose to preserve?” – I doubt this type of sophisticated lexis is what most teenagers and young adults would expect from an article they would be reading. I feel I have been much educated by Nick Fraser’s style of writing, I understand that I will have to write an article that will be slightly more approachable and readable for a younger target audience, however, I will certain try and use some of Fraser’s lexical techniques such as humour, rhetorical questions, quoting and expressing own opinions.

Professor Brian Cox in BBC2’s Wonders of the Universe. Photograph: Kevin White/BBC

“From the Oscar-winning Inside Job to heartthrob physicist Professor Brian Cox, documentaries are now one of our most valuable – but neglected – art forms

You lose count of the number of times you hear documentaries trashed. The argument is as old as the documentary, and it goes like this. Docs manipulate reality, over-relying on effects such as music. They aren’t really journalistic at all. Maybe one should think of them as drama without actors, cheaply made and with few pretensions to seriousness. Shamelessly, they pander to our worst voyeuristic impulses. Under the guise of telling the truth, docs entertain us with lies.

It would be more accurate to say that documentaries are among the most valuable, neglected cultural forms of our time. They aren’t all good, to be sure, but the best are unusual, persuasive, seductive. And their success has something to do with the way they are taken for granted, casually watched. Few old things have flourished in the cultural chaos of this century, but docs have steadily consolidated their hold on a small portion of the contemporary consciousness. Film stars want to make or sponsor them. Sometimes, if you squint hard enough, they really do seem like the new rock’n’roll.

Criticism of documentaries comes in waves. A few years ago, spotting fakery in docs was in vogue, though it seemed that most docs were scrupulously, often tediously, unfaked. Now the critics have latched on to the vulgarity of peak-time docs. Channel 4 has been slated for My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. Was the series set up in some respects? Did it end by stereotyping Romanies under the guise of complaining about their stereotyping? The critics also complained about the superficiality of Niall Ferguson, whose Channel 4 series, Civilization, runs us through the west and its discontents.

But the most acrimonious debate surrounded the attempts of physicist, and heartthrob, Professor Brian Cox to explain the secrets of the universe in Wonders of the Universe. Master of the Queen’s Music Sir Peter Maxwell Davies complained about the use of “Muzak” in the BBC2 series. “Viewers have not tuned in to listen to a musical performance,” he declared.

I didn’t much like Ferguson’s leather jacket. I also think he should try to convey to audiences that he cares about what he’s saying – something he does in his lectures, but mysteriously fails to do on television. And, yes, I did think that Channel 4’s wedding series contained a few too many Gypsy flounces. But I was seduced by Cox’s meditations. He made me recall hours spent watching a black-and-white box as a teenager. I don’t know much about the universe, beyond the piece I occupy, but now I wanted to know more. And I’m sure that many of its five million viewers felt the same.

Many criticisms of documentaries contain an unpleasantly snobbish undertone. Why object to shows like The Secret Millionaire, which do supply a vision of real life even as they follow a formula?

“Documentary,” says the dictionary. “Noun. Based on or recreating an actual event, era, life story, that purports to be factually accurate and contains no fictional elements.” This is useful, but a trifle over-cautious. Why shouldn’t non-fiction contain elements of fiction? And why should something only “purport” to be factually accurate? It reeks of the old charges that docs are unreliable because they are filmed. When you describe anything, it is altered. The act of seeing modifies what is seen. Most people who watch docs understand this.

I’m a professional watcher of documentaries, but I’m also an addict. Within the dullest doc, I usually find something interesting. In an age when television drama is predictable, docs offer us real, often alien voices. They also fill some of the void left by the emptiness of much television reporting.

No body of theory exists to legitimise docs and I’m grateful for this. They have come to subsist at a crossroads of contemporary culture, somewhere between journalism, film narrative and television entertainment. They appear to thrive on contradictions, between the stubborn reality they purport to capture and their necessarily limited means, between the impositions of storytelling and the desire to interpret or analyse. They aren’t fictional, ever, but they can seem in their attractiveness more real than reality.

In recent years, docs have often performed well in cinemas. It has become customary at chic festivals to hear people say how much more interesting they are than the narrative fictions on offer. I don’t think docs can or should try to stand in for Hollywood fare. They do something different. A film like Man on Wire was a way of approaching the 9/11 attacks at an angle, elegiacally, getting us to imagine what the twin towers meant by seeing someone walk between them.

This year’s Oscar winner, Inside Job, an unflinching account of the venal goings-on that led to the 2009 Wall Street crash, has been justly praised. Its director Charles Ferguson’s brilliant, unforgiving interviews have become the way we remember the crash. When he thanked the Oscar audience for giving him the opportunity to say that not one individual has been found guilty of fraud in relation to the crash, I felt it was a vindication of the capability of good documentaries. Film can speak truth to the powerful. And people will listen.

But I worry about the future of docs. Of course the supply of docu-soaps won’t be allowed to dry up. I imagine Chinese versions of Niall Ferguson showing up to tell us where we screwed up. However, budgets are falling as television strives to focus on whatever is popular. It is getting harder to sustain the rarer fowl in the documentary menagerie.

I recently talked to television critic AA Gill about this. He suggested that anyone wanting to make a film could now go and do it, so simple had the technology become. One might only make one film in life, but it could be a good one – and that would ensure the future of documentaries. People do make brilliant first films, but rarely. It takes time to become really good. The best docs are provisional. They seem to come from beyond the perimeters of the world, which accounts both for their freshness, and the relative poverty of those who make them.

One such film, shown this week on BBC4, is Marathon Boy, which tells the story of Budhia, an Indian boy who ran astonishing distances. He was adopted by his trainer and found himself at the centre of a controversy involving politicians, social workers and journalists. Is stardom a way out of poverty? Who has the right to define abuse? For film-maker Gemma Atwal, born in India and adopted by an English couple, such questions are far from remote. Without giving answers, the film brilliantly explores Budhia’s fate. It’s easy to talk about the effects of poverty, but in this film you can see them.

Will these documentaries – low budget, clever, appealing to small, passionate audiences – be adequately funded in the squeeze on television budgets? I’m starting to worry. I’d like to know how their independent spirit can be conserved and nurtured.

In the meantime, let me suggest a way in which we might start to think about documentaries. Of the current manifestations of contemporary culture, which would you choose to preserve? Thought of as an app, documentaries wouldn’t make it. They have no real cultural recognition. They will always be seen as part of something else – film, television, journalism, even real life. But you would miss them if they went. My hunch is that you would miss them very much.”


Plan for article:

What to include: 

-brief description of what the documentary is about

-mention of time scale of the documentary – how many episodes etc how long the episodes will be what the first episode contains

-comparison of what the documentary is similar to; a previous well regarded documentary

-discuss the contents of the documentary

-discuss title ‘Label Me’ – meaning behind it etc

-example of what works well in the documentary; brief snippet from the documentary

-main body of the article is based around the interview with producers; include quotes

-mention of ‘Channel 4 young producers scheme’ – a scheme created by Channel 4 to help young producers find success

-photo to go along with the article – image from title sequence

-why the documentary is different, new and exciting

-ending sentence to make the reader want to watch the documentary

-advertisment for Channel 4

-relevant colour scheme for either Channel 4 or Time Out magazine

-what the documentary does well; music, clips used from Inbetweeners/Misfits

Lexical techniques:

-short snappy sentences

-informal language – make reader feel at ease when reading article nothing too formal or sophisticated (appeal to young target audience)

-inclusive language; involve the reader e.g “Label Me” is a controversial phenomenon you don’t want to miss!

-descriptive language – go into detail with what works well in the documentary

-complimentary lexis – e.g; ‘fantastic’ ‘outstanding’ ‘brilliant’

Article on “Super Size Me” by Tatiana Morales:

Since my last article I posted referenced Morgan Spurlock’s documentary “Super Size Me”, and I have already done some research on the documentary myself, I decided to look for an article about the documentary. I came across this article by Tatiana Morales on the CBS News website. I particularly like the structure of this article; the short to-the-point sentences are very appealing for a reader who wants to simply know what to expect when watching the documentary. It doesn’t give too much away but explains in detail what the contents of the documentary is. Morales quotes Spurlock and others who feature in the documentary to give the reader a taster of what to expect. She quotes some facts and figures given by Spurlock: “Sixty percent of Americans get no exercising whatsoever. I pulled back my exercising to at least get more walking than most Americans do. The average American doesn’t even walk 2 miles and I was walking in average of 2 1/2 to 3 miles a day.” These facts are included the emphasise the seriousness of the documentary; Spurlock clearly feels very passionate

“(CBS)  When filmmaker Morgan Spurlock heard about a lawsuit that two overweight New York teenagers had brought against McDonald’s, blaming the restaurant for their condition, he decided to conduct an experiment. 

For 30 days, Spurlock ate McDonald’s food, three meals a day, to see what would happen to his body. He chronicled this diet in his new documentary “Super Size Me.” 

He tells The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith, “The more I heard about the lawsuits, the marketing factors, the nutritional aspects of the food, I thought there is a basis for the argument.”

The crew shot 250 hours worth of footage, traveled more than 25,000 miles and made a movie, from concept to fruition, in less than one year.

During his experiment, Spurlock (despite the protests of his live-in girlfriend, a vegan chef) followed the following four rules:

  1. No options. He could eat only what was available over the counter (water included!).
  2. No super-sizing unless offered.
  3. No excuses. He had to eat every item on the menu at least once.
  4. No giving up. He had to eat three meals a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Besides experiencing first-hand the effects of consuming a fast-food diet, Spurlock interviewed experts in 20 U.S. cities, including Houston, then the “Fattest City” in America (now, it’s Detroit). Surgeon Generals, gym teachers, cooks, kids, lawmakers and legislators shared their research, opinions and “gut feelings” about the nation’s ever-expanding girth. 

The movie starts with Spurlock in great shape, according to a physical examination. But after a month, he says he gained. 24.5 pounds. “My cholesterol shot up 65 points. My liver basically turned to fat. It was so filled with fat the doctors said it was like pate; it was reaching a toxic level, putting me in risk of having non-alcoholics type of hepatitis, hardening of the liver, cirrhosis of the liver. It got really frightening for a while. And the impact it had on my sex life was also another aspect my girlfriend didn’t anticipate.” 

Having started at 185 pounds, Spurlock also assumed a more sedentary life-style.

He explains why: “Sixty percent of Americans get no exercising whatsoever. I pulled back my exercising to at least get more walking than most Americans do. The average American doesn’t even walk 2 miles and I was walking in average of 2 1/2 to 3 miles a day.”

So why McDonald’s?

Spurlock says, “It could have happened to any fast food chain. Especially, the way we live our lifestyle, we overeat and under exercise. I picked McDonald’s because they’re iconic. They are iconic of every food to me of this entire fast food culture – the fast-food lifestyle that we all lead of overeating and not exercising.” 

Asked if he holds them responsible, Spurlock says, “I believe it’s a two-way street because I believe there’s not enough information coming out to the consumer. When you feed 46 million people every day, as McDonald’s does, you have a huge responsibility – 46 million worldwide, half of them in America, 23 million every day, almost 10 percent of the population. You have a responsibility to help educate your consumer to make the right choices, letting them know how often they should eat the food.”

The following is statement from McDonald’s director of Worldwide Nutrition, Dr. Cathy Kapica: 

She says, “As a registered nutritionist, I was extremely disappointed when I saw this movie. Here was an opportunity to actually provide insights into a serious problem. In fact, all it turned out to be was an extreme stunt where someone engaged in irresponsible behavior of eating twice as much as they should every day, limiting physical activity. It was a complete disservice to anyone looking for factual information or real solutions.”

Spurlock’s response? “The film is a snapshot of your life,” he says. “If you lead a style of sedentary behavior, of overeating, of over consuming, this film shows what can happen to you in 30, 40 years. You’ll be on path like I was to elevated cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and liver failure. These are the things that can happen to you. This film is a little piece of what can happen.”

Through his film, he also explored school lunch programs, declining health and physical education classes, food addictions and the extreme measures people take to lose weight and regain their health.

He notes, “If you’re a parent who eats out four, five, six days a week and don’t exercise and don’t make health a very important part of the life, you raise kids that do the same.” 

The film, which won Spurlock honors as best director at the Sundance Film Festival, opens in theaters Friday.

A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Morgan Spurlock has conceived and created more than 60 projects during his 12 years in the industry. From commercials to music videos to television shows, Spurlock has worked with such companies as MTV, ESPN, NBC, FOX, TNT, VH-1, Sony and MCA Records.

The West Virginia native is the founder of The Con, a New York-based production company.”

Next Task to create an article and poster about documentary ‘Label Me!’ – Research:

As we have been given the task to produce an article and poster to go alongside our documentary ‘Label Me’ I wanted to obtain enough research about the way posters and articles promote and advertise the release of  new documentaries in order to be able to come up with a realistic looking article and poster of my own.

I came across this article written by Stanley Crouch on the American news website: New York Daily, the article discusses a new documentary by Byron Hunt, exposing the harms of Southern cuisine.

“Soul Food Junkies” is a documentary being made by Byron Hurt; he is presently raising money to finish it. My own nickname for him is “Braveheart” because of his willingness to bring complexity to issues that affect black people first, but are bound to become troubling to the country at large because they are not the result of genetics. They are the result of exploitation or misunderstanding.

Hurt first deserved his “Braveheart” nickname after doing a surprisingly serious film about the decadence at the center of the hip-hop phenomenon. It was called “Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes.” Though an admitted fan of early hip hop, Hurt was disturbed as the so-called music moved away from community awareness and was taken over by hustlers who reached to the bottom of the barrel for profit-making material that could be placed on the auction block of popular culture.

The black male was now a “darkie” recognized by his gold teeth and tattoos — and a frown that opened up as the mouth spread loads of filth.

The integrity and deep human feeling of Hurt’s documentary never became the big subject one would have expected, but integrity and deep human feeling are no longer expected from those examining black popular culture, or making big profit from it.

It turned out to be all right for the hustlers, but things are now beginning to heat up against the minstrel misogyny of hip hop on black websites like The Grio.

The one Hurt is now working on — “Soul Food Junkies” — may hit the target much more quickly when finished and released. It might become as well discussed as Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary “Super Size Me,” which was an explosive revelation about the toxic fast food industry.

Hurt is like a combination of Spurlock and the writer Upton Sinclair, whose 1906 “The Jungle” exposed the filthy meatpacking industry and led to the Pure Food and Drug Act. While Sinclair was essentially a well-meaning hack, Hurt is an actual artist who understands the importance of nuance and complexity. Those qualities run through the hour of his film that I have seen. It is humorous, soulful and well aware of how hard it is to change when what one is addicted to is not only certain kinds of food but food made to taste truly delicious.

His interviews with street people, ministers, chefs, dietians, writers, academics and cooks gives heft to the tale. At the center of it is the grief felt by Hurt, his sister and his mother over the death of his father, who was a good man but too in love with bad food to change his habits.

This is a common problem. There is no joke in the film about the frightening degrees of black illness from consuming too much ethnic food dripping in grease and containing too much fat, sugar and butter. Worst of all, people consume too many ethnic imitations in fast food places that are so prevalent in black and Latin neighborhoods.

Thus, minorities contract diabetes and suffer from heart diseases in disproportionate numbers. That alone costs the American economy enough to be concerned about what people eat and why.

Byron Hurt’s new project is another example of how well this year is ending, regardless of all of the problems smearing almost everything in our American lives. Those interested in contributing money for him to finish “Soul Food Junkies” can reach Hurt through Kickstarter and learn more about what he has done and what he is presently doing.”

The above article speaks very positively about Byron Hurt, the author of the article Stanley Crouch describes his own nickname for Hurt being “braveheart” the fact that the author has given Hunt his own admirable nickname suggests that the rest of the article is going to be very pro-Hunt. I feel the article discusses Hunts former works more than his current documentary “Soul Food Junkies”. Here is a snippet from the above article: “Hurt first deserved his “Braveheart” nickname after doing a surprisingly serious film about the decadence at the center of the hip-hop phenomenon. It was called “Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes.” ”  I would be unable to take this sort of approach when writing my own article about my documentary “Label Me”. Instead I intend on talking more about the contents of the documentary and the point that is trying to be conveyed throughout. Crouch continues to compare “Soul Food Junkies” to Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary “Super Size Me”: “The one Hurt is now working on — “Soul Food Junkies” — may hit the target much more quickly when finished and released. It might become as well discussed as Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary “Super Size Me,” which was an explosive revelation about the toxic fast food industry.” I feel this is a very effective way of promoting a documentary, comparing Hurt’s work to Spurlock’s suggests that “Soul Food Junkies” may even be as controversial as “Super Size Me” was. Furthermore I would take a similar approach when writing my article, I will compare my own documentary to another documentary that I feel touches on perhaps a similar subject or is filmed in a similar way to mine. I feel this will help to obtain a target audience; people who liked Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” will potentially want to watch Hurt’s “Soul Food Junkies” in the hope to receive a similar viewing. Finally, I feel Crouch’s article is slightly more sophisticated than the one I will write this is because the target audience for “Label Me” will be predominantly younger than the target audience for “Soul Food Junkies”. I will obtain a more simple lexis when writing my article as I feel the sophisticated lexis in Crouch’s article would not appeal to the target audience of young people aged from 14 and above.

Survey Results and Analysis:

Below are the results collected from my survey. I created 8 questions and distributed the survey to 30 people aged between 16-28+. I received 25 responses out of  a possible 30.

Question 1: I distributed the survey to a total of 15 males and 15 females in order to try and obtain the best possible results from both a female and male perspective. I only received 11 responses from the male participants and 14 from the females.

Question 2: The majority of people who took the survey were aged between 16-20, nobody who took the survey was aged between 24-28 which is a shame because that means the five people who did not take the survey would have fallen into this age category. It would have been much better to receive results from a broader age range in order to be able to fully appreciate the feedback.

Question 3: For this question a pleasing 88% of participants answered the correct question, they understood that the aim of the documentary was to investigate the reasons behind why teenagers are associated with specific stereotypes and labels. I am pleased with this result as it shows from watching the first 5 minutes of our documentary the majority of people were able to easily identify the aim of the documentary.

Question 4: The results from question 4 was slightly more difficult to analyse; we wanted to create a documentary that appealed to a wide range of people aged between 16-28+ however 8% voted that the documentary should be viewed by people aged 18 and above, another 8% voted that the documentary should be viewed by people aged between 16-18, the majority voted that aged 16-20 would be most likely to watch the documentary. This means that our target audience wasn’t made as clear as it could have been, perhaps we should of either chosen a more realistic target audience, or tried different ways of appealing to our target audience; promoting social networking sites such as “Facebook” and “Twitter” are good ways of identifying a young-adult target audience.

Question 5: 68% agreed that the choice of music that featured in the documentary was used in order to establish a young target audience while 20% agreed that it added to the way in which the teens were represented, however 12% voted that the use of music made the documentary seem less serious, if we were to further develop our documentary we would have to reconsider our choice of music as we don’t want our documentary to be viewed as something that touches on a subject that is not serious or important. 

Question 6: 96% of people stated that they felt the documentary would appeal to both male and female viewers. This is a very pleasing result as we did not want to create a gender specific documentary. 

Question 7: 92% of participants voted that they would continue to watch the documentary after watching the first five minutes. This is positive feedback as it states that we were able to create 5 minutes of filming that was appealing to the majority of people who viewed it, so much so that they would happily continue to watch the rest of the documentary.

Question 8: In the question about ways in which the documentary could be improved 44% of people thought that including examples of ways in which the media stereotypes teens such as newspaper clippings would help improve the documentary, while 28% felt that interviewing adults as well as teenagers would improve the documentary. These are two factors we were taking into consideration whilst we were planning our documentary, and if we could produce more than just 5 minutes of footage we would have certainly included some evidence of the way in which the media stereotypes teens as well as interviews will adults in order to see a different perspective. 

Overall I am pleased with the results of the survey, most of the questions answered were as we had hoped. Distributing a survey really helped me to understand the flaws in our documentary, I feel if I had created a small survey before producing the final piece of footage I may have been able to produce an even more pleasing documentary. It’s very helpful receiving feedback as it helps us understand what other people see when watching our work. Furthermore, I am disappointed that not all 30 candidates took part in the survey as this meant we were unable to receive results from people aged between 24-28, however, I feel I may have be able to avoided this if I had distributed the survey to 100 people rather than 30, although this would have been hard work it would have been interesting to see the results given from 100 people, and we would have been able to obtain results from a  wider variety of people.

Survey for documentary:

We created a survey on in order to receive audience feedback.

We decided to share a link to our final and edited 5 minutes of documentary and attach the survey and send both via Facebook and Email (as we feel this is the best means of communication). We will be giving our survey to 30 people ranging from the age of 16-28+.

Here is the survey I created: Click here to take survey

Online footage in opening:

In the opening title sequence of our documentary “Label Me” we decided to include a combination of our own footage as well as some online footage. We have chosen some clips that we obtained from Youtube, which we feel best emphasise the stereotypes that teens are so often referred to in the 21st century.

We wanted to use a combination of footage that simple express what life is like for all different teens, we use a clip for the UK teen hit show “Skins” to emphasise a partying lifestyle where drug taking and alcohol consumption is a norm.

Below is the footage we used from a chess club to represent the stereotype of a ‘geek’.

A scene from one of SBTV’s online rap battles representing young, aspiring rappers aswell as politicians from Westminster.

ALL of this found footage combined with our own, featured in the first 55 seconds of our documentary. I feel the inclusion of clips that we have obtained from the internet really help to express how stereotypes and labels are represented in the media, as well as how the stereotyped views of a teenagers lifestyle is portrayed in such teen shows as Skins. We decided to speed up the footage in order to fit with the fast paced background music of Rizzle Kick’s ‘Down With The Trumpets’, as well as allowing us to include as much footage as we can in a short space of 55 seconds. I feel the combination of online footage and our own footage works really well together, as the online footage can be related to; clips from Skins will be recognised by most young people, and the stereotype that intelligent people who are often referred to as ‘geeks’ like to play chess is expressed along with the stereotype that teenagers take drugs, drink illegally and partake in violence.