Ingredients of Documentaries
As with all programmes on the television documentaries and docusoaps have many ingredients. Many of these we don’t realise as we are watching our television.
The scheduling of the programme is one of these ingredients. Documentaries are scheduled at different times and at different times depending on their target audience. A docusoap, such as “Making the Band”, which is aimed at teenagers will not be scheduled at two o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon because most teenagers are at school. It is actually screened at midday on Sunday; in amongst other programmes that are aimed at teenagers, these are collectively called T4, and are on channel 4. These programmes are shown at this time because on Sunday because on Sunday teenagers just want to lounge about and watch the ‘telly’ since there is nothing else for them to do. “Making the band” probably wouldn’t get high viewing figures if it were screened on Saturday because most people aren’t at home.
A docusoap with a different target audience will be screened at a different time and probably on a different channel. “Airport” has a larger target audience. It is aimed at people who are in their mid-twenties or older. “Airport” is screened at eight o’clock in the evening, on a weekday, on BBC1. It is on at this time because this is when the people, at whom this docusoap is aimed, will be settling down for the night.
Traditional documentaries such as “During the War” and “Great White Sharks” are mainly screened on BBC2 or channel 4. These documentaries have a much older target audience of people aged forty or older. These are usually shown after prime time viewing, between half past nine and twelve o’clock at night. They are scheduled at this time because they have a much smaller audience than the docusoaps, which are shown at prime time.
Channels such as the Discovery channel and National Geographic show documentaries all day long. These are usually traditional documentaries rather than docusoaps.
Another ingredient of the traditional documentary and the docusoap is the format. Docusoaps generally concentrate on a couple of people. These people become the main ‘characters’ of the docusoap. These ‘characters’ are often turned into celebrities. Popular docusoap “The Cruise” mainly featured the ship’s singer Jane MacDonald. “Driving School” turned Maureen into an overnight celebrity because she couldn’t pass her test. They usually choose people who are a bit out of the ordinary or have unusual personalities. Although these are the people that are mainly featured the docusoap also shows many different things. It shows how the staff copes with difficult situations in “Airport”. “Airport” also shows unusual and funny things that the viewers would not normally see in an airport, when they go on holiday. A docusoap also contains a lot of interviews. These are sometimes rehearsed and recorded over and over again, but some are just on the spot interviews with passers-by and members of the public. This seems more realistic.
The traditional documentary also contains interviews. These are mainly the type of interviews that have been rehearsed, although sometimes they do have on the spot interviews. These interviews are shown mainly in between reconstructions or amateur footage.
Traditional documentaries use a lot of reconstructions and amateur footage. This is because traditional documentaries often tackle an issue or something that happened a long time ago. Therefore they can’t have the ‘live’ footage that a docusoap has. Traditional documentaries are planned, docusoaps are meant to look like they’re not! This is because docusoaps are about things, which can’t be planned. The makers of “Airport” have to hope that something exciting is going to happen that they can record. Traditional documentaries are based around things, which have already happened.
Documentaries about natural disasters, such as tornados, often contain amateur camcorder footage and footage that was taken by the local news crew at the time.
Another ingredient of documentaries is camera angles. In docusoaps there is a lot of, what is called, ‘shaky cam’. This is when someone in the docusoap, for example a late aeroplane passenger, is running and the cameraman is running alongside him or her with the camera. In both documentaries and docusoaps, close-ups and medium shots are used for interviews.
The differences between Traditional Documentaries and Docusoaps.
Traditional documentaries are very different from docusoaps. Docusoaps are filmed in ‘episodes’ just like a soap opera whereas most traditional documentaries are just a one-off. A docusoap is similar to a soap opera in many ways. The ‘episodes’ have continuity just like a soap opera and the audience can identify with the ‘characters’. Traditional documentaries are very different and they don’t concentrate on ‘characters’ but instead on an issue.
Another difference between traditional documentaries and docusoaps is their scheduling. Docusoaps are generally more popular than traditional documentaries. That is why docusoaps are screened at prime time and traditional documentaries aren’t. Traditional documentaries are usually screened on BBC2 and channel 4; these are the channels with lower viewing figures, whereas docusoaps are screened on BBC1 and ITV.
Docusoaps are made as a real life alternative to soap operas.
A docusoap cannot be planned before it is filmed because the makers of the docusoap do not know what is going to happen. A docusoap is made up of mainly live footage. On the other hand, traditional documentaries are planned before they are filmed. Most of the material is planned before filming, but sometimes there are factors which can’t be planned. For example in “Close up North: Two Tribes” everything was planned except the result of the match.
Docusoaps contain a lot of on-the-spot interviews, whereas in a traditional documentary most of the interviews are planned and rehearsed.
Popularity of the Docusoap
Docusoaps have become so popular for the same reasons that soap operas are very popular.
Docusoaps present the public as characters and unlike those in a soap opera, these characters are real. The audience can relate to them. Not only do docusoaps give the characters life at work but also show a personal side, which the audience feel for.
Also, like a soap opera, the ‘episodes’ follow on from each other. They have continuity. If something isn’t concluded in one ‘episode’ it will follow on to the next one. People tune in to see if the aeroplane has landed safely or if Maureen will eventually pass her driving test. Docusoaps, like soap operas, end on a “cliffhanger”.
In addition, at the end, of a docusoap it will tell you what is going to happen next time.
My Documentary and the Trailer
The title of my documentary would be “Do you do that at home?” I have chosen this title because it is catchy and is something teachers say to pupils when they are doing something they shouldn’t be.
My documentary would primarily be about one member of staff and one pupil. The member of staff that I have chosen is Mrs Carr, who is head of key stage four at my school. I have chosen her because she has an important role within the school, and she also has a strong character. I have chosen to select a pupil with behavioural difficulties, Anthony Harker. I have to do this because it is more interesting to watch a disruptive pupil than someone who does everything that they are told too.
I would produce my documentary as a docusoap. This will have many advantages. If I produce it as a docusoap it is more likely to be screened on a popular channel, either BBC1 or ITV. It will also be more probable that it will be screened during prime time, so more people will get to see it. Docusoaps are spontaneous and therefore more like ‘real life’. Furthermore I will be able to produce more ‘episodes’ so I can choose different people to focus on each week. As well as advantages there are also disadvantages to producing this as a docusoap. It can’t be planned and I will have to hope that something interesting happens. Luckily the there are much more advantages than disadvantages.
My documentary would be screened on BBC1 at nine o’clock at night. I have chosen to screen it after the watershed so I don’t have to cut bits out. The trailer would be screened prior to the docusoap. It would be on between six o’clock and eleven o’clock in the evening when the target audience for the programme are watching the television. The trailer would be screened several times in the run up to the first ‘episode’.
I would not use amateur footage or reconstructions in my docusoap as these are mainly used for traditional documentaries.
When people watch my documentary I want them to think a lot of different things about the school. The school is a comprehensive school and therefore it has a lot of good and bad aspects, I will show the good things and the bad thing and let people decide for themselves.
I would only use six shots for my trailer because it doesn’t have to be very long it just has to be short and eye catching. The first shot is of the main character, Anthony, and his friends in a lesson. The lesson is obviously being taking by a supply teacher because the class is going mad. The pupils are throwing chairs, standing on stools and shouting. The teacher looks very scared.
The second shot is of the head teacher telling the audience that the pupils are well disciplined. This contradicts the first shot and makes the head teacher look a bit silly. I have done this to show the audience that because head teachers don’t actually teach, they sometimes don’t have a clue about what is going on in their own school.
The third shot shows the better side of Kenton School. I have chosen a shot featuring the main member of staff, Mrs Carr. She is controlling her class well and they are behaving excellently. I have shown this in the trailer, as I do not want to depict Kenton as a terrible school. If I put good thing in the programme but no in the trailer then people who don’t watch the programme will get the wrong impression.
The fourth shot is, again, of Anthony. He is standing with his friend smoking a cigarette at the side of the building and telling the camera that he doesn’t do any work. This is an informal introduction to the main ‘character’, so the audience get an idea what he is like before the programme even airs.
The fifth shot is simply of the school site. I have put this in to give the audience an idea of the place in which the documentary is set. It starts with a long shot of the sixth form block and then zooms out to show the full site.
The sixth and final shot has a black background with the writing “DO YOU DO THAT AT HOME?” Followed by “BBC1” then “MONDAY 9.00pm”. This tells the viewer what the programme is when it is on and on what channel. On the left hand side of the screen will be a freeze frame of Anthony holding a chair up in the air. This adds a visual, which the audience will remember.