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Documentaries for Television This Week - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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Documentaries for Television. This Week Murrow/Friendly/Lowe Robert Drew – NBC/Time-Life Clarke/Laurie Koppel/Bettag US – HBO and PBS, UK - Ch 4 and BBC McBride/Laurie Film List. Murrow/Friendly/Lowe. ‘See it Now’ 1951-1958 CBS Reports 1959-1971 [Murrow left in 1961]

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Presentation Transcript
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Documentaries for Television

  • This Week

  • Murrow/Friendly/Lowe

  • Robert Drew – NBC/Time-Life

  • Clarke/Laurie

  • Koppel/Bettag

  • US – HBO and PBS, UK - Ch 4 and BBC

  • McBride/Laurie

  • Film List

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  • ‘See it Now’ 1951-1958

  • CBS Reports 1959-1971 [Murrow left in 1961]

  • ‘Harvest of Shame’ (1960)

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Robert Drew

  • 1961 - “The Reason many docs

    Are dull is because traditionally they have been little more than illustrated lectures.”

  • Drew in TV wanted to change that tradition


  • Traditional TV resisted

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Drew’s Kennedy Films

  • ‘Primary’ (1960) ABC Close-up

  • ‘Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment’ (Oct 21 1963) ABC



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D-C in television

  • From “Defining the Moment” 1999

  • See excerpt from film

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Robert Drew:

  • “Real life never got out of the film. never came to the television set….

  • find a dramatic logic in which things really happen.

    If we could do that we would have a whole new basis for a new journalism. It’s hard to define. 

  • it would be a theater without actors. Plays without playwrights. Reporting without summary & opinion. 

    The ability to look in on people’s lives at crucial times from which you could deduce certain things and see a kind of truth that can only be gotten by personal experience. ….”

  • Compare Pennebaker’s ‘War Room’ 1992

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Traditional Narrative Style

  • ABC News Close-Up Unit

  • 1981 “Myths Behind the Miracle”

  • Director Malcolm Clarke


  • Written/Narrated by

    this guy =

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Traditional narrative style

  • Despite the influence of Robert Drew and others advocating a more natural unnarrated style – the genre persists to the present day.

  • If Japan in 1981 was the ‘rising’ nation

  • China was in 2008 & Discovery Channel

    offered Ted Koppel and a 4 part ‘People’s Republic of Capitalism’

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In America: Change at the Big Three US Networks

  • 1988 ABC “Close Up” & others

  • shut down

  • public service requirement diminishes

  • Documentaries become multi-subject magazine shows or long form programs of a more sensational nature – focusing often on crime or celebrities

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American Commercial TV Networks

  • CBS Sixty Minutes

  • ABC Prime Time

  • 20/20

  • NBC Dateline

  • Magazines

  • Have replaced the TV documentary form at traditional US networks

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Reality TV

  • The popular stand-in for documentary

  • Competition meets Cinema Verite

  • Read Michael Hirschorn May 2007


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TV Documentaries Today

  • In America

  • Cable TV & the PBS dominate TV doc work

  • The PBS Frontline Series

  • HBO, Discovery, History, National Geographic, CNN, a few others

  • Ratings, Commercial Advertising, Corporate pressure, the risk…

  • Undermines experimental, bold, controversial, graphic film making

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PBS Frontline Series

  • Wide variety, traditional style

  • Often Controversial

  • International Subjects

  • Independent Series


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British Documentaries

  • Arguably more attention paid to long form non fiction film on Television in Britain than in America

  • Channel Four London archives


  • And a guide to short documentaries

  • And a source of funding for independent films


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Range of BBC TV docs

  • Index to BBC Docs–


  • BBC produces dozens of documentary films each year. Styles differ. Often multi-part in the tradition of “Civilisation” (1969) Heavily narrated by Kenneth Clark

  • Many topical or investigative films but - still usually in a traditionally narrated style

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The BBC Process

  • Most films are produced in house or as JV with other broadcasters

  • From big budget ‘Planet Earth’ 2006

  • To low budget in-house

    ‘White Horse Village’

  • Favoured independents

  • Occasional outside purchase

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Cambodia Surgical Ward

  • A first hand BBC experience

  • A film by Rob McBride and Jim Laurie

  • Pay little, want world wide rights and will control the final edit

  • The producers experience

  • 30 % prod, 70 % funds & dist

  • The Distribution nightmare

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Next Week

  • Personality Driven Film making

  • And some elements of style

  • Beyond Michael Moore

  • Nick Broomfield

  • Ross McElwee

  • Morgan Spurlock

  • Techniques of

  • Errol Morris and Ken Burns

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JMSC 6085 Documentary Film Appreciation

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

0930 - 1230

Jim Laurie

[email protected]

Office: Eliot G-21