Crappy Camera/editing in documentaries.

I pit the moronic trend in Documentaries where totally stupid and irrelevant camera shots and digital editing tricks not only fail to add anything to the programme but actively obscure the subject that they are allegedly covering.

For example they’re talking about a tomb with some very interesting and pertinant carvings so the camera zooms in at great speed and very unsteadily to show an extreme close up of unadorned two square inches of the tomb at floor level.

Or they show a magnificant idol for about literally a second before fast cutting ,making damned sure that you cant take in any of the detail.

A digital technique that makes an interesting kaleidescope effect by twisting the image of a large old Temple as though it was printed on wrapping paper unfortunately means that if you ever even stood next to this temple IRL you wouldn’t know because you wouldn’t actually know what it looked like from the Documentary content.

Theres plenty of multiple images on screen at apparently random intervals,defocussing the camera so you see only a blur,panning at speed so that the image is just a motion sickness inspiring different blur,sudden changes to stop/go motion giving a jerky effect reminiscent of silent movies.

The film will of its own accord change to black and white for a short while or be filtered green and after the traditional 360 shot of a speaker filmed from ground level we will usually get a close up of any speakers earlobe or left sleeve or whatever.

All of this accompanied by silly sound effects,squeeks,farting noises wooshes etc that used to be the staple of kids cartoon films.
And then theres the grainy effect usually used in war histories apparently to try and make the film look like original vintage or more likely so that we dont notice that the overweight,suspiciously clean both of body and uniform soldiers moving tactically with all the agility of geriatric elephants wearing clogs are in fact the real thing rather then weekend reenactors.
Where on Earth did this trend spring from?

Do they think that we all have the attention span of Goldfish in that when we sit down to watch a Doc. about,for example the Etruscans ,that we’re actually watching it because we’re interested in the subject but will turn our attention to the wall paper if our interest isn’t maintained by showing a pathetic visual gimmick every few minutes?

Personally I’ve lost all patience with them now and no matter how interesting the subject is to me personally I switch over.

That way I know that I wont have to pay out for a new T.V. screen caused by my boot having become an integral part of the old one.

I swear to god that if I ever again start a thread its going to be something about which I have no interest in whatsoever like "The decreasing numbers of Cheese Moth Larva in the Western Hemisphere"or “The lighter side of Adolf Hitler”

I actually set up three socks just in case of this eventuality but even those fuckers didn’t bother to post.
(OOPs Hope no Mods read this or I could be …What the fuck am I worrying about ?
at least if they gave me a warning it would at least be a post for chrissakes)

Hey, I’m with you - show the damned thing! But I didn’t have anything funny to say so I didn’t.

On a similar note are the erratic the camera movements used during interviews. The mannerisms of the camera operator mimic the fine-motor skills of an intoxicated cerebral palsy patient who just can’t hold still; it’s wobbling around, zooming in and out, always doing something other than focusing on the subject. So instead of directing my attention to the speaker to absorb his or her (presumably) important statements, it is diverted to wondering what the hell is going on behind the lens.

Nearly ruined an otherwise great documentary for me.

Yes, actually, they do. More specifically, they think we’re americans who have been conditioned by a lifetime of ad-interruptions every five minutes to the point where they are incapable of following a programme unless it has:
[ul][li]Lots of intrusive visualsAnnoying HIGH INTENSITY commentary that regularly stresses how HIDEOUSLY LETHAL the pygmy marmosets are and how *INCREDIBLY ANCIENT *the victorian house is and how EXTREMELY FUCKING BIG the mountain is and how the camera crew are RISKING THEIR FUCKING LIVES EVERY SINGLE FUCKING SECOND by filming footage of a Raccon near a place where a rattlesnake was seen once.[/li][/ul]
It drives me nuts - just show me the pretty pictures and tell me the interesting facts without trying to turn a documentary about e.g. fish into a combination of CSI:Miami, Big Brother XXIV: Proctological Warfare and some sort of extreme sport.

I blame MTV for the quick cuts and “jazz hands” styling.
Can I mention that while I appreciate and respect foley artists in general, I absolutely loathe most of their documentary work. Vintage battlefield footage from pre-sound days, and there’s marching feet and the roar of engines. Cockpit video showing a rocket hitting the target thousands of meters away, yet there’s the Earth-shattering kaboom. It’s everywhere. I don’t tend to watch many military or war documentaries (and hence I see very little History Channel), but the practice is prevalent all over the place. STFU :mad:

One documentary that WAS ruined for me but I had to watch it all the way through because at that time it was a totally new subject, was about Free Running.
(Called I believe Extreme Running at that time)

You’re watching these blokes performing incredible feats that until then hadn’t been done,running along the roof of a building,then jumping a ten foot gap to another building and landing on the top of an inches wide wall on the storey BELOW …
When the film maker decides to achieve an interesting artistic effect by turning his lens towards the sun …

So that instead of us being able to get the full impact of what these guys are capable of we get the tired old “Black figures outlined against the sun before the sun whites out the shot”(I know thats not the correct filmmakers terminology but you get my drift)
And that shot itself apart from not being appropriate for a so called documentary,is not even vaguely original having been done thousands of times over many years in many different film genres.

I read a review about this film and the reviewer gushed about the guys" work of art"barely mentioning the actual content.

And I think that this is probably the nub of the problem.
Documentary makers are not making films primarily to introduce to, or inform the general public about factual subjects,they are making the films to impress each other with their creativeity and general artistic brilliance.

And who knows maybe even pick up an award or two…
What I find so personally frustrating is that there seems to be no sort of body that you can express your views about these travestys to.

For sitcoms,T.V. thrillers can write to the terrestial channel and let them know what you’re not happy about and if enough people do this then they take note and usually do something about it.

But with Docs.shown on cable you’d have to look up which particular production company actually made the piece, find out their Web/address and then complain .

And lets face it not many people, if any, are going to go through all that hassle ,the result being the film makers carry on in blithe,self congratulatoty ignorance and carry on churning out the same old irritating tripe.

Quite honestly I’ve seen better film on teeth.
I have a hope, probably a forlorn one, that maybe one day somebody in the business may by chance be browsing the Dope,see this and take note.

But I’m not holding my breath…

I was watching a documentary about some fossils they had found in Norfolk the other day (Fossil Detectives?). Anyway, I had to turn over because they were annoying me so much by putting stupid blury special effects and “whooshing” sounds over everything every ten seconds. It was like a kid with his first Fisher Price movie kit or something.

I just wanted to see the fossil they were talking about while they were talking about it, for fuck’s sake.

Just because your nifty camera and editing software can do those little tricks doesn’t mean that you should do those little tricks.

I’d also like to add that, in addition to the most worthy points outlined above vis a vis MTV editing in “Serious” documentaries, the following should be noted:

  1. America and Germany were not the only countries involved in World War II.

  2. There have been other wars besides WWII.

  3. Everything that can possibly have been said about Adolf Hitler has been said. Find another 20th Century Historic Personage to make lots of documentaries about. I suggest Josef Stalin or Winston Churchill for starters.

I blame Sesame Street for creating a generation of ADD kids who’d think MTV was a good way to present content.

I couldn’t sit through The Aristocrats becuase of the pointlessly rapid-fire editing. Chirst, it’s a documentary about comedians, not Delta Force.

Count me in in this complaint. When i see that kind of editing, it makes me just frustrated and unable to follow the story (heh, the opposite of what they’re trying to do with that lousy editing) and i end up looking for something else, or just turn off the tv (i don’t watch much of it anyway).

My particular pet hate is that whenever anyone is being interviewed – maybe it’s, OH NO!, a boring old professor or something, which would be much too dull to show as filmed – they have to have at least two, and often three or four cameramen: one to do the normal talking head shot, and the rest to take footage (in grainy black and white) from various “wacky” angles of the main camera crew filming the subject.

I don’t need to see jump cuts of the side of the cameraman’s head from the far corner of the room, okay?

Actually just attempted to watch a CNN piece called “My Japan” by a Miss Universe and I had the sudden realisation that I had cruelly impugned the motives of the production companies (or in this case CNN).

It all seems so obvious really that I feel embarssed to state the totally bleeding obvious.

That is that it is so clearly a programme to get people with drink problems back to work.

The swirling camera techniques,jerky and abrupt focusing/shots etc. are obviously because the cameraman is drunk out of his mind and it also has the benefit of showing the rest of us how an alcoholic routinely sees the world,helping us in our understanding of the problems that they face daily.

I can only applaud this radical idea and suspect that one of the more trendy clinics are behind this somehow.

Well Done!

They are? Jesus, that’s amazing! Where’d they get the footage, and why in the world wouldn’t they want you to notice that? I’d think they’d make a big deal about it.

I guess I stopped watching yer crappier stuff on the History Channel and Discovery and whatever else we’re talking about here. You can still see excellent documentary work on PBS.

When I was a kid, the commercial networks all did serious documentaries fairly regularly. I miss that.

As a professional cameraman of 28 years and a lover of technology, I must say I totally agree with you.

I take great pains to impart this when I teach a Master’s Class.

We are technicians at work in the service of a story. Nothing more. The story should never suffer for the love of technology.


Here I only get the National Geographic channel.

It’s probably the most schizoid channel I’ve ever seen. On one side you get the real deal, documentaries that set the standard and on the other you get Fox’s dreck. Slaphead describes it to a T, all things that can kill you LIKE RIGHT NOW!!! They have this hour long commercials they call documentaries, like a tour around the Winebago, Corvette or BWM factories, the first was particularly egregious.
Also the atrocious abundance and abuse of alliterations abundantly applied by the scriptwriters every other sentence makes me cringe and weep for the defaced image and tradition of the NGS.

I’m doing all I can to avoid this folks(Director of Photography/Camera op).
But I also direct and edit. That style really bugs me too. Should have gone out with the 80s but it’s still going strong.

Cartooniverse you’ll appreciate this one. I free-lance for a production company that has in house directors, shooters and editors.
This one guy who mostly edits but shoots too has on more than one occassion stopped me in mid shoot to explain that there should be more snap zooms and swish pans.

That’s his style but it’s pretty much all he’s got. I’ve done it, but to me it’s just an easy way out. Composing a still shot or incorporating a nice smooth pan or tilt or both or choreographing action takes a bit more finesse.

There are just too many newbies who don’t really have what it takes but they just got lucky and found work.