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October 1992


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 14 Oct 1992 13:30:06 -0400
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Cal Pryluck raises a number of provocative (and perennial) questions about
the nature of documentary vs. fiction. Though I haven't seen the pieces being
discussed,I've produced both fiction and docs, and have a few thoughts from
the battlefield.
>One expects fiction filmmakers to know what is coming.
Ah, would that it were so. Every director of fiction knows that the best-
laid plans are subject to all sorts of unpredictable forces that shape the
product. On any set, there are the off-the-cuff creative impulses of actors,
cameramen, and everyone else on the set -- even producers -- plus the
vagaries of weather, equipment, and logistics that, for better or worse,
require improvisation. It wouldn't take much of an ontological stretch to
say that every filmed fiction is in part a documentary about its own making.
>For many people, though, it is not a matter of "stranger than" that appeals
>about documentary but "more revealing than."  This is what I've always
>understood Grierson to have meant with the phrase "special quality of the
>spontaneous gesture."
For some months now I've been previewing a rough cut of an episode of a
series (**plug alert**) called Susquehanna Stories that will air on NYS
public TV stations at various times this fall & winter. Almost invariably,
audiences sense the "spontaneous gestures" that they assume were planned --
but weren't. "How in the world did you get that kitten to eat the nurse's
earring?" Well, uh, we didn't... the kitten just sort of did it.  "What did
you do to coax that terrific performance out of a 2-year old girl?" Well, uh,
we shot it over and over and over till the kid did something interesting.
Spontaneity is revealing, but it's not limited to documentaries.