News and documentary
A television drama about a military engagement was criticized by an army spokesman as being ‘too realistic’. The camerawork style was indistinguishable from news coverage and the army spokesman complained that the audience could easily be confused into thinking they were watching ‘a real event’. ‘The Blair Witch Project’, another piece of ﬁction, was complimented on its realistic camerawork treatment. The low tech image quality, the nervous unrehearsed hand-held camerawork combined to persuade the audience that they were watching an authentic event. ‘Realistic’ in this usage was achieved by imitating the characteristics
of news coverage. ‘The camera surprised by events’ has a number of visual mannerisms such as rapid reframing, an unsteady frame, ‘hosepiping’ the camera in rapid panning movements in search of the signiﬁcant event, etc. This ‘breaking news’ appearance can be reinforced by low tech image quality and poor colour rendition (see ‘Composition styles’ in Chapter 12). Apart from this type of visual mannerisms, what separates fact and
ﬁction camerawork? From the early days of ﬁlm making, camerawork conventions have been used to convince and persuade the intended audience of the ‘reality’ of the story depicted. The criticism of ‘realistic’ camerawork appears to rest on the false assumption that there is one set of ‘ﬁction’ visual conventions and another set of ‘news’ visual conventions. Although there are diﬀerences in work practices when shooting news such as, for example, less or no control of staging subject matter, in general both types of camerawork use a variant of invisible technique. What usually confuses some people in identifying what is ‘real’ is that ﬁction ﬁlm making has often borrowed certain visual ‘tics’ of news gathering. Orson Welles, in his spoof version of a ‘March of Time’ newsreel at the start of ‘Citizen Kane’ employed scratched ﬁlm, jump cuts and ungraded ﬁlm to ‘authenticate’ a newsreel appearance.