Dramatica and editing documentary

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SimonM
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Dramatica and editing documentary

Postby SimonM » Oct 13, 2008 2:02 pm

I've been thinking about how Dramatica can help me with documentary film making. Having tried out the theory and software on real life situations and getting some interesting results it occurs that the value of Dramatica is to be found in more than only stories of fiction.

I've been working on a private project - a documentary about social networking and although it's very early days I was interested in the results of a recent experiment. I bought Phil Hodgetts' Assistant Editor software which requires that you describe A-roll and B-roll rushes (dailies) with thematic keywords in order that it can make various radio cuts and add appropriate B-roll. It's a bit more complex than that but you get the point.

This is the hard part of some tyes of documentary editing; identifying the story in what has been shot to see if it's what you set out to tell. I am convinced that Dramatica can help construct and tell a complete factual story just as well as it can with a fictional one.

Although transcripts are more complete, the same themes used for the Assistant Editor can be used (if you are careful) to identify the various problem domains, concerns and issues etc. Armando Saldaña Mora has very useful tools in his book for screenwriters and this is based on one technique he describes.

So I was wondering if anyone else had any experience in this area or whether I am going down an alley previously identified as blind.
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Graham
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Re: Dramatica and editing documentary

Postby Graham » Jun 15, 2009 6:04 pm

Hey, I’ve used Dramatica for documentaries too. I’ve used it successfully, but to different degrees, for two films.

The first documentary film I used it for was a feature that I produced about a muralist. I used Dramatica throughout the entire project. Having studied Dramatica for a couple of years and having used it to write a few short screenplays, I had been wondering if you could apply Dramatica theories to “real life.” When the opportunity to do the film came up, I began working on the storyform right away.

I tried different storyforms while the film was in production, but I couldn’t pick just one. For one thing I didn’t know if the story was going to end in SUCCESS or FAILURE. I also couldn’t yet tell if this was an ACTION or DECISION story. And both of these affected the plot progression of the storyform.

Once the filming was done, I was able to choose the storyform that fit best. Even though I did have a lot of footage (sixty hours), I was surprised that I found illustrations for nearly every story point.

This post is part of a longer article I’m writing, so here’s just a short list of which parts of Dramatica were most helpful in finding the story in what I’d shot, and how they helped me:
1) Main Character - focused the story on one artist
2) Four Throughlines - defined the different perspectives of the story
3) Overall Story Character Elements – helped me decide whether to include someone in the film
4) Overall Story Plot Progression – gave me a strong outline to create acts, choose scenes, and keep the story moving.

I’d love to discuss this more. Sorry I didn’t see your post sooner.

Graham

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Re: Dramatica and editing documentary

Postby Mwoll » Nov 19, 2009 10:18 am

Should I thank the spammer for bringing this post up to the top? Interesting.

SimonM
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Re: Dramatica and editing documentary

Postby SimonM » Apr 10, 2010 5:23 am

Gosh, I've not been here in a while.

Another fascinating tool that I have found is Dramatica's grid of genres against modes of expression on page 158 of the book. This has lots to say to documentary film makers. There are really four fundamental questions you must answer to make a complete documentary:

1 Where and What is it?
2 How does it work?
3 What does it mean?
4 Why is it important?

And these make great starting points for constructing interview questions as well as setting out sequences. I now ensure that when I write treatments I note which question each sequence or section is primarily exploring.

As we know, Dramatica Theory allows us to shift modes of expression as long as we move sequentially through them. So it's quite permissible in a documentary to explore Where/What is it by looking at comedic situations. If the content lends itself better to Drama then maybe we explore that question by looking at how things are balanced after going through entertainment or comedy.

I must also admit to largely relinquishing the idea of B-Roll. It's generally an admission that we didn't research or shoot the story well enough to tell the story. But Phil Hodgetts' tool is still very useful as a way of getting first cuts done fast. Like Graham, I believe that a Dramatica analysis can provide rich metadata for what has been shot.

The more that I get to know Dramatica the more useful I find it.
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Chris Huntley
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Re: Dramatica and editing documentary

Postby Chris Huntley » Apr 26, 2010 9:03 am

Thank you Graham and Simon for discussing how you use Dramatica for documentaries. I love to see how you put it to practical applications I hadn't considered.

Cheers,
Chris Huntley
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SimonM
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Re: Dramatica and editing documentary

Postby SimonM » May 13, 2010 2:50 pm

Whoops, I have been busy and away for a while.

If Dramatica works as seamlessly as I suspect with factual content then this will provide proof positive of its validity. The rules of documentary are pretty much the rules of the 'real' world and so a coherent story here means that it is working within the reality that most of us accept as 'the world'. And we can test this.

That would have an interesting implication for life, the universe and everything. Maybe 32,768 is the new 42.

I have difficulty concerning the order in which the modes of expression progress. Why must you go from information to drama or entertainment but not straight to comedy? Obviously all of these modes are frequently used in documentary but I don't intuitively understand the rule.

Regards

Simon
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Re: Dramatica and editing documentary

Postby Chris Huntley » May 14, 2010 11:10 am

OK, it is a rule, but it can be broken.

Here's the idea behind the rule.

The modes of expression tap into our most generalized (at least for men) and emotional responses and mental processes. Traveling through the modes without skipping gives us a coherent, emotional journey to accompany our intellectual one. There is latitude for moving quickly through one mode to the next, but overt jumps from one mode to another can be jarring. This can have the effect of pulling the viewer out of the experience and making the viewer aware of the story's artifice.

Obviously, sometimes jarring the audience is the author's intent, in which case jumping across modes of expression may be used as just another storytelling technique.
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SimonM
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Re: Dramatica and editing documentary

Postby SimonM » Aug 20, 2010 2:57 pm

I know that it is not a full sized documentary but it occurred that you might be interested in the first cut of a very short film I made a few weeks back.

A colleague called me late one morning. In his capacity as leader of a charitable foundation he was visiting a local school and came across what he thought to be a noteworthy occurrence. He asked if I could film it. "I could", I supposed. "Good, I'll pick you up and explain on the way over!"; he hung up, I began to secrete adrenaline.

My fight/flight dilemma was fuelled by the knowledge that a fifteen minute drive is not enough time for a coherent explanation; however, he was a good Impact Character and I gleaned that it was something to do with a sports partnership in which the school and some pupils were involved. So I thought it would be good to try out the four information questions from the matrix of domains against modes of expression. I had nothing else.

I shot the film in half a dozen locations around the school in about an hour and a half and then took it home for a two and a half hour edit. As you will see from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyBMsOf9RpU I am no DoP. By no means the full argument but maybe just enough of Dramatica to hold up.

Now I am certainly not offering this up for even a brass sprocket or anything like that but I was thrilled and impressed at how Dramatica could work from a standing start with almost no preparation and yet produce a credible piece - of course you may not agree.
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