Cinematography School for the Reality TV Generation

Last week I heard a kid call the movie "Jackass" a documentary and I almost fainted. Do we really have a whole generation who thinks that reality television is the result of film school?

Documentary Films Take Reality TV to School

These days it seems we're surrounded by images everywhere we go. Our phones, our emails, and our computers allow us take pictures and video and send them off in the click of a button. But is this the same as documentary film? Anyone who's thought a lick about film school will say no, no, no. (In fact, they might say noooooooooo and let their voices fall away dramatically.)

Real Confusion

Of course, the poor kid I overheard can't be entirely to blame. At least "Jackass" is a movie about people doing things in real life--in that sense, it seems like reality. The thing is, in a documentary film, there are whole schools of thought behind the way the recording of reality is replayed in the finished product. In short, there is a process of editing and refining that makes it a piece of art rather than something that just "happened".

Documentary Film School + Cinematography Primer

Most cinematography schools will introduce you to the long, winding history of documentary film, and help you learn to ask questions about the documentary as a genre. Film schools will also introduce you to:

  • contemporary technology
  • production methods
  • format, structures, styles
  • methods for creating stories based on themes or cultural questions
  • specific skill bases such as camera work, lighting, sound work, set up, and lighting, etc.

Film Festivals Bring in the Crowds

Although most documentaries don't bring the million dollar paychecks like the Hollywood flicks, they do have a serious, dedicated following. Big film festivals like Sundance have become a haven for independent and documentary films. But smaller festivals like The Big Sky Film Festival in Missoula, Montana are also exciting intense interest.

Some might say that documentaries are the most pure form of film--and maybe the popularity of reality TV is actually leading people toward film school, not away. Maybe the question is fodder for a film itself.

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