1) Preamble

The following is a essay was written for my MA. The first 3 sections lay out the essay. The essay starts properly at section 4 so you may wish to skim or skip the first 3 as they may feel rather academic.

As part of the research for this essay I interviewed online (video) editors and throughout this document cite them. They are:

  • Bini, Jon - who has worked with Werner Herzog on over 15 of his films (Including Grizzly Man) and numerus documentaries and feature films (including there is something about Kevin).
  • Atkins, Mark - who has worked with nick Broomfield (Biggie & Tupac,Kurt & Courtney) and edited factual TV programmes and Feature Documentaries.
  • Sundlöf, Stefan - editor on Into Eternity.
  • Hankin, Richard- editor of Capturing the Friedmans.
  • Flextone, Daren - editor no My Life as a Turkey and numbers documentaries and factual TV and Wildlife programmes.
  • Steve, Philips - editor of David Attenborough gorillas and numbers documentaries and factual TV and Wildlife programmes.

The original essay had many footnotes which are not included here, if you wish a full copy or please Contact Me.

2) Introduction

For my research project I chose to look into the subject of story and narrative construction in documentary picture editing.

The fundamentals of storytelling were laid by Aristotle around 335 B.C., these have been extended by others such as McKee but it is one of the oldest disciplines within media and is largely culturally agnostic, many seeing storytelling being hard wired in humans. Due to the maturity of this subject it is books, rather than journal and periodical articles, which have the insight in terms of the fundamentals of storytelling. In terms of documentary storytelling it is directors and editors who have the insight and there is only really one book that covers it (Bernard 2011). I have been unable to find anything written about storytelling from the context of the editor apart from the odd chapter in books on editing and these generally focus on drama

This seems odd as almost all agree that story and narrative are an important part of contemporary media, but as McKee points out

Trends in literary theory have drawn professors away from the deep sources of story towards language, codes, text-story seen from the outside. As a result, with some notable exceptions, the current generation of writers has been undereducated in the prime principles of story” (McKee 1999: 16).

Research Question

My main research question is:

How does a documentary picture editor turn the material they are given into a narrative?

To answer this question I drilled down and will be using the following questions:

What are the fundamental principles of story?

How can these principles, which stem from drama, be applied to documentary?

These questions were chosen because each builds on the previous and feeds into the next.

Question 1 is an investigation into 'classic' storytelling. This starts from Aristotle’s work on drama in Poetics and uses Robert McKee’s book Story (McKee 1999) to navigate the topic with some help from Alexander Mackendrick’s book On Film-making (Mackendrick 2004). It is a book which is very well respected and has few critics. The main criticism seems to be that he has no screen credits on the big screen although he has written for TV (D'Agostino 2010).

Question 2 looks at story in the context of documentary, one of the texts I have used here is Documentary Storytelling (Bernard 2011) which is one of the few books on the subject. It does draw on McKees' work by using some of his ideas but I feel it only scratches the surface. It does not discuss how ideas in classical storytelling from people like McKee, or to what extent they must be modified and to what extent and how his ideas should be modified.

Research Method

Previously I have interviewed documentary editors and one of my questions concerned constructing narrative. For this research as well as using these previous interviews, I have carried out additional interviews with documentary editors focusing on story. My research will primarily comprise looking at books on storytelling and editing and interviews with documentary editors. These interviews are thematically structured with the discourse of interviews constructed jointly by interviewee and respondents (Mishler 1886:ix).