CT&D #78. Documentary Production: Research and Iteration

Below is my research production idea for a sample thesis abstract by a college student covering social media misuse (no link is available to view it however):

Moving forward from my previous post on ideas I had to produce filmed scenarios as part of a documentary supporting a student’s thesis with supplementary material, I have decided to go into a different direction, namely to film businesspeople in a boardroom versus launching a fake marketing campaign on social media or even developing a fake web series in hopes of it going viral.

Given that the issue the thesis focuses on is social media not being properly utilized by businesses and organizations for statistical purposes, it is important to show businesspeople and those unaffiliated with the issue on how similar or different every approach is between boardrooms in formulating a decision behind utilizing or not utilizing the tool. Thus, the audience that I’m targeting in putting together my idea is directly where the thought process for this idea originated, evolved and now is ultimately envisioned with respect to the best way this story can be told.

Now filming the behaviors and actions of what goes on within a company or business is not too commonplace, at least based on my research. However, films dramatizing and reenacting factual events based on a company is 1. Various filmmakers do this to push an agenda or raise an issue by educating audiences via a documentary. In my case as a digital media student hypothetically producing a thesis to raise awareness on the issue of social media misuse, I’ve found a similar project that delved into the dynamics of business interaction between two or more parties affecting corporate decision(s).

A filmmaker by the name of Roger Graef produced a documentary called aptly enough Decisions. In it, the decision-making process is explored within the boardrooms of big businesses in England. Not only was Graef granted permission to film these intimate environments but he also employed use of his “fly on the wall” perspective approach (meaning to us viewers, it’s as if we are first-hand witnesses of the ongoing actions seen onscreen). Essentially, this meant that very revealing and often tense moments were captured between the company’s employees and their superiors. Ultimately, Graef wanted to show that business decisions are valued among the higher-ups and very little attention (if not more contention) is directed toward the regular employee 2, 3.

This kind of workplace culture is just what I need to show in my documentary but it’s still not enough. The focus is not just the culture, it’s the psychology between these parties that determine how a decision is made. This segues into my next point for why I want to film these environments: it’s the question of are these companies unwilling to adhere to new ideas if brought up, even with significant proof or potential there is to back their usefulness for businesses to profit?

 

The TV program, The Apprentice is a reality game show that focuses on strangers (usually with business backgrounds) that team up and work against others in various tasks, often highlighting the skill sets and decisions that lead to a favorable or unfavorable outcome in a business task. In the show, “confessionals” are used to allow contestants to explain to the audience their thought processes (usually when not making a snarky remark at the expense of another contestant). Between this and the aired action amongst the contestants and host within a boardroom meeting, there would be a lot of value in showing the perspectives of these parties (between the one-on-one, individual, and group configurations) in a documentary. Why? Because doing this would one, show the attitudes towards how people formulate a decision being either looked at as either logically- or emotionally-based and two, the rebuttals and points would be revealed by those who otherwise be shut down because he or she is not superior or verbally dominant enough to be heard in the first place 4.

Overall, this format would allow for the answering of questions raised by the thesis (i.e. What stigma or why is there such associated with social media that makes it the target of “superficial” and “tokenistic” use?) by examining the (revealing) behaviors the lead to a business, in whole or in part to determine its decision. Equally important would be making the documentary engaging and to shed light on the decision makers to give viewers a different angle or perspective on the issue (or to elicit a reaction from the audience; maybe this “feedback” will convince companies to reconsider their treatment of neglecting social media use, and perhaps other areas of decision making and running a business in certain areas, even treating their employee’s feedback differently). The student in his thesis claims that “specific information is being kept away from the public [regarding social media misuse].” Why not even challenge this statement and film the response to this? 5

To end off, given the reasons I mentioned for producing a documentary in this manner, I strongly feel that there needs to be more of a voice for filmmaking done this intimately. Other than competitive reality TV (a genre that I’m very familiar with) which for the most part entertains rather than educates, not enough documentaries use the “fly on the wall” approach, aside from capturing b-roll. The closest is actors being brought in to reenact a scene, sometimes with changes in what was actually said, and / or done. And even then (and in the case of this documentary), this kind of technique must be done under different settings for narrative consistency or lack of such that relates to the realistic handling of the issue central to the film. By all means, if production behind a documentary using this style lacks focus on highlighting the relationship between the parties that discuss social media use and instead aims to dramatize or even satirize the footage (even with scripted dialogue), this is one notable weakness that my idea may exhibit. However, with appropriate direction and carelessness being avoided, I strongly believe my idea is appropriate considering the issue I need to tackle and the trend we see in some reality TV productions to educate on behaviors (such as Survivor showing psychology between its participants) 5, 6, 7.

Sources:

1: Lebowitz, Janna Goudreau and Shana. “15 Documentaries on Netflix That Will Make You Smarter about Business.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 2016. Web. 4 October 2016.

2: “The Documentary Conscience.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 October 2016. 3: “Roger Graef.” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 4 October 2016.

4: “The Apprentice (U.S. TV Series) – Premise.” The Apprentice (U.S. TV Series) – Premise. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 October 2016.

5: Videomaker. “Documentary Storytelling: Researching the Story.” YouTube. YouTube, 2011. Web. 5 October 2016.

6: Vogt, W. Paul. “Paul Vogt’s Research Methods Blog.” Paul Vogt’s Research Methods Blog. N.p., 1970. Web. 5 October 2016.

7: “Outwit, Outplay, Outlast: The Psychology of Survivor.” Psychology In Action. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 October 2016.

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