‘Mockumentary’ camerawork creates sense of reality

By Katlyn Moncada, A&E Editor

Running and falling. Muffled conversation. Breathing heavy. Motion sickness.

These are just a few of the emotions and experiences one can feel upon watching a film or television show shot intentionally from a camera’s vantage point. Doing so creates a sense of reality for the audience, as if viewers are actually onsite.

The fictional documentary, or ‘mockumentary,’ style of camerawork can be remembered films dating back to the late 1960s.

Perhaps the most well-known film of this kind in the last 15 years is “The Blair Witch Project” from 1999. According to the Internet Movie Database website, “The Blair Witch Project” cost $22,000 to make went on to net $240.5 million at the box office — a ratio of $1 spent for every $10,931 made.

The trend of mockumentaries is remaking its claim to fame on screens in homes and in theaters.

For example, take one of ABC’s newer shows, “The River.” Oren Peli, creator of the show and “Paranormal Activity,” is known for this type of camerawork.

The opening credits of every episode of “The River” give the viewer a synopsis for the situation of a documentary crew on a mission to find a missing TV explorer in the Amazon.

Before going into the video log, the viewer is told he or she is seeing “footage they left behind.”

Rich Newman, founder of the Memphis Film Society, said this particular style of camerawork has been around for a long time. He noted some early examples, including  the work of Joseph Cornell and Bruce Conner.

Newman listed several reasons  why “mockumentaries” have had such a big impact on film and television.

“It allows the filmmaker to use a videocamera,” Newman said. “This is a much cheaper route for an indie filmmaker than trying to shoot with film.”

Newman also noted how today’s society continues to want to see more “mockumentary” types of shows.

“Our acceptance of ‘reality’ television and even YouTube has made us more receptive to things that look like video,” he said.

Watching movies in the raw, unedited and uncut style could be due to particular story lines and low budgets. However, there is a rise of bigger names and production studios getting involved with found footage films.

“More and more big budget movies are taking this approach,” Newman said. “The movie ‘Cloverfield’ proved that all ‘found footage’ movies didn’t have to rely on a low-budget approach like ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and even ‘Paranormal Activity.’”

Newman cited two recent movies, “Chronicle” and “Project X,’ as two examples of recent successes.

“Chronicle” is a film about three teenagers that discover they each have supernatural powers and document their newfound experiences.

Overall, Newman said he is in favor of the format.

“It’s just one more way for a filmmaker to get their film across to their audience,” Newman said. “It’s clearly not for every cinematographer — or even director — but if this is the aesthetic you desire, by all means, go for it.”

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.