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TitleWriting the Short Film
PublisherFocal Press
ISBN 139780240805887
CategoryArts - Film
File Size3.4 MB
Total Pages371
Document Text Contents
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Third Edition

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The Relationship of Docudrama to Issues of the Day

Like melodrama, the docudrama is eminently adaptable to the issues of the
day. Because as a style it gives the viewer the sense of being there as the
story is unfolding, the style evokes the power of television with its imme-
diacy. Consequently, films such as The Death of a Princess are particularly
powerful. Much of Ken Loach’s work, from Poor Cow to Riff Raff, has this
quality. The docudrama also lends weight to past events, special events,
and famous people of the past. Steven Spielberg’s techniques for the open-
ing battle scene of Saving Private Ryan borrow extensively from the style of
the docudrama. He has used the approach not only to memorialize the
D-day landings on the beaches of Normandy but also to give us the feeling
that we are on those beaches.

The docudrama form is particular and elicits a very specific kind of reac-
tion from its audience. It lends an immediacy to events past and present, an
immediacy that is quite unique in its impact on the audience.

The Voice of the Author

Although one interpretation of docudrama is to call it simply classical melo-
drama with a distinctive style, this is too circumscribed a definition to
encompass docudrama fully. Another view is to call docudrama a story form
that, by virtue of the author’s strongly held views, requires a style powerful
enough to act as a pronouncement of those views. To put it more simply,
docudrama is a form in which it is important to the author to say to the audi-
ence, “This story is more important than your average melodrama. I have
something to say, and I want you to listen and to watch and to be moved to
action by the experience.”

In this sense, the choice of a docudrama approach in a film such as Ken
Loach’s Land and Freedom, with its cinema verité style, gives us the sense that
we are there on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War. The style
gives a feeling of immediacy to the combat scenes, but the docudrama form
also has an impact on the narrative choices Loach makes. On at least three
occasions during the film, lengthy debates take place about issues that are in
essence matters of dogma: land rights; the role of the Soviet Communist
Party and Joseph Stalin in the organization of the Republican side; and mil-
itary organization—whether formal structure would undermine the para-
military units, which are presented as ideologically “pure” and therefore
true revolutionaries. These lengthy discussions are filmed earnestly and
respectfully, as if they were just happening. From a dramatic point of view,
these choices make the experience of the film more educational than “emo-
tional,” as melodramatic equivalents (The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the
Bell Tolls) would tend to be.

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Page 186

When they wish to achieve a more active voice—a voice that implies a
higher level of importance, serving an educational or political goal rather
than entertainment—directors choose the docudrama, a form whose style
implies, “This is important.”


For docudrama, as for melodrama, it is useful to look at case studies in order
to understand the narrative shape of the form. The two case studies below
will represent two of the subcategories of the docudrama: the event, Peter
Watkins’s Culloden (1964); and the political portrait, Ken Loach’s Land and
Freedom (1996).


The Main Character and His Goal
The story proceeds without a main character. The combatants are the
Scottish and the English. The leadership in each case is highlighted; how-
ever, there is no single character through whom we enter the story. If there is
the equivalent of a main character, it is the narrator, in essence a reporter in
search of the story. He interviews combatants, the victors as well as the van-
quished. He is looking to explain as well as to understand the battle and its
aftermath. In this sense, the narrator could be considered the main character,
with the goal of reporting the story of the last battle to occur on British soil.
The narrator, by the way, is Peter Watkins himself. Using the form of the
docudrama, he has made himself, and his voice about the battle, the entry
point (which is the role of the main character) into the story.

The Antagonist
The antagonist in this story is certainly the imperial forces, from the com-
mander, Prince William of England, down to the English soldiers. They are
portrayed as cruel, lusting for Scottish blood. Although Prince Charles, who
leads the Scottish rebellion, is rebuked for his indifference to his forces and
for his addiction “to his little bottle,” he is presented as no worse than an
incapable leader of the disunited, underarmed forces that meet the English
on the field at Culloden.

The Catalytic Event
Since the entire film is devoted to the events leading up to the battle, the bat-
tle itself, and its aftermath, the catalytic event would have to be considered

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Page 370

Vinterberg, Thomas, 172
Visual design

sound design and, 109
Visual detail, 103

principle of, 107
process of, 107–108

of author in docudrama, 174–175
of author in experimental

narrative, 209–210
of author in hyperdrama, 191–192
character and, 65–67
in dramatic strategy, 119
in experimental narrative, 216
experimental narrative case

studies in, 218–219
Von Trier, Lars, 172, 188, 191
Vonnegut, Kurt, 117

The Waiters (Webb), 109
Waiting, 108
Wanting, 108
The War Game, 115
Ward, Vincent, 214
Watching, 108
“Watching, waiting, wanting,” 108
Watkins, Peter, 173, 175
Webb, Ken, 109
Wednesday’s Child (Loach), 172

Weir, Peter, 160
Weissman, Emily, 168
West Wing (television), 225
Westerns, 102
Wexler, Haskell, 171
Wieland, Joyce, 2
Wilde, Cornel, 198
Wilde, Oscar, 43

on life, 76
The Wizard of Oz (Fleming), 189, 191
Wong Kar-Wai, Won, 207
Working Girl (Nichols), 155
The Wounding (Emerling),

257, 308–322
Working Girls (Borden), 117
Wright, Basil, 2
Writing devices

docudrama, 178–181
for experimental narratives,

for hyperdrama, 197–199
for melodrama, 160–163

X factor, 35–36

Yates, Peter, 154, 156

Zemeckis, Robert, 188
Zucker, David, 198
Zweig, Paul, 9

Index 359

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