Accuracy Killed Michael Jackson” (Steve Hewlett), it was hugely

Accuracy is the degree to which a subject is
correct and reliable. In the world of factual programming, being accurate is
vastly important. The whole point of a documentary is that it provides truthful,
up to date and dependable information in to a subject matter.

Succeeding in creating a completely accurate
factual programme is not easy. It involves copious amounts of research, and
there is always the risk that the information that you have gathered is not
correct. In order to ensure that your data is accurate, it is important to
congregate information from multiple sources.

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the case of the documentary, “The Man Who Killed Michael Jackson” (Steve
Hewlett), it was hugely imperative that the information given during the
documentary was correct. The programme looks in to the death of Michael Jackson
and how it was most likely caused by his doctor, Conrad Murray. Due to this
being a hugely popular subject, the filmmakers had to spend a lot of time
ensuring that the data in this programme was accurate. The documentary depicts
footage from Murray’s trial, interviews with Murray and also statistics
relating to Jackson’s death. Therefore, it is difficult to dispute the fact
that this is an accurate documentary.

the documentary “Blackfish” (Gabriela
Cowperthwaite), a programme that looks into how the Orlando
Marine Park’s giant orca killed his trainer in 2010, was called
“inaccurate and misleading” by SeaWorld. “SeaWorld is one of the
world’s most respected zoological institutions, that SeaWorld rescues, rehabilitates
and returns to the wild hundreds of wild animals every year, and that SeaWorld
commits millions of dollars annually to conservation and scientific research.
Instead of a fair and balanced treatment of a complex subject, the film is
inaccurate and misleading and, regrettably, exploits a tragedy that remains a
source of deep pain for Dawn Brancheau’s family, friends and colleagues.”
– A statement made by SeaWorld.

Balance, Impartiality and Bias

When making a
documentary it is vital to take in to account different viewpoints, to look at
more than one side of a subject and to not make biased statements or
judgements. However, this has been proven difficult by many filmmakers as often
a documentary will exhibit a certain viewpoint, especially on documentaries
examining social, political or cultural issues.

To ensure that your programme is
balanced, impartial and non-biased you must obtain applicable and appropriate
arguments and present them suitably. You must not include too much, or any,
personal opinion as you must keep in mind that the viewer is not watching the
documentary to hear your opinion, but to be educated. Basically, you must be

A good example
of a documentary like this is “Panorama: The Secrets of Scientology” (John
Sweeney). The documentary looks in to the recent growing popularity of the
Church of Scientology, and if the religion can be considered a cult or not. The
documentary features interviews with people with opposing viewpoints,
interviews with members of the Church, background information on the Church and
plenty of indisputable footage of arguments, court cases etc. Therefore, this
documentary can be considered balanced and unbiased.

documentary “Kurt and Courtney” (Nick Broomfield), looks in to the death of Kurt
Cobain and how his wife, Courtney Love, may have been responsible for his
death. It is obvious when watching the documentary that it is unmistakeably
biased, as Broomfield mostly just searches for evidence that Love was Cobain’s
killer. The documentary depicts three accusations from a private investigator,
a close friend of Love’s, and her own father that she murdered Cobian. He
rarely looks at the other side of the story, that Cobain committed suicide,
which is the side that most people believe.



In order to
present information it is important to gather varying opinions on the matter.
It helps with the validity of the opinions if they come from professionals that
are associated with the subject matter. For example, in “Super Size Me” (Morgan
Spurlock), a documentary in which Morgan Spurlock does an experiment where he
only eats McDonalds food for one month to see how his body reacts, Spurlock
gathers information from various medical professionals such as a cardiologist, a
gastrologist, a dietician and a general practitioner. We see these people every
now and then throughout the documentary as they give information and their
professional opinions and advice to Spurlock on how his McDonalds challenge is
affecting his body.

– In this clip from “Super Size Me”, Spurlock’s doctors are telling him that
his new diet is proving itself to be very harmful for his body. They advise him
to stop doing the challenge because his heart, liver and blood are suffering.
These opinions help Spurlock to make the point that fast food is more harmful
than most people realise.

Opinion in
documentaries is significant. However, so is fact. Due to it being factual programming, I think that
documentary makers should focus more on the facts than the opinions. Nonetheless,
opinion can help the documentary maker send an overall message or create a
general tone.

are documentaries which don’t require opinion and only give facts and
information to the viewer. Documentaries such as “Planet Earth” (David
Attenborough) do not rely on gathering information from people. Documentaries
like this don’t have interviews with people; they just provide information to
the viewer and show footage of the subject matter. Their purpose is more
educational and therefore opinion is not necessary.


The way that
the subjects are represented in a documentary is mostly down to the documentary
maker and it affects how a subject is seen by the viewer throughout the whole
programme. The documentary maker can manipulate the footage of the subjects to
make someone seem a certain way, which may add entertainment value or may cause
the audience to think a certain way. They can also interview their subjects in
a particular setting with a carefully thought-out background so that they a
represented how the documentary maker wants it. Or, they may decide to only
show specific features of their personalities. For example, they may show the
viewer the kinder side of a person and then choose not to show their more
aggressive side.

Coming back to
“Kurt and Courtney”, this is a prime example of how the documentary maker, Nick
Broomfield, has decided to represent Courtney Love in a specific way.
Broomfield hints at multiple times throughout the programme that Courtney
murdered, or hired someone to murder, Kurt Cobain. This is done by showing her
in a negative light by featuring the negative things that her father had to say
about her. He also showed footage of her friends
who he made clear were drug/alcohol dependant, which sheds a negative light on
her life.

– This is an interview that was featured in the documentary with a man named El
Duce who claimed that Love offered him $50,000 to murder Cobain. This
immediately makes the viewer suspicious of Love, even though El Duce appears to
be drunk and unreliable, it still makes the viewer think “what if?”.


In order to
create a documentary you need access to a location, people or objects. Without
these things it would be very difficult to create a believable, entertaining
and convincing programme. Some people that you may want to interview might not
be available or willing to answer questions, and so you have to find a way
around that. Also, if you want to shoot on a specific location it may be
illegal to use recording equipment in that location, for example in an airport,
and so you have to move location. These are just a few of the issues that a
documentary filmmaker will come across.

Access is also about getting the audience
involved in the making of factual programming so that they have a say in how a
subject is represented and viewed. It also allows them to give feedback on a
subject. An example of this is a programme called “Talking Bad”, which is about
the fictional series called “Breaking Bad” and it allows the audience and fans
of “Breaking Bad” to talk about the episodes of the show and what they thought
of the characters and the storyline. A similar programme is “Talking Dead”
which is the same thing as “Talking Bad”, but is for the fictional series “The
Walking Dead”.


makers often run in to problems regarding privacy when creating documentaries.
They are eager to get information and sometimes that involves crossing a line
and becoming quite intrusive. However, it is sometimes necessary to be
intrusive to get the information that the programme requires. Documentary maker
Michael Moore, for example, tends to ask people personal and/or uncomfortable
questions. In his television series “The Awful Truth” he asks various Christian
politicians about their faith and beliefs. Some of these interviewees appear to
be uncomfortable and try to avoid the questions.

are certain laws that a documentary maker must follow in order to avoid fines
and legal action against them. For example, if a subject asks if he/she can stop
being filmed then the cameraman must stop filming unless they have a warrant to
continue. Also, when filming or recording in institutions, organisations or
other agencies then permission to film must be obtained.

In 2010 an
argument was but forward by Brett Mills from the University of East Anglia that
documentary makers should respect the privacy of animals as much as they do for
humans. He said “It might at first seem odd to claim that animals might have a
right to privacy, but animal behaviour shows that they can make a distinction
between public and private behaviour. There are times when they withdraw from
“public” areas, and appear to want privacy. For humans it is assumed
that documentary makers would need consent to go into people’s private lives,
but no such boundary exists for wildlife filmmakers. When confronted with such
‘secretive’ behaviour the response of the wildlife documentary is to read it as
a challenge to be overcome with the technologies of television. The question
constantly posed by wildlife documentaries is how animals should be filmed:
they never ask whether animals should be filmed at all.” This is a good
point as in wildlife documentaries, as long as they have permission, the director/cameraman
can film the animals as much as they want. In the documentary “Grizzly Man”
(Werner Herzog) we see a lot of the footage filmed by Timothy Treadwell of
grizzly bears in the wild, as well as Timothy’s life in Alaska. Treadwell was
clearly hoping to make a film using this footage; however he was killed before
he had the chance. Therefore, in “Grizzly Man” we may be seeing footage that
Treadwell never intended anyone else to see. His privacy is consequently
compromised, as well as the bears and other animals he filmed.

Contract with Viewer

Contract with the viewer is about what
the viewer is promised when watching the trailer for a documentary or in the
opening of the documentary. For example, a documentary maker might make the
trailer for their documentary seem more exciting than it actually is in order
to get people to come and see the programme. This tactic is used often in the
film industry, and not just in factual programming. Filmmakers often get the
most action packed/the funniest/the most dramatic parts of their film and put
them in the trailer so that the film appears to be more appealing to the
audience when in reality the film may have a completely different tone.

For example,
“Catfish” (Nev Schulman) is about a true story of a man who meets a woman
online and after getting to know her gets in to a relationship with her before
even meeting her. With his friends filming him, he decides to pay her a
surprise visit so he can finally meet her. The trailer makes the film seem a
lot tenser than it actually is by taking the more dramatic parts of the film
and putting them in the trailer, along with “creepy” music and misleading
quotes from reviews. In actuality, the film is barely tense at all and
therefore the contract with the viewer is broken.