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Docudrama on film and television
Author: Derek Paget

Docudrama has become centrally important not only in television production but also in film. They require pre-production research and this is a key marker of difference between docudrama and other kinds of drama. In its emphasis on personality, modern docudrama adheres to a US 'made-for-TV movie' mode that Todd Gitlin has described as ' little personal stories that executives think a mass audience will take as revelations of the contemporary'. This book outlines the main legal and regulatory issues that concern docudrama. The sheer proliferation of words and phases coined to categorise forms that mix drama and documentary is in itself remarkable. Phrases, compound nouns and noun coinages have been drawn mainly from four root words: documentary, drama, fact, and fiction. The book discusses the form's principal codes and conventions to which people in a media-literate environment respond, and that they recognise prior to categorising what they watch. Cultures are living things, condensing around 'key words'. Such words mark out points of interest, contestation and anxiety. Griersonian documentary actively embraced an artfulness always likely to be at odds with the recording of 'actuality'. The history of factual drama replays in microcosm the essential differences in emphases between the British and American television systems. Societies under threat from shadowy 'terrorist' organisations offered new templates for the docudramas that eventually fuelled 1990s 'co-pros' of interest to audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. The current spectrum of 'intergeneric hybridisation' in film and television can be represented graphically.

Derek Paget

This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book introduces new material in order to account for newly flourishing mixtures of documentary and drama. Docudrama has necessarily had to adjust to the cultural moment. Developments in forms and modes of access have meant that all the codes and conventions of traditional documentary have been made available for mixture with other kinds of representation. As digitalization re-forms the economy of broadcasting worldwide, the questions about the ethics and values that obtained continue to drive both popular and academic debate. Modern film and television drama has for sometime been framed and organised to capture the 'buzz' and immediacy available in other forms of 'direct cinema'. The spectrum of 'intergeneric hybridisation' in film and television can be represented graphically.

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Derek Paget

Docudramas require pre-production research and this is a key marker of difference between docudrama and other kinds of drama. The facts portrayed in television docudrama are subject to pre-production checks, with the script drafts constantly referring to lawyers to ensure that films are legally defensible at the level of fact. This chapter focuses on the dramatic performance itself, in terms of the realisation of the docudrama in front of the camera-eye and microphone-ear, and in terms of what actors do when they act. It provides the comparisons between the television studio and the theatre space, between the activities taking place within each, and between the relative juxtapositions in the two spaces of performers, crews, and audience. The theatrical process depends upon a specific occasion when audience and actors meet in the same time and space.

in No other way to tell it
Derek Paget

This chapter aims to outline the main legal and regulatory issues that concern docudrama. The legal mantra, 'due impartiality', 'accuracy', 'fairness', 'informed consent' comprises working concepts that try to give protection to both sides of a docudramatic operation. 'Legalling' is the term used for the vetting of a docudrama by production company lawyers. The process must take account of two separate systems: regulation; and the law itself. British law is enshrined in the 1996 Defamation Act. The legal contribution to the process is now so direct that it can easily be read as a kind of censorship. Many creatives now fight for shy of working in an area overdetermined by legal and regulatory constraints. The break-up of the post-war consensus in Britain has led to challenges to the network that once guaranteed acquiescence in a gentlemanly square dance between legislators and broadcasters.

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Derek Paget

Everyone concerned with the film and television industries relies on the public's facility with codes and conventions. The tendency increasingly to create entertaining hybrids means that codes and conventions of docudrama have expanded either side of the millennium. Linking captions can supply both a narrative and a dramatic function. Use of documentary material is an important and distinctive convention of the part-fiction film that is docudrama. The voiceover is a convention that docudrama shares with documentary film. The theoretical term diegesis refers to the method of narration employed in a film and is used to mark the degree to which necessary information is conveyed to an audience from within the story-world of the film. Newspaper campaigns can be counted as part of docudrama's extra-textual. The camera's power as witness is central to many cultural phenomena, the representational codes of the docudrama being one.

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Derek Paget

When the eminent British cultural theorist Raymond Williams published Keywords in 1976, he intended an 'inquiry into a vocabulary'. In the UK, the late 1970s and early 1980s saw the real academic debate about the form. The 'wordsearch' for a phrase that will tie docudrama down has been going on, since television in particular became culturally important. The first recorded usages of the adjective 'documentary' in English are from the early nineteenth century and can be linked to a post-Enlightenment faith in positivist science and rationality. Docudrama's truth-claim, based as it is on 'fact' and derived from the linkage of the documentary with systems of incontrovertible facts, is frequently wrecked on the rocks of such scepticism. Dictionaries have increasingly been forced to take note of the coinages and compound nouns forged from 'drama', 'documentary', 'fact' and 'fiction'.

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Derek Paget

Docudrama has its roots in a documentary film tradition that was always prepared to use fictional means to tell a factual story. BBC television's postwar dramatised story documentaries were built upon the twin foundations of the radio work and documentary film. In 1998, the author suggests a developmental model for the histories of British dramadoc and American docudrama. In the two national television systems of the UK and USA, the key post-war determinants that shaped the initial development of British dramadoc and American docudrama were economic, historical, cultural and political. The different imperatives of American television produced fact-based programming in the first phase of US development. In the era of 'Griersonian television', documentary's probity and sobriety were little doubted by audiences relatively unschooled in understandings of representation. 'Sincere and justifiable reconstruction', like 'judicious fiction', is a phrase that eloquently indicates the dependence of 1940s filmmakers on something beyond raw actuality.

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Derek Paget

In his account of docudrama's second phase, the author argues that different-but-related broadcasting cultures in the USA and the UK were gradually drawing together. In the second phase live studio drama was being superseded by location-based filming developed following technological change. British dramadoc in the 1960s was more high-mindedly conscious of social and political purpose. By 1980, the techniques of the Granada dramadoc were well enough established for fellow producer David Boulton to describe them as the 'Woodhead Doctrine'. In marked contrast to Granada dramadocs, American docudramas around this time were beginning to focus more and more on the personal and the tabloid. Trauma dramas focus dramatically, and read sympathetically they critique, the very self-help individualism touted by Ronald Reagan in the run-up to his victory in the 1980 Presidential election.

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Derek Paget

The first collaboration between Home Box Office (HBO) and Granada was in 1987 with Tailspin (US title)/Coded Hostile(UK). The Hollywood influence was obvious, and continued to be for third-phase co-pros. In the third phase headline docudramas concentrated on 'tales of adversity' and 'tales of crime', mimicking tabloid headline stories. By the fourth phase, the desires and pleasures available to the viewer of docudrama had been exploited and developed to a new and sophisticated level. Docudramas are sometimes the visible evidence of 'slowed down' state in a culture. The news story behind Hostages had been around for a while by the time Granada/HBO's co-production reached television screens in the UK and the USA, in 1992 and 1993 respectively. All docudrama is 'trauma drama' through which collective guilt, paranoia and vicarious suffering is picked over and examined, and anxiety is either mitigated or cranked up.

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Derek Paget

Hybridisation has promoted intertextual relationships with a variety of different sense-making factual and fictional entertainments. In its third phase docudrama demonstrated an accommodation to film aesthetics and structures that many found worrying. But convergences of both industrial and aesthetical have marked out fourth-phase docudrama as something altogether different. The continued need for a forum is at least as likely as scenarios, in which television's digitalisation creates a multi-form ecology incapable of delivering anything other than niche-market audiences to advertisers. Television docudrama had continued its revisiting of events from history in the fourth phase, but has utilised new means to its memorialising ends. Styles used can be traced not only to British and American docudramatic traditions, but also to Hollywood bio-pic and 'issue' film and to boundaries newly made porous. The chapter finally draws attention to the merger of musical and factual forms in the 'documusical' and the 'docuopera'.

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