Docudrama: A Genre Defined
Docudrama is a genre that blends documentary and drama elements to recreate real-life events and people. It aims to depict true stories in a compelling way, while also maintaining factual accuracy and authenticity. In docudramas, real-life events and people are used as subject matter, with creative liberties taken to enhance dramatic effect.
Unlike traditional documentaries, docudramas use actors to portray real-life characters. However, they still aim to be as close to the truth as possible by incorporating facts from actual events.
Thus, the line between fact and fiction in docudramas can sometimes be blurred. As a result, there have been controversies surrounding the genre over the years.
A Brief History of Docudrama
The first known example of docudrama dates back to 1938 with CBS Radio’s “The War of the Worlds,” which adapted H.G Wells’ novel into a radio play that simulated a realistic news broadcast of an alien invasion. The production was so believable that it led many listeners to believe that Earth was actually being invaded by aliens. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that docudramas began appearing on television.
One of the first was “You Are There,” which aired on CBS from 1953-57 and depicted historical events such as the Salem Witch Trials and Julius Caesar’s assassination. The show used reporters who would interview historical figures like Joan of Arc or Christopher Columbus.
In recent years, docudramas have become increasingly popular thanks in part to streaming services like Netflix releasing critically acclaimed series such as “Making a Murderer” (2015) and “The Crown” (2016). This popularity has also brought about scrutiny over how much creative license can be taken when depicting real-life events without compromising authenticity.
The Characteristics of Docudrama
Use of Real-Life Events and People as Subject Matter
Docudramas are a genre of film or television that is based on real-life events and people. The genre is characterized by its use of factual content as the source for its narrative, which sets it apart from other fictional genres that rely solely on the imagination of its writers and creators.
The subject matters can range from political events, biographical accounts, to crime cases. The use of real-life events and people in docudramas gives them an air of authenticity that fiction-based genres lack.
This realism can be particularly convincing for audiences who may not be familiar with the true story behind the docudrama in question. However, this also means that docudramas must take great care to accurately represent both the facts and emotions surrounding the subject matter.
Blending of Documentary and Drama Elements
Another characteristic of docudramas is their blending of documentary-style techniques with elements found in traditional dramas. This synthesis creates a unique viewing experience by incorporating aspects like interviews, archival footage, voiceovers, or reenactments into a dramatic narrative structure.
This approach enables filmmakers to bring to life historical or current events through compelling storytelling techniques while still providing an honest account. It also allows filmmakers to incorporate multiple perspectives into their stories, balancing opposing viewpoints while still emphasizing the humanity behind them.
Emphasis on Factual Accuracy and Authenticity
The primary goal for most docudramas is to present factual information in an entertaining way. It’s essential for these types of production teams to gather research carefully while ensuring accuracy at every level — from details like period-accurate clothing props down to specific dates and times.
Authenticity is another key aspect; it’s important because it describes how truthful a representation looks regarding factual sources. For example, if some dialogue is invented to make a conversation flow better, it must still be plausible and in line with the spirit of what was said.
Creative License Taken to Enhance Dramatic Effect
Docudramas have no hard and fast rules governing how they should present their stories, but taking creative license to embellish or dramatize certain events for entertainment purposes is commonplace. Still, creators also need to ensure that they do not stray too far from the truth while doing so.
It’s crucial for creators of docudramas to balance entertainment value with the responsibility of presenting a factual account. Sometimes storytelling devices like composite characters or streamlined timelines are utilized to make events more accessible or compelling to viewers.
However, those techniques can also be perceived as manipulative or inaccurate depending on how far they’re taken. Thus, it is necessary for docudrama makers always to prioritize content integrity over sensationalism in order not to mislead any audience who might take these stories seriously.
Subgenres of Docudrama
Docudrama is a genre that has evolved over time, and there are now various subgenres within it. Each subgenre has a different focus and explores different themes, which makes docudrama an incredibly versatile genre. Some of the main subgenres of docudrama include historical docudramas, crime docudramas, and political docudramas.
Historical docudramas are perhaps the most common type of docudrama. They explore significant historical events and figures and aim to present them in an engaging way that captures the audience’s attention. Historical docudramas often feature lavish period costumes and sets to help transport viewers back in time.
One example of a historical docudrama that has been highly successful is “The Crown.” This Netflix series explores the reign of Queen Elizabeth II from her early days on the throne in 1952 to the present day. The show features an all-star cast, with Claire Foy playing the young Queen Elizabeth II and Olivia Colman taking over for later seasons.
Another example of a successful historical docudrama is “The Assassination of Gianni Versace.” This series looks at the life and death of fashion designer Gianni Versace, who was murdered outside his Miami Beach home in 1997. The show stars Edgar Ramirez as Versace and Penelope Cruz as his sister Donatella.
Crime docudramas have become increasingly popular in recent years thanks to true crime podcasts like “Serial” and “My Favorite Murder.” These shows typically focus on high-profile criminal cases from the past few decades, often featuring interviews with witnesses or family members affected by the crimes. One famous example of a crime docudrama is “Making a Murderer,” which premiered on Netflix in 2015.
The series follows the story of Steven Avery, a man from Wisconsin who was wrongly convicted of sexual assault and spent 18 years in prison before being exonerated by DNA evidence. However, just two years after his release, Avery was arrested for the murder of Teresa Halbach, a young photographer.
The show raises questions about whether Avery was unfairly targeted by law enforcement and whether he received a fair trial. Another popular crime docudrama is “The Jinx,” which aired on HBO in 2015.
This series looks at the life of Robert Durst, a wealthy real estate heir who has been accused of multiple murders over the years. The show features interviews with Durst himself as well as other key players in the case.
Political docudramas explore political events and figures, often using fictionalized versions of real-life people to tell their stories. These shows can be incredibly informative for viewers who are interested in politics or history, as they often shed new light on events that have shaped our world.
One example of a highly successful political docudrama is “The West Wing,” which aired on NBC from 1999 to 2006. The show follows the staff of fictional President Josiah Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen) as they navigate various political crises and personal challenges.
While “The West Wing” is a work of fiction, it draws heavily from real-world events and personalities to create an engaging and informative story. Another example of a successful political docudrama is “All the President’s Men,” which was released in 1976.
This film tells the story of two reporters (played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) who helped uncover the Watergate scandal that ultimately led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. While technically not a docudrama (it’s based on a book by the same name), “All the President’s Men” is a masterclass in investigative journalism and has been highly influential for journalists ever since.
The Role of the Writer in Docudrama Production
Researching the Subject Matter Thoroughly to Ensure Factual Accuracy
The writer is responsible for researching the subject matter thoroughly to ensure that the docudrama accurately represents real-life events and people. This requires careful attention to detail, as even small inaccuracies can undermine the credibility of the production. The writer must conduct extensive research, using a variety of sources such as news reports, court records, and interviews with witnesses and experts.
They must also be able to sift through conflicting accounts and determine which information is most reliable. To ensure factual accuracy, many docudramas employ fact-checkers who verify every aspect of the production.
The writer works closely with these fact-checkers to ensure that every scene is as accurate as possible. In some cases, fact-checkers may recommend changes or corrections that the writer must incorporate into their script.
Balancing Creative License with Respect for the Truth
While factual accuracy is crucial in docudrama production, creative license also plays a significant role in bringing real-life events to life on screen. The writer must balance their desire for dramatic impact with respect for the truth.
This can be a delicate balancing act: too much creative license can distort reality, while too little can make for a dull production. One way that writers balance creative license with respect for truth is by focusing on characters’ internal experiences rather than inventing external events.
For example, a docudrama about a political scandal might use fictional dialogue between characters but stay true to what was said publicly during press conferences or legislative hearings. Ultimately, finding this balance requires experience and judgment on behalf of both writers and producers.
Collaborating With Directors, Producers, and Actors to Bring the Story to Life
Docudramas require close collaboration between writers, directors, producers, and actors to bring the story to life. The writer and director work together to ensure that the writer’s vision is fully realized on screen.
The producer is responsible for securing funding, managing the budget, and overseeing production logistics. Actors must also work closely with writers and directors to portray real-life characters accurately.
They must capture not only their mannerisms and physical appearance but also their personalities and motivations. In many cases, docudramas feature both reenactments of real-life events as well as interviews with people involved in those events.
This requires actors to immerse themselves in their characters’ experiences while also remaining true to factual accuracy. Overall, producing a docudrama requires a collaborative effort between many different professionals who are committed to creating an engaging production that accurately represents reality.
Criticisms and Controversies Surrounding Docudramas
Questionable Factual Accuracy
One of the most common criticisms of docudramas is that they often take creative liberties with the facts, even when portraying real-life events or people. The phenomenon of “dramatization” can be misleading to viewers who may not know where facts end and fiction begins. In some cases, docudramas have been accused of ignoring important details or events that do not fit their narratives.
For example, the 2014 docudrama “The Imitation Game,” which depicts the life of mathematician Alan Turing during World War II, was criticized for taking significant liberties with Turing’s personal life and his contributions to code-breaking. Critics argued that the film deviated from historical accuracy in order to create a more compelling narrative.
Moral and Ethical Concerns
Another criticism leveled at docudramas is that they can raise moral and ethical concerns about how real-life events are portrayed on screen. Some argue that docudramas can be exploitative, particularly when depicting sensitive or traumatic subjects such as crime or tragedy.
Accusations have been made that some true crime docudramas can glorify violent behavior or trivialize victims’ experiences in order to attract viewership. For example, the Netflix series “Tiger King” has been criticized by animal welfare advocates for allegedly perpetuating harmful stereotypes about big cat ownership while using invasive techniques such as drone filming without obtaining proper permits. You may be interested in reading a few other articles we wrote about documentary filmmaking like: Reenactment Technique: Bringing History to Life and Doc Sound Design: Crafting Sonic Masterpieces to learn more about documentary filmmaking.
What are docudramas?
Docudramas are a type of film or television that combines elements of documentary and drama. They typically depict historical events or real people, but they often take creative liberties in order to make the story more engaging.
How are docudramas created?
Docudramas are created by a team of filmmakers, including writers, directors, actors, and producers. The filmmakers will typically conduct extensive research on the historical event or person they are depicting, and then they will use that research to create a fictionalized story that is still faithful to the facts.
When did docudramas first become popular?
The first docudramas were created in the early 1950s. The genre became particularly popular in the 1970s and 1980s, with films such as “The Day After” and “Holocaust” becoming major box office successes.
Who are some of the most famous docudramas?
Some of the most famous docudramas include:
- “The Day After” (1983): A dramatization of the aftermath of a nuclear war.
- “Holocaust” (1978): A dramatization of the Holocaust.
- “JFK” (1991): A dramatization of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
- “The Civil War” (1990): A 10-part miniseries that chronicles the American Civil War.
- “Band of Brothers” (2001): A miniseries that follows the exploits of Easy Company, a battalion of American paratroopers during World War II.
Where are docudramas typically shown?
Docudramas are typically shown on television or in movie theaters. Some docudramas have also been released on DVD or streaming services.
What are the benefits of docudramas?
Docudramas can be a powerful way to educate the public about historical events. They can also help to humanize historical figures and make them more relatable to viewers. Additionally, docudramas can be entertaining and suspenseful, which can make them more appealing to a wider audience.
What are the drawbacks of docudramas?
One of the main drawbacks of docudramas is that they can be inaccurate. This is because filmmakers often take creative liberties in order to make their stories more dramatic or exciting. Additionally, docudramas can be biased, as they often focus on one side of a historical event or issue.
Which docudramas are the most accurate?
The most accurate docudramas are those that are based on extensive research and that use historical consultants to ensure that the facts are correct. Additionally, docudramas that are written by historians or other experts in the field are more likely to be accurate than those that are written by screenwriters or other creative professionals.
What are the future trends for docudramas?
The future of docudramas is likely to be shaped by the rise of streaming services. As more and more people watch movies and television shows online, docudramas will become more accessible to a wider audience. Additionally, the increasing popularity of social media is likely to lead to more docudramas that are created by independent filmmakers and distributed online.
Docudrama is a genre that has faced numerous controversies over its history, but it also offers unique storytelling opportunities for filmmakers who wish to depict real-life events. Despite these controversies surrounding factuality and ethics, there are many examples of high-quality productions within this genre which carefully balance accuracy with creative license to tell compelling stories. It is crucial for docudramas to strike a balance between entertainment and accuracy.
As a viewer, it is important to be aware that not everything depicted in a docudrama may be accurate or truthful, and to undertake independent research if necessary. By acknowledging the limitations of the genre while also appreciating its artistic value, we can continue to enjoy and appreciate docudramas for the unique genre they are.