The best story tellers use technology to crystalise their dreams; it’s not the technology per se, but the idea. For more than half a century in broadcasting and hundreds of years in newsprint, the news establishment pretty much had the field to itself.
Other businesses wanted some of the spoilssupplying hardware locked their clients into long term deals, so they could future proof their profits and the chief executive could afford that St Tropez yacht, without risking the mortgage payments.
When the sails came down, new astute, more nimble entrepreneurs surfaced. Who can blame them? Drone journalism, mobile journalism, citizen journalism, long journalism, solution journalism, data journalism, video journalism, laptop journalism, indifferent journalism, and the rest…
Some of these new niche genres were genuine byproducts of traditional journalism’s inertia. Others would give love-handles to the form, a sleight of PR hand reworking new business opportunities.
Take mobile (phone) journalism. Yes, it’s been transformative almost universally, and to social media , but in video production please don’t be fooled.
The mobile is just another camera competing amongst a panoply of others. Sure it lets you turn around films swiftly, and its currency will soar even further, but at the stage where nuances in filmmaking, perhaps even using different cameras for affect take hold of your project, mobile is but one of your armament. Some talent would sell off previous gear to go mobile purchasing an array of lenses and accessories.
Ultimately, it’s about using the most appropriate gear for the job. By the way, mobile journalism was the term to label 1960s Direct Cinema when cameras and synch sound gear could for the first time go mobile.
There’s more than enough material on digital’s impact on storytelling. In Keanu Reeve’s documentary Side by Side and equally exemplary Mark Cousin’s The Story of Film these visionaries provide a teleogical impact of digital: Reeve’s on the format over film and Cousins a lengthier expansive look at cinema’s development over a hundred years that ends with ones and zeros.
Digital in the 90s aligned with one of the more significant contemporary movements (Danish) in film called Dogme 95. Celebration directed by Thomas Vinteberg and DoP’d by Anthony Dod Mantle spearheaded Dogme’s intent. The film’s visual language, aided by smaller cameras, is more immediate; whip pans, super close-ups, and distinctive angular framings fill the screen.
But just as Dogme was baring its teeth in fictional film, alongside a revivalist indie market in the US, another revolutionary change was occurring in the world of journalism in the UK — a profound creative movement setting off teutonic ripples, but which little is known about.
Digital provided an impetus to a form of journalism known as videojournalism: journalists who authored their own stories; saw no need for editors in newsroom; became jack of all trades in video styles and master of all, from presenting, creating reality shows to making programmes online and could when pushed knock off four, 2 minute interview-reportage in a day.
But there was one feature that has been continually overlooked, which 20 years on is only now slowly being appreciated. Like the Dogme 95 movement making fictional cinema, this group of videojournalists, referred to as The Thirty were creating factual cinema — cinema journalism.
The wider perception is that cinema journalism is linked to DSLR cameras circa 2008, but that’s another myth. DSLRs provided a sharper (cinematic) image, but the perceptual qualities of cinema that derive from structure, plot, composition, art, narrative qualities and philosophy was cracked by The Thirty movement in the 1990s. In the 1960s it was Robert Drew, who brought cinema to journalism and if you go further back there is a bifurcation in the 1920s where cinema is used to indicate factual-docs as journalism. In all cases, it so riled the establishment via being pilloried, derided and dismissed by experts that it became the L’enfant terrible. Only now are experts reflecting on its impact.
History provides a number of salutary lessons to learn from and in the next post I’ll explain how this movement and their working methods are a model for creativity. How cinema journalism envelopes an amazing breadth of styles illustrating the Soderbergh, Von Triers and Lees of new journalism, and why it will undoubtedly become a defining feature for non-fiction storytelling embracing all other forms.
THE FIVE RULES OF THE THIRTY
- There are no rules, just guidelines.
- Different cultures interpret stories differently: be your audience.
- Storytelling is an art and science — study it practically and theoretically.
- Respect the giants whose shoulders you’re standing on, and let others one day stand on yours.
- Sod everything else.
[roll on reality]