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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 4:57PM   |  72 comments

Blog posting written by Ann Michel and Phil Wilde, coprincipals of Insights International (Ithaca and New York City)

Is it ever possible to shoot without changing the behaviors of the people in front of the camara? 

When we make a documentary, we claim to give our viewers an accurate, inside look at a part of the world. When people agree to be on camera and share their time and views, how much are they using us to get their message and agenda out? How much are they acting? What has now changed?

We were working on a show about children. We knew they liked to put on music, dress up and dance. But they were much too shy to let us shoot this. So the only thing to do was to set up the camera, turn it on, and then leave the room. 

The result was hilarious. Slowly, they ran up to the lens, made a face, and then ran away. Soon, they were rollicking around, pushing each other out of the front. 

Of course they were playing to the camera. But this was something they did on their own, and we wanted to show this part of their lives.  

They danced  because we asked them to. What would this have looked like if we weren't there at all?   That answer is something we can never know. 

We had set up our camera. We had changed things. 




In theory people should act no different in front of a camera than they do off camera, But people don't work like that. In many cases, especially in documentary filmmaking, working with non-actors may be more difficult than working with actual actors. When everyday people being interviewed for a documentary have dozens of lights shinning on them, and microphones shoved in their face they may freeze up, or not really portray there real selves or real situations out of fear of being judged.

Just like the children who "danced because they were asked to," would people such as the Border patrol in Natalia Almada 2005 documentary "Al Otro Lado" acted they way they did towards the mexicans in hiding if the camera wasn't present? They might be much crueler, or much nicer to these people, but as an audience we will never know because Natalia Almada had set up a camera, she changed things.

I agree with Kristin in saying that people should not act different in front of a camera. However, this is not the case. People are more reluctant to say what is on their mind because they are afraid people will dislike them. It is natural for people to want to be liked by everyone. Therefore, when people are interviewed or filmed with a camera, they will often say what they think people want to hear.

For documentaries and other non-fiction films where people are interviewed or get filmed for a scene, it is very difficult to shoot without changing things.
If someone is being interviewed, it is likely they came to the set with an idea of the questions that would be asked and the responses they would give. Every-day people are not trained to be comfortable in front of a camera. Instead, the camera is like an uncomfortable observer: always staring, recording, and listening to every single thing. The person on film is conscious of the camera, and it is hard not to focus on the fact they are being filmed.
I think it is difficult enough to be ourselves in public without being filmed, but when it is being documented it is even more so. Who wants to be portrayed in a negative light? I think a possible reason why actors feel so comfortable in front a camera is not only because of experience, but because they are acting.
The only way to not affect a person's behavior and personality on camera is if they are filmed through naturalistic observation: when they are unaware they are being filmed at all. This practice is not allowed for multiple reasons, yet it is a given that people will change their behavior once a camera is placed in front of them.
I agree with Kristin that we will never know how the Border patrol would act towards the Mexicans if the camera was not present. Although things are changed, does this matter? A documentary's goal is not to be objective. The person being filmed has every right to portray themselves as they wish. It is the job of the audience to remember that what appears to be is not always what is.

I do not think it is possible for a person's behavior to remain unchanged when a camera and/or microphone is focused on them. Even if an individual believes they are not changing or altering themselves, they are. They might use different vocablarly, or act a different way. However, I do not think that such alterations render material disingenuous or untruthful, a message is still being communicated.
In "Crossing the Bridge" all the musicians and artists that spoke had a message, a belief unique onto themselves. Who can say what genuine or truthful representation is?

Many documentary filmmakers struggle with this issue. People alter their personalities when they think someone is watching them. I know there are many things that I would say to my friends, but if I thought my mom were listening, I would refrain from saying them. The same goes for people on film. If they know that their words will be hear, they might not say what they truly feel out of fear. Also, many people feel uncomfortable in front of a camera. They become shy and reserved, not willing to speak their minds. So, what can documentary filmmakers do to portray their subjects as truthfully as possible?

This blog made me recall a short film that I saw a while ago called "Oh, The Temptation." It's a documentary about a psychological study of what people do when they think nobody is watching. The filmmakers set up two hidden cameras in a room (one wide and one for the close-up) and gave kids, individually, a marshmallow. The interviewer--so to speak--told the children that they could either eat the marshmallow now or they could wait until the interviewer came back, in which case they would get a second marshmallow. While the interviewer is gone, the kids act in strange, hilarious, and more importantly, natural ways.

This seems to be the only way to do a "real," objective documentary, but it also could be considered an invasion of privacy. Usually, filming people when they don't know they are being filmed is taboo. But, as this blog states, if they do know they're being filmed, people usually give different "performances" than they would without knowing they are in front of a camera.

So, is it possible to have "real" documentary?

It is not entirely impossible to shoot without changing the behaviors of the people in front of the camera, but it is very difficult. While some people may deem themselves honest and blunt, their attitudes will change in front of the camera. Many people will put a filter on what they say and do, will dress nicer or wear more makeup, to appear as perfect as possible. Since media and society tell us, especially women, that's what we need to be, people are generally more polite and bland when confronted with a camera. Others become exaggerated versions of themselves in order to gain more attention, in hopes that their fifteen minutes won't be over too soon.

When documentaries are made, despite the fact that the filmmaker tries to give us as "real" an experience as possible, they cannot tell their participant to act a certain way. That would be acting. The filmmaker can't control what the participant does; they can lie, cheat, pretend, and do whatever they see fit to appear a certain way.

It is truly incredible what people will do and to what extent they will change when put in front of a camera. As the example given shows, when asked to do something in front of a camera many people freeze up and become too shy. Others might rise to the challenge only to act how they think the filmmaker wants them to act. The children in the example did what they were told, but I believe because they were children their behaviors probably weren't altered that drastically. Adults have a much more skewed vision of what the world is like and how they want themselves to be perceived. I think there are people in the world who are totally and completely honest in front of the camera, but they are few and far between. Most people have an agenda and will act a specific way whether the filmmaker tells them to or not. It's human nature to want to be accepted and seen in a good light.

I personally find it fascinating from a psychological point of view how peoples actions and personalities change when they are placed in front of a camera. I view humans as having two versions of themselves; their public persona and their intimate persona. Only those who are within a person's "intimate" circle of friends and family are privy to the intimate persona. All others see the public persona, which is far more stereotyped and desiring to fit into society. They are who everyone else wants them to be. Therefore, when people are placed in front of a camera they put on a heightened version of their public persona for fear of being harshly judge and critiqued for their behaviors/actions.
It is the job of the photographer to dig though this facade and uncover the true person inside.

I am very interested in this concept, and I even based my final project for intro to photography on this idea. This raises the question of nonfiction film. Does it actually exist? When people are aware of the camera they often put on a sort of mask or veneer, and consequentially become fictional. Even if a scene is being shot candidly, the filmmaker is still selecting the location, time of day, angle, etc. This consequentially becomes fictional as well, as the filmmaker is still able to cause some manipulation.

For me, this brings up the idea of cinma vrit.

As one website ( states, "Cinema verite...was done with unobtrusive cameras so the subjects of the film would forget the presence of the camera and just be themselves." However, I personally don't believe that this is possible. Even if you were to consciously forget that you were being filmed or photographed, I think that there is a certain unconscious manner which we adopt when on camera. Unless the people on camera are completely unaware that they are being recorded, there will always be an inherent difference in a person's actions on camera versus their actions in their daily life.

Over the weekend my friend and I were in the middle of a conversation when our friend approached us with a Canon camera pointed in our faces. We stopped and looked into the camera, instantly putting on fake smiles and posing awkwardly. She then exclaimed "no, no, no! keep talking and look natural!" My friend and I complied, faced towards each other, and "continued our conversation." Although we continued with the conversation, it was forced and unnatural although the photograph made it seem realistic. This is similar to documentaries and non-fiction film. Imagine going into a developing nation where the people there have never seen a white person, have no technology, and aren't used to interruptions from the outside world. Then, a group of cinematographers go into that nation with their cameras and white skin and expect to just film the people there in natural day-to-day life. It's not going to happen. The environment is so foreign to them; it would be completely unnatural because the people there would feel how i felt: like an actor. So, unless the camera is hidden and the subjects don't know they are being filmed, i don't believe that the camera can be completely objective.

It is inevitable that people DO act differently in front of a camera, some will overact to the extreme (reality shows for example) and others will feel more shy (the children in the movie mentioned above). In documentaries, it is simply necessary to accept that those interviewed may not be as genuine as they seem. Despite this, documentaries are still successful, because often it is not about what these people are like, but what they have to say. In "Al otro lado," interviews with the main character reveal his desire to play music and his desire to live in America. Perhaps while being interviewed he was a bit more dramatic than he usually would be. But we still see what he wants, and why he wants it.

There are a lot of interesting responses. I personally believe that its almost impossible to shoot without having a person change in front of a camera. I agree with A. Linton when she says humans as having two versions of themselves; their public persona and their intimate persona. I have found that when interacting with the public or society, people wear a mask to hide their true inner self and automatically follow the stereotypical groups. Many non-fiction films for that reason are not actually real; they are in fact very much staged. It is many times in human nature to feel uncomfortable when being watched. The entire point of a documentary is to tell something like it is. Clearly, whats needed in allegedly non-fiction films that dont give accurate portrayals are better ways of illustrating the truth. A real documentary or photograph is one that exposes the inner self, and the reveals what is hidden behind the mask. Revealing whats behind that mask can take some practice.

Perhaps, the better way to approach new methods of filming are by looking beyond simply the camera, and by developing a method and technique with interacting with the subjects. This can involve getting to know them first so that they trust you, finding ways to sneak the filming, or other methods that dont rely on immediate filming.

Gautam made a point that i found interesting. he stated "..finding ways to sneak the filming" as a way to eliminate the issue of changed behavior in front of the camera. to me that raises a moral issue. is that okay? I don't think it is for dramatic/documentary cinema. if you're going to film people just as they are you need to be prepared for a level of consciousness from your subjects, a degree of change to their personalities and/or statements.

People will always act differently in front of a camera, its human nature. Even if they are confident and comfortable they are being "watched" and want to be perceived in a certain way.
For film we tell them what we want them to do, so we can convey our message. Then from there we get the moments of who they are, which is enough and honestly the closest we can get in terms of normal behavior and true personality.

It is safe to say, to some extend, that everyone is curious. It is "human nature" to want to know the answers to everything, whether it be driving by an accident wanting to know what happened, or seeing someone with a camera wondering what it is doing there. In the world of film it is hard to necessarily always shoot the truth. In documentaries, we are made to believe that everything is real life; however, is it safe to say the behaviors of the people seen aren't being affected by the presence of the camera? Take a normal day, people walking down the street, some going shopping, some on their way to work, some happy, some sad, etc. It's a very typical everyday scene. Now add a camera in the middle of the crowd. How does the scene change? People begin looking at the camera, suddenly some people put smiles on because they think they're on TV, when 10 minutes ago they were dreading leaving for work. A camera isn't something that is always there on the street, and when thing interrupt social normals, people sometimes don't know how to react, hence the confusion and change of emotions of people walking down the street. As Katie Shapiro says, people will always act differently in front of a camera, and even if you direct people to not pay attention to the camera, although the scene may look normal, you still gave direction, furthermore not capturing fully the truth.

I think behavior is difficult to successfully capture because psychologically I think it is impossible for a person to be 100% happy with who they are. That being said, when placed in front of a camera, I think people try to transform themselves into someone they are not to become their ideal image. In order to capture human behavior as is would appear without a camera, one would have to hide the camera so nobody knows it is there or film in secrecy. However, in today's society such practices are seen as unethical and immoral. I do not think it is impossible to capture genuine human behavior, however I do think it is impossible for humans to pretend the camera is not there and just be themselves,

I don't think it's necessarily a negative thing for people to change in front of the camera; it may actually reveal more insight into the person being filmed than if they were acting "natural." This new image may show who they desire to be or what type of role in society they think they play (i.e mother, town drunk, nerd, etc). Additionally the only basis for what we assume is "a person acting natural" is our own memories, which are just as or more likely to be false than what the camera has captured.

Documentary is a mode based on rhetorical argument. A documentary attempts to make a clear, persuasive argument to get a point of view across. To say that documentary must present a view of the world that is uninfluenced by the presence of a camera is unrealstic to the entire genre. While some forms of documentary are considered objective, mainly American news show documentaries (although those can also present a biased argument, with premire examples being Fox News' conservitiveism and CNN's liberalism) many forms of documentary are not. One need only look at any Micheal Moore film to understand this. As stated by film scholar Bill Nichols', Moore's film Sicko presents an argument that may not be entirely factual. In the film, Moore visits a Cuban hospital, finds it exceptional and postulates that all Cuban hospitals must also be exceptional and that the Cuban health system is far superior to the American system. When written out, the flaws in Moore's film become painfully obvious. However, within the film's structure of being convincing and compelling, Moore's argument becomes increadibly powerful and meaningful. However, none of Moore's films could exist without the camera influncing the action in some way. Moore's presence in this "direct cinema" allowed for the exploration of the Cuban hospital by American citizens. Without Moore's intervention, the American citizens would never have visited the Cuban hospital. However, despite, and in fact because of, the filmmaker's involvement, Sicko makes a compelling case against the American health system. To wrap up, I believe that, yes, placing a camera within a scene in a documentary does change that actions that may take place, but that doesn't necessarily ruin the goals or convincingness of the documentary.

It seems unanimous that it is human nature to project a different version of ourselves when positioned in front of the lens. How can anyone act completely and truly natural when they feel and are documented? What makes us unique individuals is how we chose to project ourselves. Like commentaries before, these versions of ourselves could reveal more than our natural day to day, but our desires and weaknesses. Direct cinema's more observational tactic (opposed to cinema verite) tries to do away with the awkwardness of the camera's presence. But would it be more truthful to just willingly accept the camera's existence? To encourage a "masked" version of a person may be just the idea to open up who they truly are.

As a photographer, I ask myself this same question all the time. I ask, "How can I capture this moment in a truly genuine way? A way that doesn't tell any lies about how things looked and felt when I clicked the shutter?" Sometimes, I dream of having the ability to capture photographs or scenes with only my eyeballs. I wish I could hide the camera I tote, for when I bring it up to my face, people immediately act differently. The camera is a barrier between me and the truth behind the event or story I want to record.

Even if the subjects being photographed or filmed are completely and utterly unaware of the camera freezing their faces in time, the creator of the image we see is just that, a creator. The image maker will forever be manipulating and tweaking things (within the frame, with the camera settings, during editing) to look just the way he or she wants them to. We hardly ever see the ultimate truth of a scene, but rather the carefully crafted perspective of its creator.

Of course people act differently on camera. When someone is on camera and they are hyper-aware of themselves and may change the way they speak and act according of how they want to be seen. I think that if someone stuck a camera in someones room without them knowing it was there and then watched the footage, it would be very boring. Even the camera being there provides a perspective or view of how the spectator is supposed to see what is being recorded, so how can there be objectivity or a "genuine" moment.

Psychologically speaking there is the concept of a looking-glass self in which we view ourselves based on how we perceive the people around us perceive ourselves. "I am who I think you think I am," essentially. The issue, the reason why people must learn to be themselves on camera, is because this looking-glass self is blown wide open. There is every reason for people to act differently on camera and that is because anyone can see it whenever. On camera, the stakes become so much higher. You have to account for so many more people in your self-image and so I ask, how is changing yourself in front of a camera any different than how you would change the way you act, talk, and interact depending on whether you are with your friends or your parents?

I believe that in the case of these children, you got all that you could have hoped for. Though it was apparent that these children were aware of the camera and were responding directly to it, you were still able to capture their essence, for what they gave you was real and a true representation of themselves. I can imagine that what you were able to record was a charming portrayal of youth uninhibited, and perhaps that was better (more entertaining and likely more genuine) than what they could have offered if you directed them. This is a great example of how cinema verite is an excellent means of communicating reality, for though the presence of the camera is obvious the characters are still genuine and themselves.

In order to develop a realistic documentary, some say it is vital that the people filmed act naturally. Yet is this even possible? Film Scholar Bill Nichols points to documentary films as having the ability to reveal the historical world and let viewers engage with this. Yet the documentaries need to apply rhetoric strategies. Furthermore, is it necessary for a person filmed in a documentary to act natural? The answer may be no due to the idea that documentaries want to capture attention, evoke change, show different viewpoints, and so on. Consequently, if the person filmed does not heighten their viewpoints or acting, is the audience really going to be so much engaged? Yet if a the person filmed puts their most emotional or best foot forward because there is a camera in front of them, isn't that okay in order to capture attention? In regards to being to shy, that part is detrimental on the other hand because one, footage can not be captured and two, the audience does not get any picture presented. So to hide the camera is necessary in situations like this. Overall, in order to provoke social change and present a subjective view, the people filmed need to be on point at all times because they are the focus of viewer's attention throughout.

I believe, that we can look at the camera as if it were a person, observing and recording information in his mind. Have you ever noticed how people change their behavior in respect to who they are communicating with? People are highly self-conscious and are always careful to how they look in somebody elses eyes. In this respect, the interaction with the camera, looked at as an interaction with another person, and the image it will later give, cannot be looked at as genuine. Just as those kids in the experiment, people will try and attract attention to themselves, by various means they might try and ask for sympathy, or represent themselves as extremely knowledgeable and influential, they might try and look wittier, more beautiful, etcThe only way, I believe, that you can have a genuine interaction is by hiding a camera, but then again, that raises serious privacy issues.

This article fully enforces an opinion I have always had and respected: there is nothing like a camera. Think about it more deeply. A camera is the only real form of time travel, the only real way to get a glimpse of something that is not occurring in the present. Not only that, it invokes different behaviors, exactly like what was said in the post here. Those children first wouldn't move because of the camera, and then came to be acting out for the camera, putting on a show for it. While consciously in front of a camera, people are not the same. They watch what they are doing more closely, knowing that they can be watched over again at that moment. It is a moment that does not die, and of course one would rather be made immortal as a more respectable person. Or maybe not respectable. Maybe cool. Or badass. Or goofy. Perhaps sophisticated. However the person wants themselves to be seen is how they will attempt to act in front of a camera, with the subconscious knowledge that they can be seen not only by the people in their presence, but by anyone who gains access to this video, in the near or far future. It's the self-consciousness that herds in and takes a discreet control over us.

Apologies for that slightly philosophical, slightly psychological answer. This was an intense post.

As hard as we try, I think it is impossible to shoot without the camera having some affect on behavior. The only way to really record actual behavior is to shoot without them knowing they're being filmed, like with a hidden camera, but then there's the ethics question. Is that wrong? Sometimes the camera influenced behavior is more interesting than normal behavior. But I think that filming reality is indeed impossible. Which makes us think hard about documentaries. Most documentary filmmakers try to film life as it really is, with the camera as a bystander, but they can't really do that. And in truth they'll never know exactly the ways things truly are because them being there affects behavior as well. I think this is an issue that we as filmmakers will always struggle with. What we need to do is get what we want to record to accept the camera as part of the environment, and just take their behavior in stride.

I believe that people will always play to the camera, the only way to get a true account of a person's life is the hide the camera and not interfere, but that cannot be done because then there would not be consent from the person whose life is being documented. Even if a person being documented seems to be comfortable in front of the camera and seems to not be playing to the camera or trying to get their message out, there are probably things that the person leaves out or they avoid normal actions that they are not proud of and do not want to be documented on camera. Either way, whether it's over playing to the camera or underplaying, I believe that the camera cannot get the whole truth of a person.

i believe that it is really complicated to show the truth as it is in any context of a film because, as said before, people will never behave the same way in front of a camera, or even in front of another person. the question here is, how can film be considered a documentary when not everything is exactly as its shown? what is the range that determines if a film can be considered a documentary or not?

It is nearly impossible to shoot a documentary without changing the scene that is being shot in some way. The only way to really shoot invisibly is, for example, a traffic camera. The people it films go about their everyday business not knowing (or caring) that they are being filmed. They act naturally. However, the downside of this is that the scene is being shot from so far away that not much can actually be seen. It would be rare to find traffic cam footage, or any footage taken from a great distance, in any documentary. (In addition, such footage is more often than not rather boring.)

Viewers ought to know that what the scenes they are viewing when watching a documentary were in some way affected by the presence of the camera. In the example given here, yes, the children acted as they did because there was a camera in the room, but the camera did not change their playful personalities. They would have acted in a similar manner had there not been a camera present, but the camera nevertheless affected their actions.

One must always keep in mind when watching a documentary that although they are not watching the complete truth - many actions would not have been committed had the camera not been there - they are nevertheless viewing real people doing real, unscripted, un-fictionalized things.

Film is an incredibly unique artistic medium in the fact that it records exactly what has happened in front of it. There is a common expression about photography that I believe applies well to film, that is the idea that in each photo there is both a truth and a lie. A truth in the sense that the events playing out in front of you on the screen did in fact happen. A lie in the sense that what was happening is somewhat set up between the person behind the camera and the person in front. A documentary subject is almost always aware that they are on camera, especially in "talking head" sequences where they most explicitly express their opinion. I believe it is the filmmakers responsibility to show that person in the most honest light, as that person gave the filmmaker their trust in letting them film them. It may not be exactly true what is happening in front of the camera, but is what happens in front of us in daily life really that much truer? People are always putting on different facades to achieve desired affects in their presentation of themselves. Is doing it to a camera instead of a person really that much different?

I dont think it is possible to shoot someone with out the changing slightly for the camera, but I think that shift in the people is very telling and, perhaps, better view of the person.

The idea that a documentary (by a camera being in the presence of people) changes the persons demeanor is something that is good about a documentary. The change is a good change; it could convey the persons true personality better.

Nichols writes that documentary address the historical world itself rather than construct of an imagery fictional world. By having the people in a documentary react to the camera, rather than ignoring it like in a fictional movie, a greater sense of reality is created.

In the documentary El Otro Lato (the other side), the main characters speak to the camera directly, looking at it, which then translates as thy are looking at you. This recognition of the camera allows for a more direct conversation between the viewer of the film and the participant in the film.

Like most others have said before me, I don't believe that it is possible to shoot a documentary without the behaviors of the subjects being slightly skewed. People react differently in front of a camera, and that's just something that comes with documentary film making with people. It is also important to remember that documentary films are not objectional, so the absolute truth is not inherent in the genre in general.

It is impossible to get completely real behavior with the presence of a camera but sometimes the skewed behavior can create an interesting dynamic. Like the children who were dancing and making faces, a camera can almost change personalities in a fascinating way. For instance the recent documentary "Catfish" is most certainly skewed by the presence of a camera but nonetheless it creates for a strange portrayal of a lonely woman. So although authenticity is hard to accomplish, the skewed nature of subjects can create entertaining performances.

Its not possible to get a completely honest response out of someone when a camera is involved. The actions and emotions of people in front of us may be deeper because they feel the need to be real but once the camera is taken out the element of things being natural is skewed. When people see a camera the art of acting is the first things that can unconsciously come to mind. We are all products of our environment, what is happening in the world readily in front of us depicts how we will feel. Someone dies in front of you one would get sad and scared. If there was a wedding we would feel happy and euphoric. So if there is a camera in front of you then your are going to act a different way because the camera is there.

This is the same problem when I shoot weddings. Everyone sees me as an outsider and a person to avoid. To combat this problem, I tried various approaches. First I tried to let the camera just stand there and watch the entire scene. However, I found the footage to be really really...boring. Most people wouldn't get up to dance because they know the camera was there and none of them but the children would dance like they normally would. So I tried a different approach and let the crowd dance for about 10 minutes to the point they forgot the camera was there. With this technique I too, was able to get more objective footage. However I was not able to focus on people the way I wanted to. If I was to use a metaphor, I was merely looking through a window. So I went even closer.

This is the technique that I use for all my weddings and other jobs that I am contracted to work on. I get myself to become part of the family. I become a distant cousin, who is fun and entertaining. I let them know who I am and gain their trust. I just introduce myself and ask who they are and how they are.

Once I become someone they know, I make the shoot fun by photographing the family when they do not notice the camera. The kids make it a game to avoid me or sometimes you get kids who want to be in ALL the pictures. Also, I try to get the sort of things that you can't photograph with a pose.

I do something then that not a lot of photographers do. I show them the pictures after I take them. This eliminates the fear of being photographed , adds conversation, and shows how much I love to be able to photograph them.

The next and final step is to become part of the wedding. This is highly forbidden in wedding photography (the goal is to stay hidden) but I do it anyways. I essentially ...breakdance for them. Of course I ask for permission first and after the bride has a couple drinks they never say no. With me dancing, I show how much of a fool I am and they realize that they can be fools too. After this, I am able to take photographs of anyone, without them caring how they look or do. I officially become apart of the family.

Now I'm not saying this is the way to shoot objectively because it is not. Heck no, but it gets great footage. Once in awhile you'll get some amazing footage that is 100 percent real because even though people realize the camera is there; they want to share their feelings at that moment with the camera.

With this I just want to make one certain point. People themselves are basis, they choose how they want to be seen. It is not the cameras fault or the cinematographer. It's about gaining the trust of the people your shooting. People are naturally afraid of the camera because it holds a certain truth, cinema verite. However I believe this is no different than how people hide who they are in public. Many people hide behind business suits or some kind of facade. Once your break the facade, you get the truth.

It is almost impossible for the camera not to have an affect on someone, as other people have stated before me. I agree with H. Sowande Gray, "when people see a camera, the art of acting is the first thing that can unconsciously come to mind." The camera requires an etiquette , and people are aware of that. When the camera is brought out, people are usually over the top or they shy away from. In documentary, I feel like those two attributes are definitely used in the people being filmed. It is their moment to shine, and they will take full advantage of it.

As Cynamen said, it is true there is a strong impossibility that the camera will not effect the behaviors of those in front of it. However, I think this can also create an interesting perspective in a film. As soon as someone sees a camera, they will immediately react to this. This is a difficult issue for documentary films which strive to show us real life the way it actually occurs. The only way to accurately portray real life would be to hide the camera which is not always an option when making a film.

If the people know that the camera is there, then no. It is impossible to show how people would act if the camera was not there. However, such a thing is possible (though more questionable ethics-wise) when it comes to the use of hidden cameras. This is not really a problem unique to cinema, however, instead it is a universality of the human experience our personalities and behaviors are fluids. We adapt to our environment and so are different people depending on the people we are with, the circumstances we are in, or the physical location we are in. I know that I am a different person when I am sitting in class or when I'm out directing a movie. The little things that stay constant between these different performances of a personality are what make up the essence of a person. So, we may never be able to film what the behavior would look like if the camera wasn't there but at the same point there are a thousand of other considerations going into the performance of that behavior separate from the camera. The camera is just one ingredient.

I have alot of experience with documentary film-making. I hate to say it, but documentary cannot be as realistic and insightful as it's designed to be. Even with my documentary that took 2nd place in the state of Illinois, alot of it, interviews esspecially, had to be worked and reshot so that a clear message could come across. In that film I had 75 boys attending the school that the documentary was about involved in the film, and it was almost impossible to interview young boys without leading their responses.

I think that people definitely start acting when a camera is placed on them, though it does depend on the person. When a lens is pointed towards someone, their first reaction might be I dont exactly look my best today whereas others might say, Im ready for my close-up. This experiment with the children is fascinating. Of course adults, especially adults pointing a camera at them, intimidate children. They are shy and probably think they are going to get in trouble if they goof off. If they feel like they are in their own adult-free environment, they will just be themselves and not put on an act for the camera.

It is not impossible to film people without resulting altered reactions. Hidden cameras would be one way this could be accomplished. However, especially in documentary film making there is the issue of ethicality. It is not ethic to film individuals without their consent. Consent could be obtained after the film footage has been taken. People have the right to know when their actions are going to be published for the public to see. In documentaries like "Crossing the Bridge" or "At Otro Lado" the people know they are being filmed, and therefor present themselves a certain way. They act differently because they know the public eye is going to be on them. However in documentaries like "The Cove" the individuals responsible for the illegal slaughter of thousands of dolphins are not aware they are being filmed. Therefore, their actions remain unchanged and they continue to commit horrendous crimes.

A documentary film, or non-fiction film, rather, is defined by Corrigan & White's "The Film Experience" as "a nonfiction film that presents (presumed) factual descriptions of actual events, persons, or places, rather than their fictional, or invented, re-creation (Corrigan and White, 551). The key word here is "presumed". They use this word because the fact of the matter is, the audience truly won't know if the subjects being filmed are portraying themselves as they normally are. Additionally, often with documentaries and the like, minimal scripting is actually a necessity to keep the film running smoothly. A personal account of this is that I have a friend, Scott, whose brother Jason was one of the 4 poker players on G4's "2 Months, 2 Million", a reality television show about 4 online poker players attempting to win 2 million dollars in 2 months, respectively. Scott as well as his mother was on the show for an episode when Jason returns home for a visit, and Scott told me that the directors of the show would have pre-written questions for his mom to ask Jason as well as quirky one-liners that Scott would say to Jason. This is where the term "presumed" comes into play, because had I not known Scott at all, I would have believed, as well as many home viewers already have, that these words were crafted by the individuals who spoke them.

As a photography student, I was asked to shoot documentary photography for one of the projects, a ran into the same problem, as soon as the camera was in place people would act differently, smile, look away or sometimes walk the other way entirely. when told to "shoot from the hip" I took this literally, holding my camera down and clicking the button discreetly when I thought no one was watching. While yes I got pictures where people didn't realize what was going on, ascetically they weren't what I wanted. because I didn't have a chance to see through the viewfinder.
I'm told that documentary is easier with practice, but it isn't me as the photographer that needs the practice but the subject in the frame, if the camera was hidden at the right angle, maybe that would work better, but as long at the subject knows your there you won't get the one hundred percent honesty you hope to see.

It is hard to capture a natural performance from an ordinary person. Every time I tried to capture my family or friends in their own natural world they seemed to put on faces and tried to act. You can never capture a human in their natural world. This is why most documentaries are direct cinema, they are almost never completely real. They are Rhetorical and are effective in their means of telling factual context. Archival footage is close to a natural performance, however people will always feel the need to act in front of a camera

I think without question that a camera changes the way people act. The person himself may not even know it but at some level there is a change in people when speaking to an audience. There is always the knowledge in the back of one's mind when being filmed that they are indeed being captured by a camera. i think the only way to film genuine emotions and activities would be to set up some kind of hidden camera and conduct an interview more like an everyday conversation. the subject cannot have any knowledge of the camera in order to be represented legitimately.

The Hawthorne effect states that people will improve or modify their behavior when they know they are being studied. Its the old "If a tree falls and no one is around to hear it does is make a sound?" People constantly put on a mask around others, it's human nature, and when they're being recorded it could amplify this effect. However, I think if a person truly believes in what the documentary's topic is, it boosts the fim's indexicality.

It is definitely possible to shoot people without changing their behaviors. If they are extremely well-known to the people they are filming, they most likely won't act any different. The best way, in my opinion, is to hide the camera in some way. That way, they'll be exactly the same as they would be, because they don't know the camera is there!

I believe that no one truly acts like themselves in front of a camera that they're aware of. The same goes for the presence of other people. When someone is watching you, you're bound to put on some kind of show, no matter how great or small it is. We're only truly ourselves when we're alone. That's when no one is watching us and no one is judging us. Whether it's a camera or another human being, we're acting in some kind of way. We do it to get some kind of reaction from them, whether it be positive, or in some cases, negative.

Yes, I do agree that no matter how good a person is at forgetting a camera is filming them, their actions will always be different than they would be if they were not being filmed at all. This perhaps makes a participatory type of documentary more appealing, where a filmmaker is meant to involve him/herself and film the truths that surface in that sort of context. Because while filming someone does alter their presentation of themselves, it does not necessarily eliminate truth. It only brings out a different kind of truth: a truth about what these people wish to portray about themselves, what a camera does to them and their personalities.

No, I do not believe it's possible to shoot without changing the behavior of people in a small way. Reading this post made me think about how reality television isn't really reality. Reality show participants often participate for personal gain. Even if their motive is true to the angle of the program, the presence of the camera effects their on screen actions. It's simple-- people love attention, and they will do anything to get more of it. So if that means acting differently for the camera, their behavior has been changed.

However, in the case of documentaries I believe it is possible to capture some truths about people. Even if their actions are slightly altered by the presence of the camera, these actions stem from somewhere.

I think that technically we should not act any different from when the camera is rolling to when it stops however I know that is untrue. Acting and filming, even though they are suppose to portray real life are not. They are always given the dramatic, intense, glamorized behavior and reaction to any given event. Therefore I think it should be expected that whenever a camera is record we all should know that what we are seeing isn't how human always behave it the just the ideal way we want things to happen.

I do think that people change when they are in front of a camera. All people act differently when they know people are watching them, this is why documentaries with cameras, and a crew are different than people being filmed on hidden cameras. I agree with Kelly that reality tv is a good example of this. Most of those shows are scripted, they are only supposed to act like reality. However this to me does not mean that documentaries do not show the truth. For example The maelstrom is a film in which a home movie was made, and although the family acted I am sure differently, it told the world about who they were as people, and it depicted actual historical events. Sometimes I don't necessarily think it is bad to see life through a framework.

I believe that sometimes people do act differently if they know that there is a camera filming their actions. I agree with Sarah about the fact that reality TV is scripted, however, what the public actually sees is the edited version of the show. I also think that documentaries can show the truth because sometimes those involved do not realize a camera is capturing their every move.

Alerting subjects to the presence of a camera will almost always change their behavior. I tried to think of a time when I filmed something that didn't change a person's behavior, but when I thought I had come up with one I realized that I had them sit for me in front of the camera. I know if that person were speaking to me in real life they would probably be walking around doing something else at the same time. Then I tried to imagine if I filmed someone I knew who was extremely used to being filmed and was comfortable in front of a camera. In this case this person would probably knew how to work the camera best and the representation would be false on a different level. I think that alerting a subject to the presence of a camera will always change some aspect of that individual whether they are conscious of it or not.

You put a camera in front of a subject and there is a very good chance that they will alter some aspect of themselves in order to perform for the camera. Real-life subjects in documentary films are social actors. Bill Nichols writes in depth about this phenomenon, and most importantly points out that we, as people, are constantly changing our personality and character. He writes that, "The presentation of self is less an adopted mask than a flexible means of adaptation." We all have experienced altering our self-presentation depending on the situation we are in. For example, take a student in school. Most likely they will act a little different when around their friends than when they are at the dinner table with their parents. It's natural that we are in an ever-changing state of self.

Judging by previous posts and common knowledge, it seems that the question for the most part answers itself. No, it is not possible. Sure, the one exception would be the footage from security cameras, but they are often designed to be hidden and are not always actively engaged in the production of a documentary. So perhaps there is a better question to ask? Maybe instead of asking if it is possible, we should be asking what we can do as documentarians to be as honest and ethical as possible.

If we look at all documentary films, some take more ethical and trustworthy approaches than others. Even Nanook of the North, the famous film by Flaherty, is subject to much criticism because he often asked his main "actor" to perform various tasks. Flaherty wanted so see the tradition and record a way of life that he knew was fading. But is it ethical in documentary filmmaking to tell your subjects what to do? I don't think so. Even in The Hunters, a famous ethnographic film by John Marshall, actions by the filmmakers are questionable. It is supposed to show an accurate portrayal of a particular tribe and their various successful and unsuccessful hunts. But the film has segments cut together by matches on action! We see a member of the tribe raise his bow from one angle, then fire it from another. It is a smooth cut. But it also means that the filmmaker told the tribe member to perform the action twice. If the subject is at the commands of the filmmaker, it has become no different than a director of a fiction film telling his actors what he wants.

As filmmakers we have the task of telling stories (while also pushing an agenda, or telling a persuasive argument). I believe that as a filmmaker, one way of staying honest and ethical to the subject, is to remain as objective as possible. This is often difficult because we often like to side with one side or the other, if there even is two sides. Even keeping the word "objective" in your mind and knowing what the means helps for me.

I also think that staying personal helps. Staying personal means that the film is understood by both parties, filmmaker and subject, to not lose sight of its original goal and to remain in control by that party. If other interests are brought in, they bring their own agendas and the integrity of the film can be lost.

Or maybe it's just love. Putting love and heart into a film, whatever that even means, maybe that is how we stay honest and ethical.

John Grierson wrote that documentary was the, "creative treatment of reality," and this is the best definition i've seen yet. I think it also answers the initial question of if it's possible to accurately depict subjects on camera. If we call that "reality", and we must treat it creatively, then no of course it's not possible. But that is not what documentary is about. Documentary, to me, is about telling a story about a fascinating subject and bringing awareness of this subject and their story to the public as a mode of social and cultural change.

I meant to write that documentary is the, "creative treatment of actuality."

Unless the camera is hidden and is filming without people knowing its there, then this can be an objective documentary. I agree with Hayley Nickerson's post that when white camera men go into another country and think they can capture their real and natural lives is really pointless. Like she said, when a camera is in our face everyone is bound to act and say things that will only further their own interpretaion of themselves. its not going to be natural becuase everyone has a different interpretaion of film and being filmed. We live in the United States that is dominated by Hollywood film, and pictures of moviestars who act accordingly to what society wants. The camera means different things to people around the world, and its hard to really capture someone and their life.

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