As our expertise is mostly in documentary and hybrid media production, we won’t go into too much detail on preparation for drama shoots. You can find further information in the links below.
Whitney demonstrates the re-enactment for Bush Tucker. Jen works with Whitney, Edie and Latoya to set up a dramatic re-enactment for their Bush Tucker video.
Nuikkan. Kungun.Yunnan – Ngarrindjeris’ Being Heard is a great example of the use of re-enactments. Check out the fishing scene, the coins dropping into Lake Albert, the women running in the shallow water near the jetty, the people lying on the cracked mud bed of Lake Victoria in the Coorong.
When using real people to act out set up scenes, it might help to get them comfortable by doing an ‘everyday task’ while you film them, ie doing an easy job task or house activity. Re-enactments are very common in documentary; when you see an expert typing on his/her computer in the office, the scene is most likely a re-enactment for the benefit of the camera, as it is much harder to shoot a documentary scene in a ‘real’ office, being noisy and busy.
Make sure your actors fully understands what you ask of them [as do your camera person], so best is to step them through each scene and explain what you are hoping to achieve with the scene. For some people re-enacting scene can be challenging and make them feel ‘phony’ – but acting is pretending while making it look believable, so the more authentic your characters can portray themselves, the better the result for the story you want to tell.
It also helps to get your ‘actors’ / interviewees / characters, to always follow an activity through from start to finish – this gives you better editing point, ie entering into the room, getting up from the chair – not just drinking the cuppa tea, but also putting it down on the table.
And get them to NOT look at the camera, as this may break the illusion of reality / fly on the wall ‘the moment’ feel that documentary uses to tell its story. This you can change at will, but be aware of your choice of style…
Often we use re-enactments to make a point that the documentary would struggle to achieve – such as satirical scenes, mockumentary make-believe to exaggerate a certain story point to drive your point home. This can become overbearing and cheesy, so make sure you test it out, shoot several versions if you are not sure and check your humour works within the story/ doco word you are creating. For example, in Nukkan.Kungun.Yunnan we used the re-enactments of the girls fishing, with a pull out to reveal they are fishing on dry land, as their waters are dying.
Find other useful web resources here:
A PDF document ‘When is Fiction as Good as Fact?’ by Heather LaMarre and Kristen D. Landreville.
An interview with Chris Beam on the staple of the dramatic Re-enactment and its history.
How to make a shot list
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