Recently, my history class, Age of Exploration, began a group documentary project based on some aspect of the Revolutionary War. The final product requirements include an 8-10 minute video on a relevant topic of our choice, and a “making 0f the documentary” documentary. Initially, we struggled with finding a topic and being able to coordinate research with 16 students. Though I could describe to you our plights and tribulations in successfully working through the first 2 weeks of self-guided research, initial story boarding, and attempts at teamwork, I have decided to focus on a topic that I belive to be more interesting, and frankly more important than the “who works with whom”, and other details.
Martin “Marty” Jones has worked in the film industry for 21 years, and certainly has a lot of experience with documentaries (his website can be found Here). Our Teacher, Mike Gwaltney, invited Marty, who is currently the Marketing and Communications Director for our school, to come to one of our class periods to share his experience and film-making wisdom with our class. When he showed up on Tuesday, I honestly didn’t expect to learn much. After gaining valuable advice from him on timeline creation, story-boarding, and other filming logistics, I had learned a lot about the process of making a documentary. Then the conversation took an interesting turn. Marty was showing our class a “documentary” he had recently made about a student’s journey at our school and he began discussing his process in making the video. First, he explained his process.
He started off with story-boarding, deciding the shots he wanted, the interview questions he wanted to ask, and what the message of his film was going to be. He then interviewed family, friends, and past teachers, taking special care to make sure he had interesting backgrounds for his interviewees and to get the information he needed. He then inscribed his editing, which consisted of cutting down what had been said, removing all of the umms, wells, and I guess’s, and most importantly, influencing his footage to tell the story he wanted and needed to tell. Although this was a bit shocking at the time, it turns out that most of the media you see these days has been manipulated in some way. This is done to prove a point or tell a better story than what would have actually happened had the pre-planning and filmmaker influence been sidestepped.
All of this influence in media got me thinking about history and researching it. If TV shows are influenced in this way, couldn’t sources on history be influenced also? Even primary sources have the possibility of inaccuracy and bias, as in the case of Revolutionary War media from both the Colonists and British, which tended to support each respective side. The point is, there will always be some sort of influence and bias in research and media; the important thing is to recognize that it exists and interpret accordingly.
Whoever controls the media, controls the mind.