How nature documentaries try to get you interested

Nature documentaries are not easy to make, involving patiently watching for hours, days, and weeks on end in very difficult conditions to get the footage they need. But they cannot simply show the footage. To get people to watch, they need to create some kind of story arc with animal characters and protagonists who seem to play roles within it that the audience can identify with.

Does this make the documentaries fake? If the makers of documentaries involving humans did the same thing, cutting and reordering footage to create a narrative that may not have actually existed in real life, viewers would cry foul. But when it comes to nature documentaries, we give them more slack, which raises the question of whether there are any limits all that should bind them.

Via Rob Beschizza I came across this video by Simon Cade that discusses the various artifices used by nature documentarians to make compelling videos.

How Nature Documentaries Are Fake from DSLRguide on Vimeo.


  1. starskeptic says

    American Storytellers by Andy Thomas
    From Left -- Charlie Russell, Fredrick Remington, Will Rogers, Ernest Hemingway, Ronald Reagan, Teddy Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill, Norman Rockwell, Mark Twain, Ben Franklin, and, with his back to us, the artist himself Andy Thomas.

  2. Li says

    I remember a Werner Herzog interview in wich he speaks about how a documentary is (or should be, ideally) an artistic construct as any other film, and that what matters is not so much to show everything that happened, exactly as it happened, but to strive for a deeper truth, the true escence of what you are documenting. He gives an example of his own making, the “Little Dieter Needs to Fly” scene in wich Dieter Dengler (who was held captive during the Vietnam war and manage to escape) shows a series of paintings that he has in his house, depicting doors. In the documentary, Dieter tells to Werner that, having been captive, the possibility to open a door at will had a deeper meaning to him now: they represented freedom. In the interview I refered to, Herzog reveals that when he asked Dieter about the paintings, what he really said was that he bought them because they were cheap, and he had no paintings in his house. That was it. It was Werner who suggested the “doors = freedom” thing, because he felt that was more profound, more meaningful, and more true regarding who Dieter Dengler was, and that’s what a documentarist should try to do. To make things transparent in order to find out what lies beneath.

  3. busterggi says

    Okay but why do the folks behind Finding Bigfoot and Mountain Mounsters always leave out the real convincing footage of the monsters?/

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