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Reality Maps


He began the discussion with the concept of “Reality Maps.” The basic idea (and this is pretty much Mass Comm 101) that we interpret information received on a variety of levels. Those levels are informed by our circumstances, experiences of the world, and even to some extent education and training. We’re always intepreting our reality. He used the example of a blizzard, which I’m sure my good friends in the ATL can relate to: person 1 curses it; it’s dramatic, full of danger, cause for alarm and caution. Person 2 believes it’s the most beautiful thing they’ve ever seen. Same reality, two different maps.

But it dug a bit deeper with it. Part of the cause of those maps, and this is where it starts delving into filmmaking, is that humans at their core are interpreters; we’re problem solvers; we want to know why, for what; we want to understand. We’re inquisitive by nature, if we don’t have a resolution, we’ll feel unsettled until we do. And he’s right, I think we can see that all around us and with the people we engage with.

Doc film can benefit a great deal from greater thinking along these lines. It helps us decided what angle of the story to pursue- perhaps the part that leaves us feeling settled and asking the question, “but why?” It’s an exploratory process not only for the filmmaker but for the watcher as well. We can follow the typically linear story line or we could branch off and look for things we didn’t see before, dig deeper into understanding the circumstances.

Further thinking along these lines into story structure is beneficial as well. It makes sense that if humans are inquisitive and seeking to understand,  you best pose a question up front. Generate the “why.” if you will. On our recent documentary, my director built 30 minutes of “problems and challenges.” 1/3 the way into the movie, and you could hear audible murmurs as they interacted with the characters and couldn’t believe what was happening was actually true. By the climax of the film, people were in a frenzy and wanted to do something about it. They had more questions, some even, had some angst.

These are all good things for the film. You’re not taking advantage of general human nature, but you’re using it to create a more engaging and interesting film. As a filmmaker, you’re first exploring topics or events to a greater extent, a greater detail, in some aspect flowing with film as it takes you different places through discovery. As story-teller, your creating an energy in your piece by structuring to fit our natural inquisitiveness; using that to create a reality map, momentum, and engagement.

But what happens in your exploratory process when you’re not on track with what you planned? Well, that’s called in some circumstances, “The Fog of War” and it happens in film. I’ll talk about that in another post this week.

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©2019 by Jay Friesen.

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