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The Fog of War


“Fog of war is often attributed to Clausewitz, but is in fact a paraphrase of what he said: ‘War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty.” [Encyclopedia.com]

There was an Errol Morris film about the same name referring to the craziness that happens in war. In this case, much, much time is spent on a well-executed battle plan, then when it gets on the ground, things don’t go according to plan. Hitches are thrown into the strategy and in some cases the plan gets thrown out the window altogether. HBO’s Band of Brothers showed many times, battle plans changing in the midst of fighting.

You can see the parallel to documentary film; unpredictability. Hollywood is the antithesis of this- rumor has it, Hollywood settled in SoCal because the climate was more predictable! They key almost everything anymore. In fact, it was refreshing to watch the extra’s on Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood- they went old school during the filming and it was a lot of work, but was received well by everyone. This is certainly not the case with documentary work.

I remember the 2nd trip we took to Bangladesh a year ago last fall for the final part of production on Unheralded. I had laid out a pretty straight forward plan that my director was ready to execute on the ground when we got there. As is the case with unscripted work, our subject didn’t talk about what we expected him to talk about, events were canceled, and new opportunities presented themselves. I’m reminded too of my friend just yesterday who was telling me that the gear and one crew member are on location in a far-off country and the rest of the crew is stuck here in the states until flights can get out!

A good producer in this situation, like any good general, is ready. They’re ready for the unexpected. Like a commander who intimately knows the goals and the objectives to reach those goals, they’ve worked out the best strategy they can. But they know they may have to re-strategize. on the fly. A good producer does the same thing, they know their story well enough to command effectively, meeting objectives so the film’s goals are still met.

The “Fog of War’ in doc film isn’t a possibility, it’s a given. So the next time you turn your camera on be prepared.

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©2019 by Jay Friesen.

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