Hoffman On Documentaries
I have been a reality oriented, ordinary people storyteller since I started as a filmmaker. For me, stories from ordinary people, properly told, are as dramatic as first-rate fiction. That is even more true today when I work primarily with YouTube videos than it was when I was a television documentary filmmaker. I am intensely curious and found it behind a camera, I was not afraid to ask people any question, no matter how uncomfortable it might be. I wanted to hear the personal experiences of others and then tell their stories in dramatic, entertaining and enlightening ways. I suppose I also asked questions to help me understand myself and my own life better.
I came from Levittown, a suburban community on Long Island and, being lower middle class, I hadn’t traveled except occasional summer trips to Monhegan Island Maine where my dad spent summers doing oil paintings. I wanted to see the world and wasn't much on vacation travel. I liked traveling for work.
I also had a strong feeling that "important" people were really no more important than me and my friends - that ordinary people and the stories of their lives were as dramatic as the lives of the rich and famous. I believed that every person had at least one great story in them that they were just waiting to tell. My filmmaking experiences making television programs and YouTube videos has proven that to be true time and again
When my documentaries began to run on TV in the early days of PBS, I found that a surprisingly large percentage of the audience liked real people stories. It made people consider their own lives. Dramatic fiction films can do this is as well of course, but there is something about real people stories that is unique - people in the midst of living their lives just telling the viewer how they see things - and the results can make viewers laugh and cry -- can provoke viewers, haunt viewers, change viewers.
Are my stories “true?” I am asked this question whenever I speak publicly. All documentary films are made in the editing room and although I tell "real people" stories, my films are carefully edited. As I see it, my job is to capture people and stories and then put each story together so that it holds the audience (so that they do not click away using for the TV remote or mouse) so that it unfolds, so that it reveals the essence of something. I feel that each of my films reveals a bottom-line truth, an underlying feeling, a basic truth that the storyteller would articulate as I am doing using my filmmaker techniques, if they had the skills, the time and the money to reveal themselves exactly as they would want to.
Continues with Documentaries in the early days
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