Thanks to content creators like Showtime and Netflix churning out quality scripted content, the collective bar has been raised, said documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock at SXSW this week. But that hasn’t yet occurred with unscripted programming, he argued, which still relies on tired tropes and familiar formulas. The opportunity for innovation is ripe.
That’s what his new unscripted AOL original series “Connected” aims to accomplish. It features the stories of six New Yorkers told through their own eyes—literally. Each character was given a camera and asked to film their lives over six months.
The idea is a fascinating one. How can you trust a person to tell their story in a compelling way? And what role would a filmmaker play in this?
For one, casting was important. People really had to want to be there, Spurlock said. And so did their families and friends, as they were inevitably drawn into the story. In terms of filming there was a learning curve for the cast, of course. There’s a transition people go through when they are given a camera and asked to film themselves. At first, it’s as if they’re performing, Spurlock said. So be prepared for the fact that “what you shoot in that first 10 days you’re never going to use.”
The cast was also given tips on how to improve their footage once they had some material. Some had to be told to angle the camera so that the viewer saw more than their chin, while others were urged to articulate how they felt about the situations they’d filmed. “We brief them, and give them a lot of feedback,” said Spurlock. “And we get really great stuff through that process.”
This is AOL’s first long-form series, and we’ll likely see more like it, said AOL Video & Studios president Dermot McCormack. “OTT is just an amazing opportunity,” he said. AOL plans to “really push the boundaries where possible,” in terms of content, distribution and form. “Who says a television show has to be 22 minutes?” he mused.
YouTube has changed the way documentary filmmakers tell stories, to the point where as long as people are engaged and in the moment, the jump cuts, the shaky cameras, the selfie shots are all forgiven, they said. What’s missing in the online world, though, is curation. “There is infinite amounts of content available,” McCormack said. “But we all have that moment where stare blankly at Netflix.” “The next revolution is going to the democratization of curation, argued Spurlock, “where now I know I’ll be able to go here to watch this type of programming, these things that I like, and they’ll live in one place for me.”