In the digital media family, the mockumentary is known as the much cooler cousin of the documentary. The mockumentary uses the conventions of a documentary to recount fictional events (rather than real ones); so, it’s often meant to be comedic.
While allowing for a wider array of creative expression than a documentary would, the mockumentary is limited by how entertaining it is. The more entertaining, the larger the audience, regardless of the quality of the social commentary that the mockumentary has to offer. A funny mockumentary on bread could have more of a following than a more serious mockumentary on the opiod epidemic.
But how do you write a mockumentary?
- Determine the discrepancy. The mockumentary, despite its unrealistic nature, is based on the discrepancy between the reality and stereotype of a given subject. The mockumentary is relatable by being rooted in reality. By determining the discrepancy, you begin to develop a sense of what it is that makes the chosen topic relatable.
- Characterize the comedy. What kind of humor will your mockumentary apply? Will it be sarcastic undertones, as seen in “The Gods Must be Crazy” ?
Will it be the straight-forward, subtle humor that characterizes “The Office” ?
(Pro Tip: click the mockumentary titles for a clip!)
The type of comedy you choose to employ should be reflective of the audience you have in mind. If you’re trying to appeal to suburban whites, then the sarcastic, simple-mindedness with which “The Gods Must be Crazy” portrays the villagers upholds the expected stereotypes of that demographic. As a result, the movie exaggerates the misconceptions of suburban whites in order to capitalize on the comedic value of said misconceptions.
- Plan the plot. Now that you have a topic and you’ve decided what kind of comedy to employ, you’ve got to come up with a story.What is the setting? Who are the characters? What is the goal? Just like any (good) TV show or movie, and mockumentary has to have a plot or purpose.
- Script the scenes. I chose to make this a separate point from the one above because operationalizing the plot is very different from the plot itself. Coming up with the plot is the easy part; scripting it, however, is a different story. This is where much artistic privilege and creative license can be applied: details from the facial expression of a character to the number of extras in a scene must all be considered with varying levels of dexterity. If this step were fully realized, it can (and does) take over a year to complete.
This may come as a shocker, but for experiment 3, I’ve chosen to re-work my original piece in the genre of mockumentaries. I wanted my experiment 3 to be drastically different from my previous two experiments, and given that this is a genre I didn’t know existed two weeks ago, I’d say I’ve fulfilled that requirement. However, I also chose to work in this genre because I hope to continue the theme of realistic realization that I began with experiment 2. Experiment 2 transformed my original piece of creative nonfiction into a real, tangible protest song. In experiment 3, I hope to transform my original piece into a mockumentary, in order to continue to make my piece more tangible and applicable to real life.
Just as a refresher, my original piece was a fairytale-like chapter that examined the effects of linguistic hegemony imposed by a Troll on the People. There is a word dealer in the chapter that acts to bridge these two parties; but, in reality, the world dealer lacks a sense of belonging to either party. Experiment 3 will convert the fairytale from my original piece into a mockumentary about the current opioid epidemic. I hope to examine the features of the opioid epidemic that mimic my fairytale. These features include the role of the drug dealers (as the word dealer) as well as that of power dynamics between addicts (the people) and the systems/institutions that subjugate them (the troll). These institutions/systems of power, such as the legal or health systems, are maintained by average people, and yet, they too are complicit in this crisis.
The pilot episode of “Grimm,” while not a mockumentary, inspired me to look at the realism that subtly finds its way into fairytales.The crimes committed in “Grimm” are based on the fairytales by the Brothers Grimm. “Grimm” details the stories of how normal, inconspicuous people could really be monsters. I hope to elaborate on this point in my mockumentary. In terms of the conventions of the mockumentary, however, I hope to draw upon “The Gods Must be Crazy” and “The Office,” both of which employ a sense of humor I hope to emulate.
The mockumentary grants me access to a wider audience, as its entertainment value appeals to those who its topic might not appeal to alone. While I am still able to enter the discussion of systematic oppression, it is no longer in the realm of linguistic hegemony. However, I still believe I am entering the same, larger conversation about systematic control via dependance (i.e. on drugs or words). As a result, I will use this genre to communicate this idea to a US audience concerned about the opioid epidemic, or looking to be entertained. I will use a documentary on the opiod epidemic as a starting point, and use its content as a basis to my mockumentary.