On Thursday, November 20, 2014, the University of Bridgeport welcomed Monica Lange, an award-winning television producer and filmmaker, for a discussion and demonstration on how storytelling could be used through verite documentaries. Sponsored the English Department, the event was part of the Necessary Voices lecture series featuring a wide range of speakers throughout the semester and school year.

Verite style is when a small film crew follows interviewees and record their lives in order to capture their experiences, feelings, and reactions on camera. “Verite is when you say, ‘I’m going to be with you for X amount of days, weeks, months, or years,’” explained Lange.

Documentaries are a nonfiction drama. Bringing in raw footage of real life stories, Lange demonstrated how the same story tools used in fiction could be applied to documentaries. “That’s why well-done documentaries can be so compelling compared to most movies,” explained Lange, “because they are about real life.” Some storytelling tools are:

  • Scene (where everything takes place)
  • Narrator (who can take you out of the story but also can tell the audience what to think)
  • Character (interviewee)
  • Story Arch
  • Music

All of these elements are stitched together to create a full feature film.

When Lange started out in this business digital media didn’t exist; instead they used film cameras. “Every ten minutes you had to stop and take the magazine out of the camera,” said Lange. “You had to stop everything that was going on. Maybe your character was in his/her most emotional moment or was beginning to really open up to you. Suddenly you had to pause everything in order to get a new film magazine on. This happened every ten minutes.”

Today, with new digital technology, filmmakers are able to film 2-3 hours at a time, accumulating as much as 150 hours of footage. This stretches out the editing process, but often makes for a more compelling story.

Lange’s message was strongly enforced by her own footage of films she’s produced, sharing with the audience small clips of her past verite stories and some current jobs still underway. Sharing a current film in progress, the rigorous amount of energy involved in both the interviewee, who has to be patient with the filming process, and the director and team, who have to maneuver the camera around this character in order to find the right angles, the right moments, and the right shots, were evident. Next Lange presented a “daily,” which is a short pitch piece produced overnight and showed the audience what all the raw footage could become.

Overall, the immense amount of work to shoot, review, edit, and revise the footage is a long process that had everyone in the audience amazed. It made this writer think about documentaries in a different way. As a writer and artist, I could really relate to Monica Lange’s presentation. Her story of creating captivating stories through the experiences of following people’s lives made me clearly see that everyone had a story to tell. People sometimes think that they don’t have anything important to share or that people will not understand them, but Monica Lange proved that wasn’t true.

Verite Documentaries are a way of creating creating stories through evidence, through real life, and through the relationship that is built between the interviewee to the audience. People connect with other people during the process of storytelling. It’s this connection that makes Monica Lange’s stories so interesting and moving.