Hosts And Narrators

There is a wide range in how and why people use on-camera hosts for documentary films. Sometimes a broadcaster will want the producer to use a celebrity, such as an actor, sports figure, or politician. With celebrities known to be involved in particular political, social, or health issues, for example, this can give the project added credibility. A celebrity's reputation—as a humorist, for example—can set the tone for a project. Finally, the involvement of a celebrity can help boost a project's promotion and raise audience interest. (Using a celebrity who is not a trained actor can be frustrating, however, because it's harder than it looks to walk and talk naturally on camera, and it takes skill to maintain tone and energy during a voice-over recording session.)

Some programs involve the host in the filmed story line, as when Wild Nature took celebrities on journeys around the world. These hosts help to bring a narrative structure to the filmmaking, as discussed in Chapter 3. It's also possible to have one person introduce a show and another narrate it. And it's possible—in fact, quite common—for a celebrity or noncelebrity to narrate the show without ever being seen on camera. Actor Peter Coyote, for example, narrated Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room; actor

Morgan Freeman narrated March of the Penguins. In any case, you want the narration to be recorded by someone who can enunciate and whose voice will carry even when placed against music or sync sound.

The narrator's voice sets a tone for the film. Will it be male or female, or have an identifiable accent? How old do you want your narrator to sound? How do you want this person to come across to the audience? As an expert or a friend? Sounding humorous, somber, remote, or warm? Even an unseen narrator has a distinct presence in the film and is part of the overall balance of voices that are heard. Alternatively, some films are "narrated" in voice-over by the filmmaker, who may appear on screen. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog), My Architect (Nathaniel Kahn), and Super Size Me (Morgan Spurlock) are examples of films in which the narrator/filmmaker plays a role in the story.

There are many creative ways to narrate films. In The Kidnapping of Ingrid Betancourt, discussed in Chapter 17, the filmmakers were about to start shooting when the subject of their intended film, Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, was kidnapped. Just prior to that, however, she had been on a book tour in the United States, where she conducted several radio interviews in English. The filmmakers used this material to construct a voice-over that allows Betancourt to introduce herself and her ambitions during the film's first act, which leads up to the kidnapping.

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