It was only eight seconds. Eight seconds of silence between a question and answer. But it didn’t actually happen that way. And now, the decision to insert an 8-second pause in a documentary about a controversial subject has become a controversy of its own.
The director of the documentary film Under the Gun says she made a “creative decision” by adding the pause between a question posed by Katie Couric and the answer from members of a gun rights group. Here’s how it plays out on video:
Director Stephanie Soechtig defended her decision to Variety:
You have Katie asking the group this question, “Do you think people on the terror watch list should be allowed to own guns?” Katie’s asking the question of the group, but as the filmmaker, I want to ask the question of the audience. So what I was thinking, my editor was thinking was we need to stop for a second, because the film moves along at a really fast clip. So you’ll see that throughout we’ll stop down after something happens or when we present something. The terror watch list is a real pivotal feature in the film, as is the whole notion of background checks. So this felt like a really crucial time to stop down and allow the audience a moment to let that question sink in.
No one might have noticed, except for the fact that the group in question had its own audio recording of the interview. They knew full well that one of them had immediately answered the question, and they cried foul. Adding a pause, they said, made them appear to be speechless.
Couric took responsibility, admitting the edit misrepresented the exchange. She also appeared to throw the director under the bus, saying she had initially questioned the edit, but let it go after talking to Soechtig:
I questioned her and the editor about the pause and was told that a “beat” was added for, as she described it, “dramatic effect”…I regret that those eight seconds were misleading and that I did not raise my initial concerns more vigorously.
Here’s the thing: A documentary is supposed to capture reality. It may not be journalism, strictly speaking, but it’s supposed to based in fact. Adding eight seconds of silence and covering it with B-roll shot at a different time is a distortion of reality. If you’re going to play around with content that way, please do us all a favor and call what you’re producing a movie, not a documentary.