Mockumentary

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"October 30, 1938, New York City: Orson Welles broadcasts The War of the Worlds, sending the nation into panic over a supposed alien invasion. Amazed by its success, Welles planned an ambitious follow-up: an innovative radio adaptation of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, in which the famed poem is expressed in a series of fake news bulletins and incredible sound effects (the majestic "yawp" is accomplished using a glass bottle and a balloon). Listeners fall for it again: Across America, hysterical citizens run through the streets singing the body electric, and falling in love with teenage boys."

A fictional drama that poses as a documentary. When not an outright comedy (such as This Is Spinal Tap), the Mockumentary almost always involves some kind of disaster (even the BBC's recent one about a space voyage involved a crew member dying). Fake news reports done by real life newsreaders are common, along with interviews with 'experts', real or fictional. A Mockumentary will often provoke controversy.

The BBC did a lot of Mockumentaries in the late 2000s (to the point of two or three a month). One BBC newsreader commented he did news reports for these programmes about twice a month.

Due to the miracle of computer-generated animation, the Discovery Channel has also taken to making mockumentaries about wildlife that no longer exists, such as dinosaurs, or has never existed, such as dragons, in the "filmed in their natural habitat" format.

See also: the Documentary Episode, a Framing Device or plot used for certain episodes on a drama or comedy series. Meanwhile, the Faux Documentary is what a Mockumentary becomes when it often discards the constraints of a supposed documentary crew. Also see Left It In, when people in the documentary directly request (to the camera) that something be cut or edited out, a request that is denied, since you, the viewer, still get to see it. Fictional Document is a more generic case that isn't used to tell the whole story.

Compare "Faux To" Guide, Speculative Documentary, Log Fic, and Wildlife Commentary Spoof. Contrast: Documentary, Documentary of Lies.

Examples of Mockumentary include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Big Bang Comics published a two issue History of Big Bang Comics, which detailed the fictional history of the comic book publisher whose Golden Age and Silver Age stories they were supposedly reprinting.

Fan Works[edit | hide]

Film[edit | hide]

  • The term "mockumentary" is most associated with the works of Christopher Guest. He has done quite a few of them, with largely the same group of actors. Much of the final product is rumored to be ad-libbed.
    • This Is Spinal Tap, the story of an aging British rock group in their fading days of stardom. They struggle with playing continually smaller venues, incompetent band members, and the reality that they may be losing their fame.
      • On the commentary for the episode of The Simpsons which features Spinal Tap, Matt Groening recalls people booing the film because they thought that it was real, and yelling "those are the dumbest rock stars I've ever seen!"
    • Waiting for Guffman: A small-town play about the town's history (including their close association with the stool industry and the town's historical visitation by aliens) might be visited by a Broadway talent scout.
    • Best in Show, about a national dog show, and the the dog owners.
    • A Mighty Wind: three fading folk music acts give a televised reunion concert after the death of their impresario.
    • For Your Consideration: a small indie flick called "Home for Purim" starts to generate Oscar buzz before it's even completed.
  • Bob Roberts (1992) -- The rise of an ambitious politician who isn't all that he appears to be.
  • Death Of A President (2006) -- A highly controversial feature-film mockumentary, set in 2010, reflecting on the assassination of US president George W. Bush in 2007 and its aftereffects.
  • CSA: Confederate States of America (2006) -- A history of North America, and the role of slavery in particular, from the War of Northern Aggression to the 21st century. Warning: This documentary is a foreign program. The views expressed in it do not represent those of the network.
  • Medium Cool (1969) -- Filmed documentary-style during the Chicago 1968 riots, following the life of a TV cameraman. Possibly the greatest example of Real Life Writes the Plot.
  • Confetti, (c. 2006) -- A British film about three couples (including a pair of nudists) getting married.
  • Cloverfield (2008) -- Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever, documented on a handheld camcorder by an ordinary schlub.
  • District 9 (2009) is filmed partially in this style, with documentary segments and interviews about the history of the alien presence on Earth interspersed with conventionally shot scenes.
  • Woody Allen's Zelig—about the life of a dysfunctional "human chameleon" that lived during the 1920s.
  • The first Saw movie had one of these on the Special Edition DVD that attempted to portray the events of the movie as real.
  • The Mating Habits Of The Earthbound Human—Both a romantic comedy and a satirical nature documentary featuring two humans in their natural habitat and an alien as the expository narrator.
  • Being Michael Madsen is a mockumentary movie in which the Rayban-wearing, gravelly-voiced actor Michael Madsen uses the fact that he's best known for playing ear-severing psychos to great effect. He is making a movie when a young female star disappears, and he is somehow involved...
  • Much of A Hard Day's Night was filmed in Mockumentary mode.
  • Peter Jackson's Forgotten Silver, the story of a fictional New Zealand film pioneer Colin McKenzie. According to the material Jackson "discovered" in this movie, McKenzie was the first man to make audio film and color film, and one piece of footage proves that a New Zealandic inventor created the world's first working flying machine.
  • Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
  • A film called The National Film Board of Mars Presents: What on Earth? is a mockumentary where the supposed propaganda board of the Martian government does a documentary about the dominant form of life on earth: automobiles. Makes fun of the organization that did create it, the National Film Board of Canada, and the fact that the Martians have confused automobiles with the drivers that infest them.
  • The Belgian pitch-black comedy Man Bites Dog is about Affably Evil Serial Killer being followed around by a film crew. The documentary style made the violence even more disturbing by giving viewers the uneasy feeling that they're watching a Snuff Film.
  • Fear Of A Black Hat (1994) -- Spinal Tap meets Hip-Hop
  • Brothers Of The Head about conjoined twins in the 1970s sold by their father to be stars in a freakish rock band.
  • The segment of the character Jack Rollins/Pastor John in I'm Not There is presented as a mockumentary.
  • My Winnipeg is a "docufantasia" with a collection of stories about Winnipeg (most of which are wildly distorted exaggerations of actual events and persons) and angry rants about how the status quo isn't being preserved and how women are pathetic.
  • Peter Greenaway's The Falls (1980) documents mental and physical changes in victims of the "Violent Unknown Event". VUE victims have undergone what are now recognized as epigenomic changes, especially when the victims were near strong man-made or natural electrical fields at the time. Nuclear receptor complexes for steroids, thyroid, HGH, Vitamin A and others, bind to sites on the DNA, up- or down-regulating the production of specific proteins. The DNA sequence remains unmutated, but altered in expression in a non-Darwinian manner. Such Lamarckian processes are only now being revealed to protein scientists and geneticists. Greenaway's film touches on a crucial insight about epigenomics and electropermeabilization, three decades before science could catch up to the director's personal, intuitive understanding of these emergent eccentricities of psyche and physiology.
    • I was with you up to "documents"
      • It's a mockumentary that catalogs a bunch of event-created mutants. The title comes from the fact that the mutants reviewed all have last names beginning with "Fall-." Some of them have water-based dreams, others have physical mutations (usually the quality of birds) or have dream about birds, and others spontaneously learn bizarre, almost-alien languages (or Estonian, if you want to be PC). What the above troper was saying is that the mutations resemble a recently discovered biological mutation process that doesn't follow the typical Darwinian process of sexual transmission of new mutations to descendants, but instead involves acquired traits created by changes in the way the body creates proteins (that's where "Lamarckian" comes in. Lamarck was a biologist - he coined the term biologie - best known these days for a discredited form of evolution in which environmental stress gradually changes individual organisms during their life times).
  • The DVD Commentary for The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension insist that it's a dramatization of real events. We believe them.
  • I'm Still Here chronicles Joaquin Phoenix's transition from actor to aspiring rap artist, which involved Phoenix's public persona and appearance changing drastically; he became introverted, mumbled uncomfortably through interviews, and apparently put a moratorium on personal grooming as evidenced by his disheveled hair and new, gnarly beard. During the filming period, few were certain as to whether Phoenix was serious about becoming a rapper or if the entire thing was a Kaufmanesque ruse. Only after the film premiered did Phoenix confirm that the ordeal was a hoax, and he began appearing in interviews as his old, well-groomed, clean-shaven self.
  • REC is portrayed as a TV program where a journalist and a cameraman cover the night shift of one of Barcelona's local fire stations.
  • Lake Mungo
  • In the Tropic Thunder special DVD edition, there was a documentary of the movie within the movie and how it got derailed. This had elements of Documentary of Lies at the end when it was implied that the actors disappeared into the jungle and got blown up.
  • Get Ready To Be Boyzvoiced is about the rise and fall of a Norwegian boyband that performed songs that would get them booed off Eurovision Song Contest. It's all Played for Laughs of course.
  • The 1950s B-Movie, Phantom from Space, although, with the exception of the Stock Footage and the narrator's voice-over, it might fall more under mocudrama.
  • First On The Moon, a 2005 Russian darkly comic mockumentary about the Soviet Moon flight back in 1938.
  • ...And God Spoke (1994) -- Chronicles two ambitious filmmakers as they attempt to create a big-budget Biblical epic.
  • The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a horror movie in this style. In a rare example for the horror genre, this was made to look like an actual documentary, rather than just shaky cam.
  • The premise of independent UK thriller Exhibit A is that the footage we're seeing—a series of recordings on a teenaged girl's handheld cam documenting the rising tensions in her once normal family and their tragic outcome—actually is being presented as exhibit A in a murder trial for Familicide
  • Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
  • The short film Badly Drawn Roy is about Ireland's first cartoon baby being interviewed for the first time for a documentary. Incidentally, his family is live-action. It's got more genuine drama in it than the premise would suggest.
  • Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is about a group of documentary filmmakers following a wannabe slasher killer who wishes to be the next Jason or Freddy. Most of the movie is done in this style, showing his preparations for his coming killing spree, before turning into a conventional slasher flick in the last fifteen minutes.
  • Las Hurdes by Luis Bunuel falls halfway between this trope and Documentary of Lies. He did actually go to poor areas of Spain to shoot and was addressing real social issues, but some events appear to have been staged or restaged and at least a few of the statements made by the Unreliable Narrator are Blatant Lies. How much is true and how much isn't is just part of a surrealist package.
  • Kenny is 2006 Australian mockumenray following the life of a plumber who works for a corporate bathroom rental company.
  • Louisiana Story (1948): Made by the man who made Nanook of the North, but scripted and made to promote the agenda of Standard Oil.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Little Me: The Intimate Memoirs of that Great Star of Stage, Screen and Television, Belle Poitrine (as told to Patrick Dennis)
  • The Complete World Knowledge series, by John Hodgman, are mockumentaries in book form.
  • The book Shock Festival is like Spinal Tap meets Grindhouse, a detailed look at the histories and making of grindhouse films that never really existed.
  • The Snouters: Form and Life of the Rhinogrades, a 92-page biology in-joke describing a fictitious order of mammals that walk, climb, dig and/or catch insects with their noses.
  • Warday And The Journey Onward by Whitley Streiber, which is written as the account of a reporter in the aftermath of an atomic attack on the United States.
  • The Dorset Disaster by Alexander Sidar, is the fictional account of the explosion of a nuclear reactor in Connecticut. It was written several years before Chernobyl, though it actually has a slight similarity, in that both the real and fictional disaster were both caused by oversights during a test.
  • The three main series Dinotopia books were mostly written in the format of the journals of Arthur Denison as found by James Gurney.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Entire show examples:
    • Reno 911!, a specific parody of the COPS style reality-documentary.
    • Canadian comedy series Trailer Park Boys has the premise of being a documentary that follows the day-to-day lives of several guys who live in a trailer park. Occasionally, even the "film crew" gets involved, such as when the mike boom guy takes a stray bullet in the leg.
    • The Office and all its imitators, including the German counterpart Stromberg.
    • Both series done by Chris Lilley, We Can Be Heroes and Summer Heights High, as well as many other Australian series including The Games, Frontline, The Hollowmen, and, to a lesser extent, Kath and Kim.
    • Operation Good Guys, a supposed fly on the wall documentary about an incompetent police unit.
    • The Games was a fictional comedy series about the (real) Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) as it prepared for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
    • Dorm Life is a web-original comedy mockumentary about dorm life, of course.
    • Parks and Recreation purports to be a doc about the inner workings of a small-town government office.
    • Modern Family
    • People Like Us, a 1999-2001 British production that skewers the traditional BBC documentary style.
  • The Time Trumpet was a British program that aired 18 August 2006, covering weighty topics, such as the Tesco vs. Denmark war.
  • Coming in a few months before This Is Spinal Tap, The Comic Strip Presents ... episode "Bad News Tour" (and the sequel several years later, "More Bad News") follows a group of heavy metal wannabes and willneverbees. There are a couple of scenes where the 'musicians' (actually comedians, though that didn't stop them touring) interact with the documentary makers.
  • The War Game (1965) -- Britain before, during and after a nuclear attack. Not actually shown in the UK until 1985 because the Home Office claimed it would affect the 'mentally unstable'. Others claimed it was because it exposed the government's post-attack plans as ineffective. Scary as all hell.
  • Alternative 3 (1978) -- The final episode of ITV's documentary program Science Report was a mockumentary which, in the course of investigating the problem of leading British scientists moving abroad, reported, among other things, that they were actually being shuttled to Mars to avoid imminent environmental catastrophe. A video clip of the secret first Martian landing (in 1962) shows the astronauts under attack by a monstrous being as the camera is destroyed. Depite all the clues about its true nature, a number of people still believe in the "documentary:. On YouTube, the Mars landing scene has the label "Reconstructed or real document?" Meaning either Based On Fact, or real footage.
  • Special Bulletin (1983) -- An NBC-produced movie about a nuclear standoff in the port of Charleston, SC, which caused mild panic despite frequent disclaimers that the work was fictional. The final scenes of the film drop the conceit in a time-skip to several months afterward.
  • Countdown to Looking Glass (1984) - A fairly unexceptional made-for-TV movie about news broadcasts on the verge of guess-what.
  • The Canadian Conspiracy (1985) -- An HBO/CBC co-production, this comedy featured an "exposé" of the secret Canadian plan to overthrow the US through infiltration of the entertainment industry. All the people named as infiltrators who were "interviewed" or "ambushed" played themselves, from Eugene Levy, the defector revealing the conspiracy, to Lorne Greene, the godfather of the operation. Worked because, at least for the American audience, most probably weren't aware of how many Canadians there actually were (and are) working in Los Angeles and New York.
  • Ghostwatch (1992) -- A ghost story presented as a live TV broadcast. Caused much controversy, due to many people, again, not realizing it wasn't real. Even though the actor playing the ghost was credited.
  • Without Warning (1994) -- Telefilm involving a bunch of asteroids headed for Earth, made as a long special news report. Features a cameo from Arthur C. Clarke.
    • Despite the commercial wipes clearly depicting it as a work of fiction, television networks received a high number of calls from viewers duped into thinking it was real.
  • Curse Of The Blair Witch (1999) -- A Sci-Fi channel broadcast produced as a tie-in with The Blair Witch Project, itself a mockumentary of sorts. The program investigated the film as though it were an actual document of real events, investigates the history of the Blair Witch and other disappearances, and features faux "experts" and townspeople reporting their experiences. Caused much public confusion over whether the story was true or not, and to this day visitors to Burkittsville, MD ask to see fictional landmarks such as the "Witch's Rock".
    • A similar faux-historical retrospective was released directly to DVD, to accompany Stephen King's two-part TV movie Rose Red.
  • Smallpox Britain (2002) -- A terrorist unleashes smallpox in Britain.
  • The Day Britain Stopped (2003) -- lots of traffic problems cause gridlock.
  • Supervolcano (2005) -- What is likely to happen when Yellowstone erupts.
  • Tout ça (ne nous rendra pas la Belgique) (2006) -- A hoax news broadcast aired on December 16, 2006, on the French-language Belgian TV station RTBF, reported that the parliament of the Flemish-speaking region of Flanders had seceded and that Belgium as a nation had effectively ceased to exist.. The program featured interviews with real politicians (not all of whom were in on the hoax) and a staged evacuation of the royal family from Brussels. Thousands of panicked phone calls were placed, worried citizens rallied outside the royal palace, and several ambassadors sent panicked messages to their capitals. Thirty minutes into the program, the Minister for Audiovisual Affairs ordered RTBF to admit the hoax.
  • If?—an entire series of the genre which the BBC ran for a while.
  • Trailer Park Boys—Canadian runaway success started out as a low-key mockumentary/comedy, but turned into more of a straight comedy when the actors stopped breaking the fourth wall and stopped acknowledging the camera. Earlier on the main characters regularly talked to and even on occasion assaulted the camera/sound-people.
  • The Lost World—The Arthur Conan Doyle one, not the Michael Crichton one. The entire frame is a news reporter writing letters back to his newspaper, with the climax being an article written by one of his colleagues (since he's in the debriefing conference).
  • When Cars Attack—Richard Belzer presents information and theories on alleged unprovoked assaults on humans by cars acting of their own accord. Quite hilarious.
  • Jimmy Macdonald's Canada
  • In the British series Prehistoric Park, the main character uses a time portal to bring dinosaurs to a modern nature preserve. In spite of the Jurassic Park—like premise, the show is filmed in the style of a realistic Nature Documentary. Further blurring the line between fact and fantasy, star Nigel Marven is an ornithologist and documentary host in Real Life. Egregious tagline: "Extinction Doesn't Have to be Forever".
    • This series follows from Walking With Dinosaurs and its sequels Walking with Beasts and Walking with Cavemen, as well as its prequel, Walking with Monsters. All of these were filmed like National Geographic-esque nature documentaries, complete with Camera Abuse, except that they rotated around prehistoric life portrayed using a variety of special effects. Also in the series - and far more mockumentary in tone - was Chased by Dinosaurs, starring Nigel Marven again, which was basically Walking with Dinosaurs meets The Crocodile Hunter; and Sea Monsters / Chased By Sea Monsters, which also starred Nigel and was a countdown of the seven deadliest prehistoric oceans and their top predators (orthicones (shelled squids); Cymbospondylus (a type of icthyosaur); Dunkleosteus; Basilosaurus (an ancient whale); Carcharadon megaladon; Liopleurodon; a menagerie of beasties (mosasaurs, sharks, monstrous fish, six-foot toothed seabirds). Nigel went shark-cage diving with a megalodon, and John Barrowman wasn't invited.
  • A local example: the comedy-sketch show Almost Live! used to be produced by and air on the NBC affiliate in Seattle, Washington. One week (on April Fools Day) they "interrupted" the show with a serious-seeming "newscast" which announced that the landmark Space Needle had fallen over in a windstorm. Enough people believed the report that the station later issued a formal apology.
  • Babylon 5 did this for one episode: And Now For A Word. They used it to subtly establish the nature and biases of the in-universe mainstream media, before they became plot-important.
  • The Mash episode "The Interview" was presented as a TV documentary in black & white.
  • Also from The Comic Strip Presents, the episode "Eddie Monsoon, A Life" is a mockumentary about an insane, failed TV host.
  • Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real, follows the discovery of the body of a real dragon, and shows the science that would justify the evolution of such a creature.
  • T-Rex: A Dinosaur in Hollywood follows the artistic career of Mr. T-rex from his discovery to becoming one of the greatest stars in the world. Follows the Real Life story of how he became a cultural icon.
  • The Lost season 4 DVDs contain a mockumentary which exposes the lies of the Oceanic 6. It's essentially one big Lampshade Hanging on common fan nitpicks, such as the 6 not losing any weight and Jack being clean-shaven.
  • Kayfabe: Work Your Gimmick (2008) -- follows the last days of Northeastern/Canadian indy-wrestling fed and the Ragtag Bunch of Misfits running it.
  • Life Beyond The Box was a series of two BBC mockumentaries looking at the lives of 1970s sitcom characters Norman Stanley Fletcher and Margot Leadbetter. The former reunited the cast of the original; the latter didn't, with even Margot herself being Other Darrined.
  • A British news show in the '50s played an April Fool on its audience, doing a segment about how spaghetti grows on trees. Pasta not being a common foodstuff there at the time, a lot of British viewers had no clue it was fake, and phoned the BBC to ask how they could grow their own spaghetti trees.
  • Operation Repo is a series on TruTV] that is about repomen and it is filmed like COPS, but it is also scripted.
  • One of the earlier examples: The Rutles: All You Need is Cash, mocking documentaries of The Beatles, and one of Rob Reiner's inspirations for Spinal Tap.
  • Lost Tapes plays at being the tapes of people who encountered cryptozoological monsters—few of whom to survive the encounters.
  • The Animal Planet movie Werewolves: Dark Survivors is a mockumentary about werewolves in the format of a Crime Drama.
  • William Karel's 2002 TV "film" The Dark Side of the Moon purported to be about how NASA and Hollywood had conspired to fake the Apollo moon landings, complete with heavyweight guest stars, including Buzz Aldrin and Stanley Kubrick's widow. In spite of the blooper reel featured over the end credits (not to mention an on-screen acknowledgement that it was all made up) some people still believe that it provides evidence for the Apollo landings being a hoax!
  • The documentary segments of The Comedians of Comedy Tour were just as likely to be staged as genuine. Sometimes it was impossible to tell the difference.
  • Harry Enfield starred in Norbert Smith: A Life, about a fictional actor (with plenty of clips from horribly plausible bad British films) and Norman Ormal: A Very Political Turtle, about a fictional Conservative cabinet minister.
  • Many, if not all of the Top Gear Challenges. Crossing a dessert in Africa or a reaching the North Pole in a car appear as very genuine documentaries about cars in extreme environments. But then you have others that include things like Jeremy hilariously rolling over a car in the background of a live news broadcast or the Stig falling with a car from the deck of an aircraft carrier and dying. Or the one in which they tried to test cars for their usefulnes as getaway cars and robbed a bank in Croatia and got in a chase with the police during which James died by jumping of a cliff, only to be back the next episode.
  • The Animal Planet documentary Mermaids, about the fictional discovery of a mermaid-like body and the supposed science behind it.
  • X-Files had the episode X-Cops, which was an episode done in the format of the |Cops show that purported to be footage of an X-Files case.

Radio[edit | hide]

  • The War of the Worlds (1938): This Trope Maker was a Radio Drama adaptation of the HG Wells novel, written and directed by Orson Welles as part of his Mercury Theatre of the Air program on CBS radio. The first half of the program was presented as a Phony Newscast, the overwhelming versimilitude of which - coupled with heightened public anxiety over the prospect of war in Europe - resulted in many listeners believing the play to be an actual news broadcast on a Martian invasion. The resulting panic, though not nearly as wide-ranging or destructive as legend would later have it, boosted Welles' career and resulted in numerous FCC regulations requiring disclaimers in future mockumentaries.
  • I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue: In Search of Mornington Crescent, in which BBC reporter Andrew Marr talks to great players of the Game from Humphrey Lyttelton to Dame Judi Dench in order to learn why the rules are so hard to discover.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • The cutscenes from Urban Chaos: Riot Response are filmed like an actual news report. My mom thought there was an actual terrorist attack for a few seconds until I told her it was my game.
  • Michigan: Report From Hell is a playable Mockumentary, where you're trying to get the scoop at what's happening in Chicago. Nobody survives.

Web Original[edit | hide]

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Surf's Up—a rare animated example. Your basic sports story done in documentary fashion... with penguins!
    • Which obviously owes something to the Eighties-era animated sports mockumentary Animalympics. With the major difference being that Animalympics had no central character, no unifying narrative, and was loaded to the brim with celebrity and pop culture references of the day. In contrast, Surfs Up follows a limited cast of characters on a definite story arc, with cultural references being narrowed to the archetypes often seen in sportsdocs.
  • The Simpsons: The "documentary" episode Behind the Laughter from the 11th season.
  • South Park gave us "Terrance and Phillip: Behind the Blow".