Fun With AI: Ethical Responsibility

Not long ago I mentioned creating my own code of ethics for documentary filmmaking — a task I’m still thinking about. So that got me to thinking perhaps I should ask ChatGPT: What is the most important ethical responsibility for documentary filmmakers?


The most important ethical responsibility for documentary filmmakers is to accurately represent the truth and to present a fair and balanced portrayal of the subjects they are documenting. This includes being honest and transparent in the portrayal of events, people, and places, and avoiding any manipulative techniques that could misrepresent or distort reality.

Documentary filmmakers have a unique responsibility to their subjects and their audiences. They must respect the privacy and dignity of the people they are filming, obtaining informed consent whenever possible and avoiding any actions that could cause harm or exploitation. They also have a responsibility to present a fair and accurate portrayal of the events they are documenting, avoiding sensationalism or bias that could mislead viewers.

Finally, documentary filmmakers must adhere to professional standards of conduct and maintain the integrity of their work. This includes avoiding conflicts of interest, disclosing any potential biases or conflicts, and upholding the highest ethical standards of journalism and storytelling. By fulfilling these responsibilities, documentary filmmakers can help to promote transparency, accountability, and social justice, and contribute to a better understanding of the world around us.



Hmmmmm… I would have preferred something a bit more focused given the short, 3-paragraph answer. This reads like a befuddled student’s strategy to answer a test question: Throw up everything you think you know, and hope something sticks.

But nothing really does stick. It’s a series of assertions without argument or reasons, which means (big shocker!) there’s no thinking going on here. It’s clear to me that the “intelligence” in this AI tool is something less than that concept ought to mean.

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One Wrong Move and Facebook is Lost

I’m posting this here because I have lost my Facebook account and need to communicate the following widely. It appears likely I will never get it back.

Long story short: If you see ad on Facebook for a ChatGPT app, do not install. It is malware. Still not understanding how it appeared on Facebook. Nor am I understanding how it lasted several days on Facebook. I’m hoping Facebook will do the right thing and restore all the accounts killed by this thing.

Long story long: So I saw the ad for a ChatGPT Windows app and installed it. The app didn’t work the first time I launched it. It returned a “checking your browser” message — exactly like the one I’ve seen on the ChatGPT website. I closed the app and figured I’d play around with it later.

Yesterday, while on Facebook, my app displayed a window telling me I was shut down for violating community standards. And it called me Lily Collins (some actor). Waaaaaa? I checked my e-mail and found a message from Facebook, again calling me Lily Collins, and saying my account was suspended. In fact, it was eliminated. There’s no sign of me there now, except, curiously, my Dr. Cline page is still visible as of yesterday evening, anyway.

I scoured the internet looking for answers. On Reddit I found a long string of messages from people with the same issue. Installed the app, Facebook suspended, name changed to Lily Collins.

Some reported credit card numbers stolen and other mayhem. I believe I was able to get rid of this thing without further harm. That getting rid included a full factory reset of my computer.

The upshot: Unless Facebook does something for all the Lily Collins out there, it seems clear my Facebook account is lost forever. Attempts to report the hack do no good at all. And you can’t actually talk to a human at Facebook.

My new attitude: Fuck Facebook. I’m pissed I lost so much. But I can do without it. [UPDATE: An emotional response. I may go ahead and start a new one. But I’m not going to be in a hurry about it.] [UPDATE: Nope. My first response was the correct one :-)]

Instagram still works. WhatsApp still works. Both Meta products. That makes me nervous.

If my loss of Facebook has severed our only connection, please leave a comment here or on Instagram, YouTube, or anywhere else you find me. We’ll reconnect somehow.

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Theme Construction Ahead

UPDATE: I’ve settled on a theme for now. So I’m unsticking this post and moving on 🙂

I began Rhetorica in 2002 (following its first iteration as Presidential Campaign Rhetoric 2000) using the Greymatter blogging script. I moved from that to MovableType a couple of years later. Their business model changed in a way that didn’t make me happy, so I jumped to WordPress where I have been for more than 15 years. I had the theme written for me to keep the style I began with MovableType.

If you’re curious about what all that looked like, click the link in the sidebar.

The Rhetorica theme just can’t keep up anymore. It’s time to change — and for good this time (in case you’re remembering a few earlier attempts to change the theme).

All that is to say things could look a little weird around here for a couple of weeks.

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Fun With AI: A Matter of Visual Style: Part 2

I tried a bit different approach on part two of my examination of what ChatGPT can create regarding visual style in documentary film. I asked it to give me some tips on how to incorporate the “decisive moment” to documentary cinematography —  an idea developed by Henri Cartier-Bresson regarding documentary still photography in the mid 20th century.

The popular translation of his definition: “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”

I used this as the central idea for my artistic statement (a necessary item for grant applications) because, as a still photographer who became a videographer later in life, I needed some way to think about what I was learning and doing in the context of what I already knew. So I came up with this:  “Translated to documentary digital film, it is to me the simultaneous recognition, sustained over time, of the significance of a story as well as of an unfolding organization of forms which give that story its proper expression.”

Let’s see if ChatGPT had any good tips for me.



Henri Cartier-Bresson’s concept of the “decisive moment” is all about capturing the perfect moment in a photograph. While documentary cinematography involves capturing real-life events on camera, there are ways to adopt the idea of the decisive moment to create compelling documentaries.

Here are some tips for incorporating the decisive moment into documentary cinematography:

1. Plan ahead: While spontaneity is important in documentary filmmaking, it’s also crucial to have a plan in place. Know your subject and their story well so that you can anticipate key moments that are likely to occur.
2. Be observant: Keep a watchful eye on your subject and the environment around them. Look for small details that could add depth and nuance to the story you’re telling.
3. Be patient: Sometimes the decisive moment can take time to arrive. Be willing to wait and observe until the perfect shot presents itself.
4. Use different camera techniques: Experiment with different camera techniques to capture the decisive moment. This could include slow-motion footage, time-lapses, or other creative ways of capturing movement.
5. Edit carefully: When it comes to documentary filmmaking, the editing process is just as important as the filming. Be sure to carefully review your footage and select the shots that best capture the essence of the story you’re trying to tell.

Ultimately, adopting the idea of the decisive moment to documentary cinematography requires a combination of preparation, observation, and creativity. By being alert to the possibilities of each moment and using the tools at your disposal to capture them on camera, you can create compelling and impactful documentaries that resonate with audiences.



Big fail. ChatGPT was unable to achieve anything that I recognize as understanding the topic even before applying it to documentary filmmaking. The list of tips is not quite on point because ChatGPT is unable to interpret a still photography concept for motion.

This is significant.

Stated another way: ChatGPT demonstrated that nothing even close to “thinking” (whatever that can possibly mean in the context of a machine) is going on here — intelligence artificial or otherwise. I’ve heard the thing it is doing described as “predicting the next sentence.” Seems pretty good at that on a surface level of understanding — the level it takes to stack sentences one after another. But it had no idea what I was actually asking it to do.

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Fun With AI: A Matter of Visual Style, Part 1

I’ve written before about my admiration for the visual style of Terrence Malick and its influence on my non-fiction cinematography. I wondered: Can ChatGPT give me some tips about that? So I asked a “practical” question:

How can I adapt the visual style of Terrence Malick to documentary film?


Terrence Malick is known for his distinct visual style, which involves using natural light, handheld cameras, and a focus on the beauty of nature and the inner lives of his characters. Here are some ways you can adapt his style to a documentary film:

1. Use natural light: Malick is known for his use of natural light in his films, which gives them a warm, organic feel. When shooting your documentary, try to use natural light as much as possible, especially when filming outdoors.
2. Focus on the beauty of nature: Malick’s films often feature breathtaking shots of nature, such as sweeping landscapes, sunsets, and flowing water. Look for opportunities to capture the beauty of the natural world in your documentary, whether it’s through establishing shots of the environment or close-ups of natural elements.
3. Incorporate voiceovers: Malick’s films often feature voiceovers that give insight into the inner lives of his characters. Consider incorporating voiceovers from your subjects into your documentary to give viewers a deeper understanding of their thoughts and feelings.
4. Use handheld cameras: Malick’s use of handheld cameras gives his films a sense of intimacy and spontaneity. Consider using handheld cameras when filming your documentary to give it a similar feel.
5. Experiment with non-linear storytelling: Malick’s films often employ non-linear storytelling, jumping back and forth between different periods in time. Consider experimenting with non-linear storytelling in your documentary to add depth and complexity to the narrative.

It’s important to note, however, that not all of Malick’s stylistic choices may be appropriate for a documentary, and that you should ultimately prioritize the needs of your project over emulating a particular style.



If I needed a hand-out for students to help them begin exploring this topic, the ChatGPT result would be adequate and appropriate.

For my purposes, it fails. I already know all this. So perhaps I needed to ask the question differently. I will give that a try soon. For now, I have a few more of these to publish. Part 2 will ask ChatGTP about Henri-Cartier-Bresson and the application of the decisive moment to documentary cinematography.

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