Crash and Burn
String or Die
Dead of Night
Shot In The Dark is one of the most controversial and engrossing documentaries on Netflix right now. Following the lives of three freelance cameramen known as stringers, these men race to the scene of accidents and film the aftermath to sell to news outlets. Complete with cursing, graphic imagery and a blisteringly fast pace, Shot In The Dark is as shocking as it is relentlessly impressive and because of that, it stands out from other documentaries out there.
The 8 episodes depicted follow the lives and struggles of 3 separate cameraman known as stringers as they chase the lucrative “story of the night”. This competitive market is typified by the 3 different men that struggle to vie for control of the LA crime-scene-filming industry. Howard and his brothers are certainly the most likeable with RMG news and their humanity is a rare thing in a field dominated by arrogance and ruthlessness. Competing with the brothers is monopolizing, arrogantly artistic Zak who owns the largest stake in Los Angeles through Onscene TV. Rounding out the trio is unlikable, brash Scott who runs LoudLabs. Together the three groups wrestle for the best shots and camera work whilst struggling with an ever-changing and evolving industry that threatens to leave them behind. Anyone who’s seen the film Nightcrawler will instantly be familiar with this set up but for those who haven’t its relatively straight forward to pick up what the men do and how they do it.
Visually, Shot In The Dark is uniquely presented. A clear map is used as a colourful GPS system to show where each of the cameramen are and a general destination is depicted to highlight how far away they might be. Although it could be argued that this was done deliberately to make the series seem more engaging, it actually helps a lot to give a sense of scale and just where each of the cameramen are. Seeing all three men racing toward the same crime scene is surprisingly effective in building excitement and adrenaline, giving the series a much-needed boost at times where the action feels a little repetitive and tedious.
A few of the events that occur in the 8 episodes do feel a little contrived; a meeting near the end of the series goes predictably pear shaped and Scott’s dialogue with his co-worker around having a baby are the worst culprits of this. Despite the few missteps inherent with the show, the incredibly fast pace leaves little time to dwell on events or reflect on what you’ve just seen as the men race round the streets of LA to find the next story to film. There’s a wide array of different incidents shown too and whether it be a high-speed chase, an armed robbery or even a flood, anything that might make the news is snapped up by these night-crawling men and filmed. The lack of humanity and reflection does give this documentary a somewhat lackadaisical and laid back feel. There are times where the men get uncomfortably close to the action and intrude on the service men and women’s job, especially late on when the industry becomes unbearably competitive which is never a nice sight to see.
With many of the episodes set up in largely the same way, the latter episodes evolve slightly to really showcase the rivalry between the cameramen rather than focusing on the job itself. It’s here that Shot In The Dark takes a step back from the documentary aspect of the show and instead starts building a narrative fit for a reality TV plot. A lot of this season revolves around Zak and Scott’s fractured relationship and how Howard is isolated and suffers from the other’s bitter feud. The way this suddenly escalates toward the end of the series, complete with an injection of action and drama, feels a little unnatural, especially given that the series was filmed over the space of 4 weeks.
The episodes themselves are certainly slickly presented although the editing is sporadically abrupt at times. The final two episodes feel conclusive and look to build up to something as the characters contemplate their future and where the industry is moving in general. Unfortunately, this surprisingly well rounded idea of finalising the show with unanswered questions but a satisfying conclusion is ruined as the show ends with an unresolved cliffhanger. It does sour the experience somewhat, especially since a second season hasn’t even been green lit yet.
Overall, Shot In The Dark is an intriguing documentary series but one that won’t sit well with everyone. Complete with cursing, violence and a frantic pace, Shot In The Dark won’t be for everyone but for those interested in the subject matter, there’s an adrenaline fuelled show at work here that manages to do a good job of highlighting the incredibly dangerous job these stringers do. Its hard to root for the arrogant characters at times in an industry that walks a fine line between humane and ugly but Shot In The Dark is entertaining enough to justify its existence and is as absorbing as it is gripping.