Have you seen the film Nightcrawler with Jake Gyllenhaal? It’s about a guy who discovers you can make money by filming traffic incidents in Los Angeles and selling the footage to news stations. These people are called stringers and in the movie, things escalate when he starts setting up ‘accidents’ to get the grisliest of shots.
Shot in the Dark is a new documentary series on Netflix that follows some of LA’s real-life stringers. While none of them are behaving quite like Mr Gyllenhaal’s character, the series brings plenty of thrills and spills. The first of eight episodes (all between 35 and 40 minutes in duration) introduces us to RMG News, formed of British brothers Howard, Austin and Marc Raishbrook; Zak Holman, who owns and runs OnScene TV with a staff of 20 or more stringers (in addition to himself); and Scott Lane, the founder of Loud Labs who has worked with RMG in the past as well as having founded OnScene TV. Scott has a personal beef with Zak.
In terms of style, this is one of the most visually stunning documentaries you’ll find outside of an Attenborough nature show. As the stringers race around the contrasting Los Angeles borough at night, there’s plenty to see, from towering skyscrapers to the rundown ‘projects’ neigbourhoods, and everything in between. The show’s director and postproduction team have done a tremendous job of emphasising the drama whenever the three teams find themselves racing to become the first on the scene of an emergency to capture the best shot and, hopefully, the ever-elusive story of the night.
This is via a lit up map of LA that displays the location of the incidents ongoing and the whereabouts of each of the stringers as they make their way there. As we cut between each stringer, we the viewers get a real sense of the thrill of the chase. It’s fun to watch. There are also nods to the Grand Theft Auto video game series in the editing, with establishing shots occasionally bringing us to a new locale from above, jump-zooming in on the stringer in position.
Another thing the series does very well is leaving the viewer wanting more at the end of each episode. The first episode ends on a cliffhanger in which Austin of RMG witnesses a major crash and runs over to help, rather than film the car on fire. This sets up the series arc for RMG, as Austin questions whether he can continue in his career, while his twin, Howard, who runs the company, struggles to compete with the business practices of Loud Labs and the sheer number of stringers that OnScene deploys throughout the city.
The series covers the personal and business lives of the main group of stringers and the drama takes the form of both professional rivalries and the myriad car crashes, fires and other incidents that can all take place on any given LA night. It all makes for good viewing and the episodes fly by, yet questions of morality aren’t entirely avoided. After all, these guys are there, capturing the worst moments in people’s lives on camera. When all is said and done, the consensus seems to be that they are simply there to document an occurrence, to tell the story that needs to be told. However, if they beat the emergency services on site, they wouldn’t hesitate to provide assistance to prevent a death, as we see a couple of times during the season. What’s more, all of the stringers have their own methods.
Scott of Loud Labs will do whatever it takes to get the best shot and doesn’t care about pissing off the cops, while OnScene’s Zak prefers to make friends with the authorities, building up good relationships and even providing his footage to the firefighters involved in incidents free of charge. The RMG brothers seem a little more reserved in their way of working (particularly Marc, who we rarely see). RMG looks likely to go out of business as the series goes on and Autin’s crisis continues, and the final cliffhanger of the series leaves the future of the company in doubt. Whether we will find out what happens next is also in question, as Netflix have yet to announce a second season.
Either way, Howard is likely doing fine, as he is the only stringer listed as an executive producer during the credits of Shot in the Dark. Those who make it through the end credits will also find that RMG Media is one of the show’s production companies.
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While Shot in the Dark has been criticised for shining a spotlight on those who, it could be argued, exploit terrible situations, it is nevertheless a worthwhile watch. The show is easy to get into and introduces us to the side of television news coverage we never normally get to see in a way that is stylish and exciting. If you're looking for an edgy documentary series to binge on between Christmas and New Year, Shot in the Dark will help you digest all that stuffing.
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