5 Steps to Creating a Compelling Documentary

5 Steps to Creating a Compelling Documentary

The documentary may be one of the most influential film genres. It is non-fiction filmmaking that tells a real-life story. Documentaries can have a significant impact on culture, society, and politics. Making documentaries not only enhances the way we see the world but also helps us understand it better.

Choose a Topic

The topic should be something you are passionate about or find extremely fascinating. The more interest you have in the subject, the easier it will be to draw your audience into your story. People, historical events, and causes can make engaging documentary topics. You may also want to watch award-winning documentaries by filmmakers like Morgan Neville, Katharina Otto-Bernstein, or Laura Poitras.

Research the Subject

Once you have chosen a topic, you need to research the subject and historical context of the person and event. What caused the event to happen or propelled the person to act the way they did? How did local and world events influence the situation? At this step, you should consider a variety of angles and perspectives. There may be a message you would like to give through your documentary, but use the research process to look at the situation from as many sides as possible.

Create a Story

Once you have researched the subject, start writing your story. There are many ways to go about writing the story. You could make a storyboard, use a beat sheet to create an outline, or start by writing a summary narrative. As your story grows, you should also make a shot list of scenes that might be included in your film. Humor, feature film styles, and action can all be ways to make your story more interesting to your potential audience.

Gather the Footage

Some documentaries are completely shot by the director and staff of the documentary, while others assemble footage from other sources. You may choose to use a mix of your own shots and other sources. Use your shooting time as wisely as possible. You may find that your shots reveal an entirely new story, and that is okay. If you use other sources, hire a lawyer to handle gaining copyright permission.

Complete the Film

After shooting is completed, you can now edit the film and do post-production such as effects and music. The editing process is where you tighten up your story into a cohesive narrative, but offer at least two perspectives on the topic. Be fairly ruthless about what you cut and what you keep, but treat your audience with intelligence. The last step is to gather funding to distribute your film and enter it into award competitions before showing your film to the world.

Documentaries can inspire empathy, ignite conversations, and teach us about life from a new perspective. A documentary often can provide insider access to sensitive or inaccessible topics or look at a person or event from a new angle. With a documentary, you can give the audience an insight into an unfamiliar subject and help them understand themselves.

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