Documentary, or non-fiction, filmmaking is frequently overlooked by beginner filmmakers. However, documentary films can offer just as many opportunities for off-the-wall creativity, beauty and ambition. Here are four ways to up your documentary filmmaking game.
Think about the story you want to tell
Anything can be a good story! You don’t have to be breaking new political ground or uncovering a scandal. Maybe a story from your childhood will inspire you, or maybe someone in your neighbourhood is an interesting character and you want to interview them.
Make your medium fit your story
You may have a pre-defined idea of what a ‘documentary’ looks like: voiceovers, stock footage, talking heads. However, a non-fiction film can take any form you want.
The key is to think about the story first – and how you can explain it in an engaging way. For example, if you are telling a story about something that happened to you as a child, why not use puppetry or simple animation in your film?
Persuade your audience they should be interested
Imagine you are telling someone your story and they reply:
“This is boring. Why should I listen to you?”
Your answer to this imaginary question should propel your entire filmmaking process. Why do you want to make a film about your subject?
Maybe you’ve noticed an injustice others haven’t; maybe you’ve found a theme that matters to you, like love or honesty; maybe you just want to tell the story of an unlikely hero. Every filmmaking decision that you make should be in service of that answer.
Use a few tricks
Finally, a twist or two can really make your film stand out – even if you are making a documentary. Think about whether you can make your story more interesting with a trick or gimmick.
For example, try moving the events around chronologically, telling the middle or end of the story at the beginning. Surprising your audience is a great way to fascinate them… but remember, ultimately the twist should serve your story, not the other way around.
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