Right Ingredients for a Successful Documentary

– Posted in: Documentary

Right Ingredients for a Successful Documentary

This will be the first in a series of post where I’ll be sharing what I think are the right ingredients for a successful documentary. I’m not going to talk about them in the abstract, but instead I’m going to outline what they are as I put my money where my mouth is and share all the steps I’m taking to:

  • evaluate the story potential of a documentary idea
  • research genres within the documentary landscape
  • put a plan together for audience building
  • distribution platforms, windows and deals
  • researching styles and techniques I’ll use in the making of the documentary
  • evaluate the camera equipment and shooting formats
  • and of course putting a production schedule and team together

So, I’ve got to be honest with you and say I’m a little scared of being this transparent on a real time basis. I’m scared because, I know I’ll make some mistakes along the way. Mistakes, everybody tuned in will see unfold -real time.

But I’m mostly scared of all the work I’ll need to balance.

I not only have to make the documentary, I’ll need to create blog posts and step up my social media if I want to build an audience. This must happen while I also make my living producing videos for corporate clients so I’ll need to manage that workflow. Turn an existing client away and you might loose them forever.

My biggest strength may also become a problem.

I’ve got a driver personality. This means I like to focus one project at a time and push everything else to the side.  This means I hate writing blog posts and find it extremely difficult to get on social media when I’m focused on a project. I don’t hate the writing part, I hate pulling myself away from making gains on the project.

So, I’m a little bit scared. Oh well as they say, feel the fear and do it anyway – right!

BTW- I’m motivated to share this process for many reasons. One of which is I realize just how incredibly important audience building is to the success of any film or video project.

I’d rather just be the filmmaker and ignore the audience building and distribution elements. Or, find someone else to take on those roles. But, at this moment I don’t have that person and I don’t have the money to hire them. Hopefully my early marketing efforts will change that.

Today’s filmmaker must take an active role in building the audience. So, that’s what I’m going to do.

How did I find this documentary?

A few months back I saw a Facebook post that claimed a Sand Lake murder was the origin of the Twin Peaks character Laura Palmer. This caught my attention big time. Sand Lake is the town I grew up in. And turns out the that her body was found less then a mile form my house. Immediately I thought “I should make a Hazel Drew documentary or better yet a docu-drama with reenactments.

My next thought was – I’m to busy. I had just beta tested a new course called “How Not to Fail at Filmmaking” and I was getting ready to put the finishing touches on it. So I dismissed the idea and went back to working on the course or I at least tried to go back to working on the course.

The idea of doing this documentary / docudrama had it’s hooks in me. The more I thought about it the more I was sure it had the right ingredients.

The right ingredients for a successful documentary

Can we look at the ingredients for a documentary the way we look at the ingredients for a meal?

I think we can, as long we see the process as flexible and consider a recipe a guide to build upon.

As I mentioned above. I make corporate marketing videos and television commercials. I’ve been doing it for almost thirty years. So if a business owner or the VP of marketing tells me they need a “testimonial video,” I immediately reference existing recipes testimonial video recipes and I have the basic structure from which I can now ask more questions.

The more questions I ask the better understanding I have of what the end product should be, who the target audience is and what budget range I’m working in.

Upon realizing I’m working with a very limited budget I might rely more heavily an existing formula and customize small portions of it.

Or, with a slightly higher budget, I could reference several formulas and customize a hybrid plan. The point i’m trying to make is that I use existing recipes from which to start because they are predictable. Unpacked, these recipes reveal ingredients from which I can build upon. This allows me mix an match knowing I have a basic structure I can return to or abandon as I see fit.

So when I say the right ingredients that’s what I mean.

Finding the right combination

Now, I’m not going to attempt to create a comprehensive documentary ingredient list. This would be both boring and inadequate. Instead I’m going to create a “live list.” This list will start with the basics, things that are common to most every documentary. I’ll then add to that list as I move further and further into pre-production, production and post production.

As the process unfolds and the documentary takes shape I’ll complete the list for this specific documentary, some of them will be foundational ingredients and some will be customized for this story.

I believe and hope that by following the moves I make, you’ll obtain valuable insights you can then apply to any and every film or video project you undertake.

The ingredients are important by how you blend them for your particular story is what really matters.

Here’s a starting list. I will build upon in future blog posts and vlogs.

  1. Interview driven narrative
  2. Voice over driven narrative
  3. Dramatic reenactments
  4. Photographic still life support footage
  5. B-roll as illustration
  6. B-roll as metaphor
  7. B-roll as visual wallpaper
  8. Documenting behavior
  9. Documenting an event with an unknown outcome
  10. Remembering people and events from the past
  11. Visual evidence

These are some of the things I’m considering as I work through possibilities for this documentary. Some of these phrases may be foreign to you. I would encourage you to google them.

Want to stay connected to this?

All we need to know about making documentary films can be found on line or in the book store. So I’m not going to explain every term or concept. What I will do is be transparent and work hard to make this real time experience a journey and a collection of meaningful lessons.

If you’d like be a part of this you can get a front row seat by signing up here.

The Making of Hazel Drew – Updates

If you’d like to read more about the Hazel Drew Murder Mystery and The Twin Peaks Connection, you can start with these pages.

Hazel Drew Murder – Sand Lake Mystery Inspires Twin Peaks

Who Killed Hazel Drew – The Unfolding Documentary