A good story is a must in documentary films. You might have an exciting story, but that’s not enough. If you have a good story, your movie won’t be only entertaining but also unforgettable. Here is a guide on how to develop your documentary film’s story
Observe the world around you. Everywhere you will look, there is a story to tell, and every story represents a bigger story. Keep a journal and write every idea in your head. You never know when you will get back to those ideas, so write the idea in detail. Things that are obvious to you now might not be that obvious when you come back to them after a few months. You need to find your inner voice and nurture it. Another good piece of advice is to start reading newspapers and magazines. If you want to tell a story about real life, you must look for it in real life. It would be best also to have a lot of passion for your idea.
The documentary research job is to investigate the documentary’s subject and develop a point of view on the director’s vision and connect it with the subject of the story. Many beginner directors, excited to get started, often skip this stage because it’s a personal story. No matter what kind of documentary you do, you will need to research 90% of the cases. Research is a critical stage in documentary filmmaking, so we will talk about it now.
The director himself usually do the research. Sometimes it can be a researcher or a few (in films with bigger budgets). The problem with using researchers is that they have too much power over your film. They decide what goes in and what doesn’t. If they decide a particular image is good enough to enter your film, the director can check it and see if they are right. Still, if they decide that a specific image is not relevant or useful enough for the film, the director has no way to check it out. So if you use researchers, you have to make sure that they know and understand your vision.
Many documentary filmmakers tend to share this job with the director, the writer, and the producers. The significant advantage here is that it makes the process more intimate and personal.
The plan you will choose for your documentary research depends on your movie. There are three main ways to do research that sometimes you will find yourself doing a few of them or even all of them.
The next thing you need to think about is your point of view in the story. Understanding the point of view in the story is an essential part because this is the message your movie will deliver. I recommend learning about the movie 3 act structure, but for now, I will tell you that you need to look at the conflicts of the story and the main character and think what’s your honest opinion about them. Here are a few points about film structure in scriptwriting.
The documentary story structure has the same principles that every good story should have in any form of art: The three stages- beginning, middle, and end(not always told in chronological order), a character that grows and changes as it confronts obstacles, a point of view, a climax and a resolution. The difference between documentary and fiction is that a documentary film deals with facts, not fiction. I will talk about those things in the “Script Writing Classes” section later on,
but for now, you will need to know that:
You want your characters to have some journey with obstacles, but that’s not enough. It would help if you had another narrative in their life. It would be best if you had characters with an interesting backstory. Sometimes, you might shoot ten characters with the same story to find the one or two you will need.
As long as your actor can take action, you can use every character you want. The character also needs to change throughout the film.
Writing a script for the documentary is very hard, but you must have a general idea about it to be more focused on the shooting. That will save you time and money in the shooting and editing stages and improve your film.