The 6 Tenets of Documentary Production

A documentary film is a powerful thing. It can change people’s views on important, societal issues, it can evoke intense emotions and feelings, and it can be just as captivating and enthralling as scripted films. But documentary production isn’t easy, and because of this, truly great documentaries are few and far between. Do you have an idea for a documentary film? Before you get started, make sure you follow these 6 tenets of successful documentary production:

Choose an important topic

First and foremost, you need to choose a topic that has meaning – something that’s important to you and the audience who will view it. You can opt for topics that don’t get enough attention in traditional media or you can shed new light on existing political or societal problems, taking an interesting angle or unique approach. Whatever you choose, just make sure it’s a topic worthy of your time, as well as the time of your viewers and your production crew.

Know your message

What’s the overall message of your documentary going to be? Are you simply trying to expose viewer to a new problem or issue they may know have known about? Are you hoping to spur action or disprove a point of view? Or are you trying to sway them in one direction on a political topic or other subject? Knowing the general message of your film will help guide your entire production and ensure you create a documentary that’s truly powerful and effective.

Find a director (and other crew members) who understands that message

Your entire production crew – and especially your director – need to be on board with both your topic and your message. They need to be just as passionate about the project as you are. If they’re not, that apathy will come through in the footage you capture and the final film you produce. Always make sure to interview potential crew members first, and make sure they’re behind your film’s purpose before getting started.

Do your research

Sure, you might be a little familiar with your topic, but to truly produce an effective and educational documentary, you need to become a bona fide expert on it. Research the people involved, the problems faced, and the big events that have happened. Learn as much about the topic as you possibly can before commencing production.

Follow an outline

While you certainly don’t need a story board or script for your documentary (that wouldn’t be a documentary at all!), you definitely need some sort of general outline for your film. Spell out you’re the overall direction and message of the film, and map out the key points you want to get across. This will ensure you’re capturing the right kind of footage as you begin shooting.

Find the right people

Interviews typically make up a large part of a documentary. They offer real-life views and insights into your topic, and they give your film an overall voice. In order to produce a truly powerful documentary though, you can’t interview just anyone in your subject area. You need to opt for important players in the topic, or people who have distinct points of view or expertise in the subject area. Always make sure to do pre-interviews before filming an interview, too. This will allow you to vet the person, and make sure they have input that’s valid and important to your film.

By following these tenets, you can ensure your documentary film is powerful, effective and moving. Need help with your documentary production or just want more guidance? Contact the team at Liberal Media Films today.

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