Learn about the key ingredients documentary makers use for successful documentary storytelling.
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There are three necessary elements when creating a documentary; number one, the story, number two, the character, and number three, the access. These points are the necessities to the story and we call them the three legs of the stool of documentary production; you cannot have one without the other. Without one of these existing to support the rest, our piece wouldn't have the support it needs to create a complete and entertaining project. In other words, if you have a great story but no way of getting access to the location or contact with the persons involved, you can't complete the story.
Let's take a look at element number one, telling the story. For most of us, the passion we have for documentaries center around the idea of real emotion, real adversity and real people, this creates a captivating and emotionally charged story. Every story told must have a beginning, a middle and an end. What might seem obvious isn't always so. You must define where each of these points exist in your story.
Every story's foundation will have three elements, the introduction, the conflict and the resolution that the storyteller lays out into what is called creating a dramatic art, like a linear line running along a page, as the story gets deeper into its plot and becomes more emotionally charged, the line arcs higher on the page. The major conflict point or breaking point can be the highest point of the arc, but in most cases, your story will have peaks and valleys along the way.
The beginning of each story is the introduction, you are introducing your viewers to your characters, subjects or locations that your story will focus on. Your story should have a great hook that involves the audience from the outset and holds them to the end. You must discover what is most dramatic and engaging about your story and tell it in a way that highlights these points.
After the viewer becomes aware of who or what the subject of the story is, you need to then introduce them to the conflict. No good story unfolds without some sort of conflict, otherwise the story would be boring. Conflict can be as simple as man versus nature, someone overcoming personal odds to succeed, or a David versus Goliath storyline, when one person faces an institution or human adversity. The conflict defines the emotional center of your piece.
Finally, after you have introduced the main plot line and characters and then identified their adversaries, antagonist or conflict, you need to bring your audience down to the conclusion of the story, this is called the resolution. Through the resolution you have let your story play out, revealing step by step how your main subjects or subject have overcame their opposition.
Even when the emphasis of the project is reality, there is still a need for certain story elements. Let's take a closer look at the three steps to creating this dramatic art by breaking down Morgan Spurlock's documentary, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden. Number one, introduce the characters or the situation which generally occurs in the beginning of the project. Number two, explore the conflict and the opposing views, which is generally led up to by the character facing a physical or psychological obstacle. Number three, capture the resolution or the outcome.
Whichever way you choose to shoot your documentary, remember to always be looking for story elements even when you're trying to capture reality. In editing your footage, look for ways of piecing together the story art in a compelling manner. It's up to you to make sure that your story's information is accurate and clearly presented, has an interest to your audience and it involves a clear story structure. Even though our documentaries are based in reality, we're still telling stories.
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