Documentary making tips on how to develop characters that keep your audience interested in the story.
Of the three necessary elements to creating a documentary, the character or subject is one of the more important aspects to get the audience to care about the people and the events involved. Many memorable characters exist in documentaries. Just like any other genre, popular actors, movie stars and celebrities are just as relevant to a documentary as they are to mainstream movies. The goal may be to capture reality but again, it doesn't mean that we move away from the aspects of storytelling and character development.
We accomplish this by first introducing and/or defining our subject, then identifying the motivation for what it is they are trying to do, recognizing the barriers, following how their pursuit of the goal works and the resolution. This is how we drive the character's development and create a compelling subject for the audience.
Step number one, who or what is our main character. This is where we initially identify with the character and gain an emotional connection to the person so that the audience cares about what will happen to him or her. You want to set out basic personality traits and focus on a few scenes that will focus on making the audience empathize with the main subject.
Step number two, this is where we ask the question of why in our project; what is behind our character's motivation? What are some of the needs and wants of the subject? What does the character stand to gain if the goals are accomplished, and if so, are these goals realistic? This is generally where we lay the groundwork for the pacing of our project, by constantly reminding our audience who the character is and how they may or may not achieve these goals. What is changing by the character's involvement or actions?
What are the dynamic qualities, which brings us to step number three, identifying the barriers. In this case, we need to provide the visual evidence of the walls that prevent our subjects from achieving their goal. This provides the much needed tension and conflict that is a necessary element of telling our story. This also shapes how our subjects develop on camera. Just like earlier, where the motivation of why our character is trying to accomplish the task, here we ask why the barrier is there and find out the motivation for stopping the subject.
Step number four, follow the action. This is where we let our character and their development take over the bulk of our project, the ups and downs, all the obstacles and how they go about passing them. We are simply building up our piece by providing as much visual evidence as we can. Common ways to grab that visual evidence is to interview the subject with a goal in mind of finding out what they are thinking and using B role to explain their behaviors. What is the emotional connection to the barriers, subject and potential resolution and what is the shooter's perspective on that struggle? How can we show our character in the most expressive state?
This then takes us to the last piece of the puzzle, step number five, the resolution. Like the previous step, our goal here is to capture the moment when our subject realizes their goal. Whether they fail or are successful, the creator's job is to pick the moment which defines the end of their journey. Every documentary follows the story that the creator wants to tell, so this is where all the work ties into how they creator wants the piece to come across. The resolution can be the ending result of our character's development and shape how the character is perceived throughout the piece.
Building your documentary by placing close attention to the five step character development process can increase the overall emotional impact of your story.
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