When was the last time you watched a documentary? Most likely just a few days ago. However, if we would have asked you the same question a few years ago, your answer would have probably been “a long time ago”.
What changed? Documentaries began to take over the filmmaking scene and attract more viewers than ever before. The reason: most likely the easiness to find documentaries to watch (thanks to Netflix and YouTube these days) and the easiness to shoot documentaries even if you are not an expert.
Documentaries can be powerful, shocking, heartbreaking, and intense. And, no matter the kind of emotions they evoke in the audience, their main purpose is to help viewers expand their horizons to learn more about the world.
There is a huge difference between movies and documentaries that make documentaries more captivating and that is the idea of watching something based on a “true story”. Sure, movies can make you experience fear, excitement, hope, or sadness. Yet, a good documentary can shake you to your core while showing you true experiences of others or facts that happen at the other end of the world. Either way, people do prefer leaving the famous concept of “binge-watching” sometimes and watch a non-fictional film that will help them learn more about something.
So, if you are down for the ride and want to produce your own documentary, here are some great tips to keep in mind:
Select a captivating topic
Let’s be honest, one of the key elements that make a documentary captivating is the main topic of it. Sure, this can be a relative matter since what is interesting for a certain audience may seem boring for another. Yet, if you find a topic that most people would like to learn about, your documentary will most likely captivate a large group of people.
So, first things first, ask yourself “what do I intend to cover in my documentary?”. And, before you give yourself an answer, you need to keep in mind that your documentary should be worthy both for the viewers’ time but also for your own. Don’t choose ordinary and common topics because your documentary may not bring any new information to the viewers. In other words, go for a topic that can excite your viewers and display it in an appealing and informative way.
Do proper research on the topic
If you could choose one word to describe documentaries, that should be the word “facts”. That’s right, your documentary needs to be informative and the information it presents must be 100% accurate. And, the only way to make sure that you include accurate and valuable data in it is to do proper research before you start writing the script.
So, no matter which topic you decided on, you need to gather as much information as possible. Read academic studies on the matter, talk with professionals who have a great experience, and why not, conduct a study yourself if you want to discover more information that may have not yet been discovered by previous studies.
Based on what you discover during your research, you can start formulating a story with the main topic’s point of view.
Write a script
You’ve decided on a topic, did your research and gathered all the data and now you think you are ready to start shooting, right? Well, not quite already. You need to develop an outline and write a complex script on how the story of your documentary will go.
Simply put, you need to decide how you’ll present your film and all the elements of it. For example, who is going to be the main character of your documentary? Would you like to have a narrator to tell the story?
Moreover, your outline and script must also include elements that will make the story more captivating as it unravels. Thus, you need to identify elements such as the drama, the conflict, the heroes of the story, and the twists and turns that will keep your viewers on their toes.
Feature interesting personalities
Most documentaries, except animal or nature documentaries, dedicate a significant amount of time of their running time to interviews with people who are very familiarized with the topic. So, for example, if you are shooting a documentary on motorbikes, you may want to feature an interview with a biker or a motorcycle technician.
Featuring face-to-face interviews with interesting characters can add complexity and depth to your documentary. They can engage viewers better than a simple mixture of shoots and videos can do. And, keep in mind, if you are interested in what your subject’s story about your topic is, chances are your audience will be too.
Pay attention to sound
Audio is a lot more than you would imagine to engaging your audience. First of all, it should go without saying that poor audio quality can disturb the viewers to the point they will stop watching your documentary. So, make sure the audio, of your film is the highest quality.
However, there’s one more thing you should include in your film: documentary music as background music to engage viewers and evoke suspenseful emotions in them.
Edit, edit, edit
It should go without saying that right from the beginning of the shooting process you need to use the highest-quality equipment to shoot. However, even with the best equipment, script, and shoots, imperfections can still happen. So, make sure you take your time not only to set every shoot you filmed but also to edit any mistake that may make your documentary look unprofessional.