What Makes a Good Documentary Film?
Finding the story, assembling the team, filming and editing
What Will Move a Documentary Film to the Ranks of Greatness
What makes a good documentary film? The essential element of a good documentary is simply, the story. The audience must have an intellectual and emotional tie to the film. The audience must have a “pull” to get to the end of the film, not an excuse to get away from it.
The story must be found and that is not always easy. It’s the single component that the film hinges upon. Once the story is identified, the filmmaker has to compose it accurately. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
Here are some components of a good documentary film.
- The people who wield the power, influence and information are identified and become a part of the film. The filmmaker must remain impartial and be open minded enough to present all sides of the story.
- A well edited film allows for a more unprejudiced approach. Each person or subject that is identified brings a unique focus to the film and requires a voice that is impartially heard.
- A good documentary raises more questions than answers. There is a myth that a good documentary film serves as proof or the ultimate explanation of something. Even if audience members are left pondering at the end of the film credits, that can be an excellent outcome.
- Film tells the truth even though the people in documentaries do not always do so. It is not necessary that they are publically called out during the film. Good documentaries can contrast content from many sources. The viewer serves as the juror. In well made documentaries the camera is the great truth teller. The viewer is able to easily figure out who is telling the truth. And in serving as a juror the viewer is often spellbound to the screen.
Once the story, structure and interviews are set the filmmaking process must be considered. The technical qualities of a film can move it from the great to the forgettable ranks.
There are a variety of elements which are required among the documentaries of greatness.
- The filmmaker will need to have high quality technical equipment which includes microphones, video camera, and editing equipment. Professional technicians are the best bet if a true film of quality is the desired outcome.
- Live action shots are imperative to a good documentary. It shows scenes as they are actually happening in real time. These shots will serve as evidence of truth or deceit for the film’s viewers.
- Still shots serve as filler between scenes. They are important to good documentaries because they do serve as credible transitions between live action and interviews. They are never to be considered “fluff” filler but should be relevant people, information or places.
- The soundtrack or music is very important. It sets the tone for a good documentary. The right music must be chosen and then edited by musical editor. This moves the documentary film one step closer to greatness.
Finding the story, assembling the team, filming and editing are all part of the process that makes a documentary successful. The devil can be in the details, so along the way these questions should always be asked, “Are we still pulling on the viewer?” “Are they still sitting in their seats spellbound?” If the questions can be answered with a yes; the documentary film is well on its way to excellence.