5 Tips For ‘Less Boring’ Documentaries

5 Tips For ‘Less Boring’ Documentaries

A documentary is a non-fiction film that can be about just about any topic, and although they’re usually non-fiction, there’s no need for them to be boring. Those who think documentaries are boring have obviously never watched a well-constructed one! Using the following 5 tips will ensure your documentary is shot well and is far from boring:


1. Plan Your Shoot Down To A T

Planning your shoot down to a T is one of the most important steps when creating a documentary. It’s about so much more than just shooting a series of scenes and magically creating something that people want to watch. Your documentary still needs to be thought of as classic storytelling, with a beginning, middle, and end. You should spend time detailing conflict and coming to a resolution. Make sure you plan carefully for each shoot and the message you’re trying to get across. Make contact with people who can help ahead of time, and create a shot by shot outline and a script to help.

You should plan to capture visuals referenced by the subject, as well as shoot an adequate b-roll to support the subject. Find ways to draw the viewer into the scene, e.g. by using wide shots. Plan as much as you can.


2. Avoid Under Or Overestimating Your Social Skills In Your Shots

Make sure you undertake polite interviews and practice optimism with those involved in your documentary. Be respectful, even if you don’t agree with something – Louis Theroux is great at this. Listen to the subject, make eye contact, and don’t read notes as you speak. Always be ready for impromptu interviews, too, as you never know when the perfect opportunity may arise.


3. Shoot With A Strong Narrative

A strong voice can carry the storyline and help to set up people, places, issues, and other elements of the story. Find the right voice by looking for talent, and write a script so that you can plan how this voice will fit in. In an ideal world, Morgan Freeman, David Attenborough or somebody with an equally strong voice would narrate your documentary, but you may need to find an alternative.


4. Shoot More Than You Need

The average documentary is shot 20:1 ratio between footage that is shot and footage actually used, according to many filmmaking classes. You’ll never know how long things like interviews can take to give you the footage that you need, so shoot more than you need and trust that the story will come together in editing it later on.  


5. Take Time Watching Documentaries Yourself To Understand How Narrative Works

Of course, you learn how to make films by actually doing it, but watching them helps too.

Made correctly, documentaries can be just as entertaining as movies. Make sure you watch some of the greatest documentaries out there to get ideas on how to plan and shoot your own. You’ll see that the last thing your documentary should be is boring!

Practices the above tips and your documentary should come together nicely.

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