Thursday, August 14, 2008

What makes a good documentary topic?

Are you having trouble coming up with a good idea for a documentary proposal? You're not alone. While we're surrounded by a million stories just waiting to be told, it seems like every one has something that makes it less than the ideal topic for development. Let's start with some of the reasons that are sometimes used to disqualify a documentary topic.

  • It's already been done. Okay...I'll grant you that the world probably doesn't need another documentary about penguins right now. But don't let this one scare you off. Almost every conceivable topic has been documented at some time by someone, but you just need to find a way to bring your personal perspective to the topic.
  • I can't get the necessary access. Perhaps the subject is too far away...that would be a problem with physical access. Or it could be that the culture or subculture is closed and unlikely to invite a filmmaker into it inner circle (think governmental or military organizations)...that would be a problem of permission or trust. The lack of either one can sink your project.
  • It's not very visual. Having a topic that naturally provides compelling visual images is great...but not very common. If it were, there would already be a dozen documentaries on that topic sitting on your video store's shelves. But there are ways to create visuals if you explore the creative potential of computer graphics. Also, some of my favorite documentaries of all time are nothing but a series of talking heads, e.g. the Up series and Fog of don't give up hope if the visuals are few and far between.
  • Nobody cares about this but me. If it's true, this is an excellent reason to move on to another topic. On the other hand, you might be surprised. Do some internet research to see if you can find an online community of like-minded fans. There may be more of you out there then you think.
There are plenty of other real and imagined problems that may or may not be reasons to steer away from a particular project. But many of these problems can also be cured by one simple 7-letter solution...PASSION. If you have passion and commitment, you'll be amazed at how many viable projects are out there. Now get up out of your computer chair and start exploring the possibilities!

1 comment:

John said...

RE: "Nobody cares about this but me."

Nobody, relatively speaking, cares about competitive swimming yet how many people are watching Michael Phelps at the Olympics?

The topic is rarely what makes a documentary worth watching. The story of the people involved does.

Tell a good story about someone and viewers will care.