Research for Documentaries (Tips)

Research for Documentaries (Tips)

“If the story you end up telling is exactly as you had imagined, then you weren’t listening.” – Luke Korem

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Two weeks ago, I watched a much-anticipated documentary by a renowned actress, with a storyline that is very apt for the global Black Lives Matter movement. Unfortunately, this anticipated documentary was very underwhelming. Many will agree with me that the production was great, however, the story lacked substance. Many would also agree that the most important aspect of a documentary is the story – a strong one with intellectual and emotional impact. 

Research is at the core of creating a strong, impactful story for documentaries

Research is essential in creating the foundation; building the plot, designing the narrative, fleshing out the story and then directing the film-making process. Research can also be used to provide context and footage. 

There are different types of research tools that can be used to shape a film, they include:

  • Archival Research (newspapers, footage, pictures)
  • Academic Research (published journal articles)
  • In-person, in-depth interviews

The focus here is on in-person, in-depth interviews because that is where a lot of filmmakers get it wrong. They fail to dig deeper and put together pieces of the puzzle; they come in with preconceived notions and ideas. 

Many people believe interviews are very easy to conduct, but they are not – just ask journalists!  Several factors dictate the success of the interview process:

  • The interviewer must remain impartial and open-minded
  • The interviewer must present all sides of the story
  • The interviewer must be able to probe and follow up on what respondents’ responses
  • The interviewer must be able to dig deeper to find the truth and tell the truth
  • The interviewer must be aware of their ‘Interviewer’s Bias’ – how their status, form, expectations and opinions impact the responses of respondents  

Keeping the above in mind while conducting in-person, in-depth interviews will help reveal fascinating details from your research process which will make for a better documentary. An example of a documentary that understood this is The 13th by Ava DuVernay.  This is an intellectually and emotionally impactful documentary that digs deep into the root of the problem and reveals fascinating details that came as a surprise to many. 

Contact Versa Research to do your research for documentaries.