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Lauren Wissot’s Five Tips for Doc Filmmakers

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Full Frame Documentary Fest photo

Photo by Caroline Culler, Creative Commons BY-SA license

Critic Lauren Wissot’s tips for doc-makers – the full discussion is over at Filmmaker Magazine’s article, I’ll just give the quick run-down and a couple of interesting points she made.

It’s an interesting list, but I’m far more taken with the observation that Danish film schools don’t differentiate between teaching documentary and narrative filmmaking; the same technique is taught for both genres.  That’s probably an embedded assumption throughout much of the European film community, when you consider filmmakers like Wim Wenders, Agnes Varda, and Werner Herzog who go both ways, as it were, and the narrative filmmakers like Bresson and Resnais who started out making documentary.  “Make everything the way you make anything” fascinates me as an approach to film.

  1. Talking heads should be used as spice – not as the whole meal.

  2. Dispense with narcissism. Universalize and personalize so that your film can reach beyond the converted. (The Invisible War is a deft example of doing so… Because, according to Kirby Dick’s exceptional film, these [military] rapists who get off scot-free eventually return to civilian life – and into my and your metaphorical backyard

  3. Just like with fiction work, the directing must serve the story.

  4. Realize that doc-making has entered the mainstream.

  5. With this in mind, know your market. Theatrical release has long been regarded as the holy grail – yet most docs just can’t fill a 21st-century screen.


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