The film I produced, 9/11: Life Under Attack, has just been nominated for a Royal Television Society award.
At the time, I posted a couple of pieces about how we made it and the story design. It's always good to go back and see what I thought. I've re-posted them below.
These posts are something of a personal journal about my feelings about story, which I hope you enjoy. And, just as important, everything I did to make that film a success is what I teach to you in our program. If you want to do the work, and you are committed to success, then apply now.
SEPT 9TH 2021 - My 9/11 feature doc coming this week - History Channel (US) /ITV (UK)
It might seem that a five star review in a major national paper is hugely significant.
Let me put you straight. What really matters is that you know what you are doing. I'm not being dismissive, and I talk about building a career in our seminars. Clearly reputation, status, perception are all critical in building a career.
But the thing that underpins it all is having authority as a storyteller. It’s about you being certain of what you are doing.
That is what a great career is built on.
I've written before about how the subject matter can overwhelm the storytelling and how, for the author, it can obscure the deeper story structure.
This is not a trivial thing.
When I saw the footage we unearthed from survivors of 9/11, I knew it was remarkable. But I also knew how important it was to dig far deeper and give it meaning - to use it to make an argument about the nature of the psychological process of coping with such an event and the actions needed to deal with it.
These are the building blocks of a narrative structure.
- If you want to get to a position where you are making a documentary with extraordinary material that is compelling in and of itself, then you first have to prove you can craft a great story.
- Realistically, at the beginning of your career you’ll be judged on how you deal with less obviously special material. Then, the biggger opportunities will come.
- Or to put it another way - if you make a great story out of amazing material, there’ll always be a suspicion that you still don’t really have the ‘gift‘ of being a real storyteller.
Those that succeed at The Doc Fix have as much passion for wanting to be a great storyteller as for your subject matter.
Our course distils a complex process into a simple, and profoundly powerful, system. You will be supported every step of the way. And very soon you will truly know what a great story is and what it isn't - and it will be under your control.
SEPT 6TH 2021 - My 9/11 feature doc coming this week - History Channel (US) /ITV (UK)
I’m resending this so you have a chance to catch a feature-length documentary I produced on 9/11 for ITV (in the UK) - today, the 6th Sept, and the History Channel in the US - on the 9th. The title is "9/11 Life Under Attack".
We used only footage gathered by people at the time - no interviews after the event, no analysis. Just the experience of the attack with no preconceptions. How people responded to events as they happened fascinated me, and was seen in unique ways in the footage that the researchers found. (These archive researchers being the true stars of this production).
In terms of how we finally told the story, it also illustrates the challenge of tackling a subject where the subject matter overcomes the argument or meaning of the film.
Stories are never told in isolation.
The events of 9/11 are so well known. They evoke such a strong emotional reaction that merely showing the events in chronological order could be enough of a satisfying watch.
And these preconceptions mean it can be hard to overcome the expectations of the audience, and create a meaningful argument about the event (especially as there was no voice over).
By argument, I don’t mean political analysis, rather an understanding of the nature of how people might try and understand and deal with the impact of such an event.
In the end, I think we produced something of a compromise.
Imagine a film where we begin with people waking up to see the first tower in flames and then follow the confusion, fear and slowly growing comprehension of this new world - in the first 12 hours of the event.
A 9/11 film that begins after the first plane hits the tower, and never shows it.
We didn't make exactly that film. There’s quite a bit more exposition, but perhaps that is needed as many of the potential viewers weren’t even born on the day of the attack?
I hope you enjoy that one that did make it to the screens.
As these techniques are universal, I think I'll take my own advice and next up make a comedy.
All the best - Nigel