The Doc Fix


Regularly updated articles on story structure and analysis; tips, thoughts and useful bits and pieces.

Film making and mental health

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Mental Health is obviously a broad issue that can occur for numerous reasons in numerous ways. I just want to talk about one area - the challenges it can present when working in the media.

A critical thing that has helped me cope pretty well with the vagaries of the business surrounds the notion of control. From my experience, if you have control over your life, it can make a massive difference to the levels of anxiety you might be experiencing.

And yet a documentary maker is often facing rejection.

You get turned down for work, and you are constantly judged. That is always difficult to take, whoever you are. The notion of feeling like a fraud or an imposter is pervasive. Making a successful film often feels like a combination of hard work, talent and luck.

And it’s that luck element that’s key.

You may feel that you are only as good as your last piece of work or that this is the only chance you will have. Blow it, and that’s your career gone. But how your film is accepted by a wider audience, how many viewers you get, and so on is almost entirely out of control.

And the anxiety that results can be incredibly destructive. Not only to your mental well-being but directly to your creativity.

When I worked on the Netflix Series F1 - Drive to Survive, I came into a series that was experiencing some anxiety. Nothing out of the ordinary, really. It was a big deal, and everyone desperately wanted to create something great.

When I went in to work on it, my message was - “Don’t worry, we are going to make the best docs we can, given the time, money and resources we have. It’ll be fine”.

To me, that was a perfectly reasonable thing to say because I had an approach I was going to use, and there was a thoroughness to it, which meant, I was convinced, this series would become the best it could be.

Or certainly what I could deliver.

I was chatting to one of the team a few weeks later, and he told me that I’d already made a big difference. Not necessarily by how far the stories had come on (it was too soon to see a massive difference), but because there was a positivity to how I dealt with people.

If they had a question, then I’d give them the answer. Quickly, clearly and with conviction.

As simple as that.

And the magical thing I never expected was that the conviction of what I was saying made everyone relax a little. And with that lack of anxiety came more freedom and creativity.

So things moved forward more quickly just because people felt less anxious. They felt things were under control.

That process is what I want to share with you.

This DocFix system is an approach to story (and documentary storytelling specifically) that is complete.

The tools you have emerge from an understanding of the fundamentals of storytelling. If you apply this approach to your story, you are not relying on your ego or talent to create a piece of work; you are relying on the knowledge you know to be true.

I have designed it to be the simplest and quickest way for you to be able to deliver a meaningful story to your audience.

Yes, talent is a thing. But it’s often to do with taste and experience. What you love about stories. What has moved you in your life. The things that define who you are.

But it's nothing without knowing how to apply the craft of storytelling, and having the right tools for the job.

And the key thing then is that you know that you have done your best.

But just as importantly, you have done the best for your story. When you can do that, you carry conviction and authority.

And it gives you back that control.

It then becomes evident to you and others where the luck applies (which is nothing to do with you) and how you have delivered the best version of this documentary it could be.

Obviously anxiety and mental health are much broader than this.

But this ability with story is something that everyone can benefit from. I’m certainly no mental health professional - and anxiety is something I still feel when I’m working on a project - but what this can do is bring the process of creating something that matters under your control.

It makes an inherently stressful process a lot more fun. And my students feel the same:

We've had some success in the past, but I think the biggest difference is our confidence. Now we've got something that we can use every single day. We love storytelling, and we're super excited for the future.

We've made so much progress in maybe two months more progress than we've made in the last three years. It's been life-changing for us... that's worth it a million times over.

It's hard to know who to listen to and who to trust, but the level of experience you've got and the content and the way it just clicks together in a practical sense. That's the value right there. I think that's what makes it different to everything else that I've done..
If you want to talk about where you have been struggling with taking your story idea and turning it into a meaningful story, get in touch. I’d be delighted to help. Sometimes an objective assessment of where you are making mistakes can be enough to put you on the right track.

All the best - Nigel