The Doc Fix

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

How to fix you story problems in hours, not months

Time is clearly one of the most important resources we have, but some things are thought of as being impossible to rush.

Creativity is one of them. There's an assumption that there's a - usually long - process that needs to be gone through, a period of thinking, trying things out, waiting for inspiration to come.

That's true - but not in the way that people think.

An example was from a couple of years ago when I was approached to fix a film for BBC2. It was in the Natural History/Science realm, and it had been sent back by the channel because it wasn't working.

I said I'd have a look and see what I thought. I watched the cut (it was an hour-long show). I pondered what I'd seen, made some notes, slept on it and called them back the next day.

I could see what it needed, and it would be straightforward to fix it. So I met up with the executive producer for a coffee and told him my approach, and he offered me the job to fix it.

They wanted me for six to eight weeks - to make a version for the UK and the international market.

I said no.

In those few hours I'd spent on it, I had worked out where the fundamental mistakes were in the structure, how the story needed to be told, what the critical storylines needed to be. How to make the story meaningful and link in tightly with the main character. How the act structure needed to work. How to design an ending that the film, currently, was struggling to identify.

I saw what was wrong and knew precisely how to fix it. The rational craft work was done. Everything that needed to be done to transform the film from a failure to success was completed in a few hours.

Then, with that in place, it would be much more straightforward to let ones imagination and creativity do their thing.

When you have the calmness of a solid structure then it reduces tension and allows your creativity to flourish. Yes, it is still your subconscious doing its work but with far less inhibition.

Yes, you needed an editor to sit with it, restructure it, and make adjustments. There was writing to be done for the voice over. It would be an inspiring and fun process. Everything new idea they had would be linked to the underlying structure of a powerful, meaningful story.

Someone else could have fun with it.

As a quick side note, there is a common belief that there are 2 variables in production:

Time and Money

You can do things quickly, but you will have to throw money at it. Or you can do things more cheaply if you have time.

The truth is there's a third factor

Skill

If you are skilful, you can do things in less time, and for less money. But, unfortunately, the TV industry isn't very good at fitting this into their spreadsheets.

Why, for instance, do so many jobs in TV pay you less if you are good at what you do?

If there is a daily rate for an editor, what incentive is there to finish quickly? What incentive is there to complete your work in four weeks rather than eight if you are a writer or producer?

With the skills we teach, you might well begin to see your value differently. That's the power of knowing exactly what you are doing in an industry where training in these skills is sorely lacking.

I set up The Doc Fix to teach precisely the same process I use in every production. My goal is to make you an instinctive storyteller so you can take any idea you are struggling with and know exactly how every piece works to produce a powerful and meaningful documentary. Quickly and efficiently.

You can use these skills in multiple ways.

- If you are deep into your production, you can save a huge amount of your own time and money and make the film you dream of. It's the most efficient way to get your project back on track.

- If you are early on in developing your idea, it will stop you getting into such a painful situation. Your research, your visual concepts, your outlines will all make sense and have a structure that allows you to present your idea as a powerful, meaningful story.

- Suppose you are supervising other people's work? In that case, you can save yourself time and money and create a far more efficient business for yourself.

In every single case, the process is more fun. Just how it should be.

As Caroline Hawkins, a creative director who's done fantastic work over many years - and who I've done lots of work with - said:

"Nigel has the remarkable ability to look at a film and pinpoint exactly why it isn't quite working. His insight is generally sought when others are at the point of despair, but his intervention is never demoralising. Quite the opposite; with his deep understanding of story structure, he optimistically offers simple changes that can turn a struggling film into an award-winning one".

And the other thing I've done is design The Doc Fix to teach you this skill as quickly as possible. I know what can be done quickly. To learn these skills, in the way I've laid out, takes just weeks, not years.

As one of our students, Matt Earle, told me:

"We have something that we can grasp and that we can use in every single story, whether it's, you know, a five-minute video, or a 30-minute episode that we can use... So yes, definitely been life-changing. We've made so much progress in maybe two months - more progress than we've made in the last three years".

If you get in touch and arrange an appointment, I'd be delighted to help you with your problem, wherever you are in the process or your career.

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