The Doc Fix


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

The Perfect Story

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If I were a perfect writer and director with a perfect documentary, then every choice would make a difference. If not, then why decide to do it in the first place?

In that case, every decision I made at every stage of putting the documentary together should get closer to that ideal final moment. So the final grade, the soundtrack's last tweak, and the credit sequence font should bring it closer to your idealised version of the documentary. The one that delivers the meaning and emotion to the audience in the most powerful way possible.

But nobody's perfect. Nobody can plan every element of their documentary.

But, even if you make decisions that feel instinctive, you should always question them to see if they are bringing you closer to your goal.

I was working with some students on the rough-cut of their first feature documentary, and I kept asking them the same question.

Why is that moment there? What is it for?

If they answered that it was fascinating or exciting, I asked again.

(I didn’t leave them hanging, by the way. I took them through the simple steps to identify and adjust that moment so that it did achieve exactly what they wanted).

Only by asking yourself this question can you know if it is worth keeping and if you have done your best to create the story you are dreaming of. Of course, you can only answer that question if you can understand what your documentary is actually meant to be saying.

  • Or how an act is helping deliver that meaning to your audience.
  • Or a scene can impact the overall meaning of your story.
  • Or how a moment can support that scene.

Before I fully understood the storytelling process, in my own productions I left far too many of those decisions to instinct. I trusted in the fact that they felt right; they made me feel good. But sometimes the result was a documentary that still felt flat and never had the impact I had imagined or hoped for.

I constantly felt frustrated.

Now I'm no longer frustrated. I am much more aware that it's my fault if something doesn't quite work. It's my responsibility.

It is under my control.

But you actually may not feel comfortable being in that position. How do you feel knowing that your documentary didn't work out because of you?

Those prepared for the responsibility of being in charge of their idea always do well as students.

They know there will be struggles. But they also understand that this is the consequence of getting closer and closer to creating the story that their idea deserves.

If you want to take responsibility for your idea, then get in touch.

I'll ask questions of you that are asked in the edit suites of some of the most successful films ever made. And then, we'll go through the precise steps that will allow you to get closer to perfection.

If you've never made a documentary before, you should ask these questions about your idea. If you have made hundreds, then you should identify how you could make this one the one that changes the world.

Everyone deserves this opportunity.

When I asked those students questions, they laughed and said - you're giving us the full treatment here, aren't you?

One of my greatest pleasures is helping you tell their story, and uncover why it matters. If you are the kind of person who wants the full treatment and you'd like to join us, get in touch and arrange an appointment.

All the best - Nigel