The Doc Fix


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

The worst advice I've ever seen

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The very fact that I have chosen to teach storytelling seems to offend some people. This comment came from an experienced documentary maker:

I can save you all a lot of time and money - the way to make your documentary work is simple. "Get a good camera operator, get a good sound recordist, get a good editor. Then don't get in their way way". Works for me.

It got a huge amount of thumbs up, smiles, likes and all that. It is also quite possibly the worst advice I've ever seen for a new filmmaker.

It is so completely wrong it confused me. What was going on? He seems he is saying you should take no responsibility for your story. That you should step back and let others do it for you.

That could be why it got so many likes... not being able to tell a great story is not your fault. It's just that you can't find other people to do the hard work for you.

So, giving up seems a perfectly reasonable option.

That's got to feel much better than realising that you have something to learn.

Then I came across another very similar quote from a truly great filmmaker. It was from the director Stanley Donen of the musical, Singing in the Rain (and On The Town, Charade) when he received an honorary Oscar.

He said this:

"I'm going to let you in on the secret of being a good director. For the script you get Larry Gelbart, or Peter Stone, or Huyck and Katz, or Frederic Raphael — like that. If it's a musical, for the songs you get George and Ira Gershwin, or Arthur Freed and Herb Brown, or Leonard Bernstein and Comden and Green, or Alan Lerner and Fritz Loewe — like that."
"Then you cast Cary Grant, or Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Sophia Loren, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Gregory Peck, Elizabeth Taylor, Burt Reynolds, Gene Hackman or Frank Sinatra — like that," he said. "When filming starts you show up and you stay the hell out of the way. But you've got to show up; you've got to show up. Otherwise, you can't take the credit and get one of these fellas. Thank you very much."

I hope you can see the difference.

The first thing Donen mentioned was the story. That was the foundation of it all.

He wasn't avoiding responsibility. He made sure he had every element that could make a great film - with the most important thing first.

If you want to become a great documentary storyteller, there are things you have to learn. It's your responsibility.

Luckily for you, I've done the hard work for over 30 years, distilling the most efficient and enjoyable way to construct a powerful and meaningful narrative. It should take you just 12-16 weeks to gain those skills.

To find out more, please get in touch.

All the best - Nigel