The Doc Fix


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

"Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing" - W Shakespeare

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What if you want to make documentaries with meaning, with the potential to reach a huge audience, that feel authentic and real? Can it be done ethically in a world that seems to praise and promote facile nonesense?

Is there a way through it?

There are many solutions, and one of the key ones is not to get distracted by the superficial and meaninglessness in your own work. How can you expect your audience to respond to what you are creating if you are using superficial means to attract them?

Why are you using louder music, shocking imagery, faster cuts? What exactly are you fixing? What are you trying to distract people from?

Here’s some reviews of current TV shows:

"The soundtrack is relentless, there are banal messages – delivered in artfully lit black-and-white cutaways – about Important Things such as conquering fear, or the beauty of the world; and a cast of photogenic adventurers who accompany Smith “to the ends of the Earth – and beyond”.


"Despite the use of the latest technology, including gimbals and drones, it is not clear to me what Animal adds to our understanding of the natural world, besides having celebrities do the voiceovers".

These are some of the most recent, most expensive series on TV. We know they are superficial nonsense but they 1) seem to keep audience satisfied, 2) they are fun to make.

Let me give you a technical, practical solution to this.

Learn to create a thematic argument.

It’s not difficult, but it’s challenging and you cannot sidestep it (or, if you do, it’s because you don’t really care about what you are making - and I can’t help you). We coach you through the techniques in one lesson, and it can transform how to structure your story, and most importantly what your story 'means' to your audience.

It’s the solution to your documentary "signifying nothing".

It’s about being honest with yourself about what you mean. And it’s not an intellectual exercise. It’s a step in a system that lets you create a meaningful, powerful piece of work.

It leads to add meaning to everything - the opening, the climax and every step in between.

Don’t become someone who produces those superficial programmes that are truly meaningless.

Shakespeare would have been a great critic (Macbeth Act 5, Scene 5).

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

To take it out of context, what you make might not have to signify anything to make money or get noticed. But if you had a choice - and one life to do it with - what would you prefer?