The Doc Fix


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

What does it mean to be 'professional'

I regularly listen to a film podcast where the interviewer always asks the interviewee about writer's block.

It's a problem in drama. Writers create their stories out of thin air. By that, I mean they might take the ideas from real life, but they have to construct scenes from that material that feel convincingly like real life in all respects. That's hard.

It's not really an issue for documentary makers.

You find a subject "out there", get excited, you do your research. (Sometimes) you come up with a version of a story. You film, and your scenes are constructed from real life.

You get in the edit. Then, finally, you lay it all on the timeline, and you have a think.

Instead of writer's block, you get terrible documentaries.

The worst of them meander, never seem to make a point. Instead, they constantly tell you how amazing, exciting and important the idea is with the music, commentary, the approach to the cutting style, or any other method they can. Then, perhaps at the end, they tell you why what you have just seen matters.

But they have to explicitly tell you what the film means because the storytelling itself doesn't do the job for them.

I think there's actually quite a low expectation of the quality of the story in documentaries.

Of course, there are some amazing ones. But many terribly told documentaries sometimes get away with it because the subject matter seems to make up for the storytelling.

If you've had that experience of building a documentary and find yourself looking to find 'exciting moments', but things constantly run out of steam - that's what's happening.

The truth is, I've always been most impressed by the great documentaries that seem to be about nothing much - because the power comes from how they are told.

Suppose you can learn how to create a powerful, meaningful story about an everyday subject? In that case, it proves that you have the skills to take any topic and turn it into a great film.

If you have those skills, then in effect, what you are doing is raising your bar.

At a minimum, you can take any subject and turn it into a workable story. It has everything that a great story needs. A strong theme. A great opening, powerful act turns. A clear sense of what it is trying to say. And an ending that resolves the dramatic question you have explored consistently at every stage of the documentary.

At best - with a great subject that appeals to a broad audience, about something timely, with great access - well, you have the chance of making something remarkable.

With those skills, you can think of yourself as truly "professional".

That's the aim of The Doc Fix system. We have condensed decades of experience of what great documentary stories are into a clear, workable system that will give you the tools to take any idea and turn it into a great story.

Even it's an idea that you've been playing with for months or years and haven't been able to crack. An idea you know is, in its bones, something that needs to be shared.

Joining our course requires commitment and a desire to be great. But if you do the work, you will have the storytelling tools that would have taken you years, or decades, to gather, test and refine by yourself.

If you want to learn more about the course, we'd be happy to tell you more. We'll go through any story problems you're having at the moment and help you in any way we can.