How does one create a documentary that is impactful? Here are some basic tricks to help you ace that documentary.

Appreciate that not every story is a good candidate for a documentary. There are different mediums of communicating a story - a documentary movie might not always be the right medium. So choose your story carefully. One way would be to ask yourself a simple question - 'why is it necessary for this story to be told via video instead of an article + few pictures?'

Plan your shoot when you can. If you just go out there and shoot whatever you find and then try to come up with a story by 'editing' you will a) waste 10X more time b) often fail in creating a good story at the end of it and c) often feel like if only you had a plan before hand, you could have easily shot certain things which could have helped you in portraying your story so much better. Of course there are times when it is not possible to plan. But when you can, you must.

Understand storytelling. There is a difference between a good story and good storytelling. A good story raises a question that the viewer cares about and therefore watches your documentary till the question gets answered. Good storytelling shares the story in a compelling fashion and is paced well. It is easy to figure out the formula for a good story. But even great filmmakers struggle with getting story-telling right.

Watch documentaries made by others. Short documentaries. Long documentaries. All kinds of documentaries. A lot of indie filmmakers, across the world, are making a lot of things. Some of the work is useless, some is great, and once in a while there are brilliant works to be seen. This will help you see your work relative to what others are creating and open up new ideas for you.

Feedback is helpful. Personally I have observed that once my first cut for a short documentary is done, sharing it with a small select group helps me refine the final cut (making a huge difference in the final appeal). But make sure you don't share it with just your friends and fans - as they will never tell you the hard truth. Create a small group of critiques who understand the need to be truthful.


– Amrit Vatsa

(Documentary Filmmaker, Founder