Once you’re firm on your subject and what you are trying to say, it’s time to hammer in your story details. SOLID RESEARCH Next step in figuring out how to make a documentary? Research!
Documentary filmmaking is detective work, so expect to do a lot of digging. You can start with a simple Google search. But don’t forget about your local library whose electronic resource subscriptions might yield more thorough results. Guide your research with your controlling idea in mind. Like Neo spotting code patterns in The Matrix, your wider theme should dictate the data points you highlight. Don’t just look for information that supports your thesis! Muddy the waters with contrasting opinions and viewpoints. You’ll likely encounter these as you interview and shoot, and they’ll add dimensionality to your message. Now it’s time to get inspired. To unlock what makes a good documentary, watch the great documentary filmmakers at work.
Watch their films and relate their approach to yours. Also look for other documentaries that told a similar story as yours. Hammer in what makes yours different. Read about how they approached the question of how to make a documentary on their various films. Finally, don’t silo yourself off during research. Tell your friends, family and co-workers about your concept. Be receptive to whether or not they connect with it. Ask them what other media already out there (books, films, articles) comes to mind.
Get their feedback on how to make a documentary with this subject matter. COLLABORATORS AND GEAR Now it’s time to think about the tools you’ll need to capture your vision, and the people to operate them. Worry about the sound just as much as the visuals. On a narrative film, you have the luxury of re-recording audio. But in documentaries, what you get is what you get. So hire both a cinematographer and a sound recordist. This way you’ll be free to concentrate on interviewees and the field events you need to capture.