A documentary is a type of film that gives facts and information about a topic. Whether they are talking about nature, famous people, or big historical events, documentaries are used to “document” reality by interviewing real people and providing research to teach the audience about something. However, there are different types of documentaries out there. They include:
PSAs (or Public Service Announcements) – These are short videos used to raise awareness about an important issue and persuade an audience to take action. They often look and feel commercials.
Essay Films – These are cinematic essays that analyze a specific topic to prove a point. However, much like an actual essay, there is more of an emphasis on research and examples in order to prove the point they are trying to make.
Common Features of a Documentary
For the most part, documentaries are all about revealing interesting and unusual information to the public that they might not already know about. There are so many topics that can be covered in documentaries, but the biggest point in all is that they all have something to say.
Here are some key features to think about and questions to ask yourself while making your documentary.
- Interviews – This is a conversation between two people – where one participant asks questions and the other answers. Interviews are a way to move the story forward as they provide information about whatever your topic is about.
- Who do you plan on interviewing?
- What can they tell you about your subject?
- Subject – This is what your documentary is about. Generally documentary subjects are very specific and often include people, places or events. Typically, documentaries try to cover new stories or current events or they bring light to old issues in a new way.
- Is this a subject that many people are aware of?
- Has this subject been talked about before?
- How much information can you find out about this topic?
- Purpose – This is what the filmmaker wants to say about the subject.
- Is this a subject that you are passionate about?
- What do you want to say about this topic?
- How do you want the audience to feel about this topic after watching your documentary?
Making a documentary is a learning process, so as you put all these elements together, you also learn a lot of things from experience. The most important part of a documentary is to talk about something that you care about. Make your story interesting by keeping it personal to you. If you’re having trouble thinking about a subject, talk to friends or family and try to find interesting things about them.