“People who are called to Documentary take heart. Take it seriously, because few are called and it’s not very sustainable to most… (for) those who are called, it’s an important journey and it’s an important thing to do with ones life” – Filmmaker, Ian McCluskey
Perhaps you are thinking of making a documentary film, but for one reason or another are hesitant to do so?
Maybe you are already making a documentary film, but sometimes struggle with the day to day of it.
You may be busy in life, or have moments where you’re uninspired, or are second guessing yourself and your documentary life.
And for those of you who this may apply to – myself included, at times – let this serve as a nice reminder that we are, in fact, doing the right thing, by making our films and following our documentary dreams.
5 Reasons to Make Your Documentary Film
1. It is Your Calling
I’m sure that there was a moment – and that moment could have been fairly recently, or it may have been a few years ago – that you were taken by an undeniable feeling that you needed to make a documentary film. It was your calling.
When I was first in Cambodia back in 2004, and I had been hired to work on the film ‘Bombhunters’, it happened to me. I had been in country for about four weeks. We were filming testimonials of people who had lost multiple limbs due to tampering with unexploded ordinance. We were in a back alley in the city of Siem Reap (where the famous Angkor Wat temples are located). It started off with a few people. But word got around town quickly and soon there was a whole line of amputees waiting to get in front of the camera and tell the story of how they’d lost their limbs.
It was then, listening to these people being incredibly vulnerable with us, telling their stories, and trusting that we would get their story out into the world… that’s when I knew it. That I wanted to make documentary films, perhaps for the rest of my life. I wanted to do it because I loved hearing people’s stories, I loved crafting those stories, and I loved sharing those stories with the world.
What was your moment?
2. Everyone Loves Docs
People love documentaries. And we could easily do a whole show on the whys and hows of their popularity, but suffice to say, the documentary film is here to stay and its popularity and its visibility is probably only going to increase!
All one has to do is a cursory search of Amazon, Netflix, or Hulu, Youtube, or Vimeo even, and you’ll see just how many documentaries are out there. And HBO Docs has been a thing for longer than those guys. And just look at the proliferation of documentaries that you can find in the theatre now! I mean, until ‘Hoop Dreams’ back in ‘94 I’m not even sure I knew that you could watch a documentary on the big screen.
I’m not preaching the popularity of documentary as a reason in itself to be making a documentary film.
I am saying that this is a great time to be a documentary filmmaker, because it is in the collective consciousness. People have never been more open to it, or had the kind of access to it that they have today. And that’s only going to increase.
3. Because You Are the Person to Tell the Story
I fully believe that we don’t so much come to our documentary projects as much as they come to us. Using our #doclifer friend, Patrick Suzuki-Mitchell as an example, his idea for his documentary film certainly made its way to him.
One day, seven years after posting a fairly innocent old TV clip up on Youtube, he happens to take a look at the clip, only to discover that 20 million people have viewed it. The clip had gone viral and had clearly touched a nerve with a great many people. And the more that he looked at the thousands of comments, the more he himself, wanted to know more about the story behind the people in it. The story wouldn’t go away for him. He had to do something about it.
You can see the clip here:
Now, we’d all be so lucky to have something like this happen for us, right? But I’m here to emphasis to you, that you don’t need 20 million affirmations that you are the right person to tell a particular story. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, you only initially need the one affirmation. And that should come from within you.
There IS a story that you know that needs to be told. In your heart, something tells you every day this is a good story, that you want to make a doc film about it.
And initially, that is all that you need.
Along the way, you will need to enlist the help of a great number of people, who are going to assist you in telling this story and getting it out into the world. But, at the end of the day, it’s going to have to come from within. You are going to need to return to your inner core, to your heart and your belief in the story that you want to tell. It is YOU that ultimately is going to be the one that makes a film happen. It is YOU that is the person who is best suited to tell this particular story. Otherwise, it is my belief, that this story would not have found its way to you.
4. You Already Have the Equipment
A great number of people are shooting films on their smart phones, so if you don’t have a camera, but you have a smart phone, you could get out there right now and start shooting your doc!
These films are showing up in the theaters and on streaming platforms like Amazon or Netflix. We’ve dedicated specific shows to the craft of mobile filmmaking, hearing from Filmic Pro founder, Neil Barham, and former BBC journalist turned mobile journalist Anna Brees.
In fact, if you want some nice reading material, London #doclifer, Damien Swaby recently made the complete switch over to mobile filmmaking. He wrote a guest blog about it entitled ‘Making the Switch to Mobile Filmmaking’.
If equipment is, in any way, shape, or form what’s holding you back from making your documentary, then either get out there now and start shooting with your phone, or sit down and have a real conversation about why you’re really not making your doc film. Which leads me to…
5. You ARE a Doc Filmmaker, So Stop Questioning It
This one applies to those of you who are sitting there and listening to this and still something is holding you back, but you can’t quite put a finger on it. You know that you want to make a documentary film. You have a camera, or a phone. You have a great idea for a film, and maybe even know the people whom you could film.
So what’s keeping you from it?
Sorry, but I’ll bet that it’s you. The part of you that lets your fears sometimes get in the way of your dreams. The part of you that tells you that you can’t, or shouldn’t do something. That making documentary films is for doc filmmakers and you are most certainly not one of those. You want to be a doc filmmaker, but have somehow managed to convince yourself that you’re really not equipped to be a doc filmmaker.
I cannot tell you how many documentary filmmakers I’ve met in life who were absolutely petrified to make their film because they constantly questioned whether or not they could do it? But suffice to say, the majority.
So it’s time to stop telling yourself that you’re not a doc filmmaker, or that you’re not fit to make a doc film. Because you are, #doclifer. You are just as fit as any person that I know out there who is either slinging around a twenty thousand dollar camera, or using their iPhone as a camera.
We’re all telling stories.
And you have one inside of you. So why not get to telling it, okay?