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Old December 14th, 2012, 12:38 PM   #1
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Doc writing, a story without drama ...

Earlier this year I shot and edited a "docu-promo" from a gaming convention called MAGFest and I'd like to "1-up" my efforts this year.

Last year was my first time attending. I just walked in and started shooting video, asking questions and edited it down to something relatively interesting. The purpose from the outset was to promote the event through sharing my experience.

This is the video from last year ...

One of the primary ways I hope to improve on my production for this year, is to go in with more of a plan.

After doing some research on writing/planning documentaries, I've found that most of the "how to" information implies that a documentary MUST include a character based story with conflict and resolution.

This apparent "need" for conflict seems to remind me of shows like "American Chopper" where I'm watching two adults swear at each other and break things, when all I wanted was to see some talented people make a cool motorcycle. By the end of the show I've seen 10 minutes of cool motorcycles and 30 minutes of a domestic dispute!

My preferences lean toward shows like "How It's Made" where the subject matter is inherently interesting, without injected drama. It's a conflict-free pleasure to watch. The "story" is simply A to Z on an assembly line.

My intention is to produce something that has more human interest than "How It's Made" but without the drama of "American Chopper". A "start to finish" story that highlights the key features of the event, told from my perspective as an attendee and through conversations with others involved in the event.

I want the experience to be the story.

Maybe I answered my own question while writing this post, but I'd still love some feedback on my idea and how I could best plan this production.
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Old December 15th, 2012, 12:50 PM   #2
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Re: Doc writing, a story without drama ...

For what you're doing you might look to the The Antique Road show, which does a nice job of adding drama in a low-conflict way. I like the way they withhold the price of an item until the last few seconds, keeps the audience glued to the show.
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Old December 15th, 2012, 06:03 PM   #3
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Re: Doc writing, a story without drama ...

It doesn't have to be human conflict but good stories do have a beginning, a middle and an end. At the start some sort of "to be or not to be" has to be introduced. The rest of the story lets this tension play out. There doesn't have to be a happy resolution (as is currently so popular and has been ever since the 70s).
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Old December 15th, 2012, 07:43 PM   #4
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Re: Doc writing, a story without drama ...

George, there's a giant gap, leap or whatever from making a one off production to a series, where the concept is recognised each time you start watching a program in that series.

A series starts with a pilot, and the difference between Ep. 1 Series 1 and Ep 20, Series 7 will be like chalk and cheese as it evolves. American Chopper couldn't get established with one episode and imo they bought in the 'conflict' to keep it going.

If 'How It's Made' is not showing an interesting product, it gets turned off.

For a one off project you need to grab your audiences attention right off the bat. I'd look around for someone who could be a good on camera presenter and if you gell with them, work with him/her planning and writing the script. To get them interested, produce a 2min video showing your subject and you explain the concept in person, no voice over, just suitable music. You need to work up a presentation because this will show them you're serious about doing this.

I'd check local community TV outfits, acting groups etc. Even if you duplicate 'How It's Made' you'll need a pro announcer.

You might even plan to get a sponsor and present it to your local TV for airing. In that case your subject should be a community project. Check around, good luck.

Cheers.
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Old December 16th, 2012, 04:01 PM   #5
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Re: Doc writing, a story without drama ...

You might be interested in Robert McKee's book 'Story'

http://www.amazon.com/Story-Substance-Structure-Principles-Screenwriting/dp/0060391685
It is available as an audio book as well, which is how I read/listened to it (on my iPod) and it certainly made me rethink my approach to creating _any_ video project. This is nothing to do with 'establish' CU, cutaway etc. It is to do with developing a narative in a way that will keep your audience interested.

The biggest problem I had with it, was the thought of having to discard any short sequence that was not essential to the 'story' when I might have spent days putting it together. BTW Is it normal for people to put three days of work into a 10 second clip? :-)
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Old December 16th, 2012, 11:24 PM   #6
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Re: Doc writing, a story without drama ...

Depends on whether you can charge it out :)

Cheers.
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Old December 17th, 2012, 01:51 AM   #7
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Re: Doc writing, a story without drama ...

Drama always hinges on jeopardy and conflict. This does not necessarily you need to create false conflict between people - video games and sport inherently have conflict in them (players trying to achieve a high score, trying beat each other, trying to do anything - there is conflict, and jeopardy - what if they win, what if they lose?)

Even show's like 'How it's made' has drama and jeopardy. They will state things like "And if that is off by just 1mm, the whole process will fail". That creates a sense of jeopardy in the act of doing the task, a sense of awe in the achievement, and a sense of drama as you are watching the process happen.

There is often conflict shown in a historical context in such shows as well, the conflict between the problem of needing x amount of things, and the difficulty in making them.

You also need to have a beginning middle and end that draws your audience in. Let them know at the outset why they should watch what you have made, either through intrigue, or drama.

Intrigue is really simple, it's just posing a question that your target audience is curious about. "What is Magfest?" could be enough initial intrigue, then you follow it up after a 30 second introduction with another question that follows on from it, or further explanation, or introduction to a dramatic character.

If your intention is the human interest of attending, then you are really taking the part of a reporter in a more traditional news/current events story. You are placing yourself as a proxy for the audience more than trying to talk to the audience. The traditional Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How? questioning for such reporting is a good place to start.

But I'd really re-assess your thinking about show's like "How's it made?" - It's actually very easy to make interesting stories boring, it's actually very hard to make seemingly boring stories interesting. Show's like that tend to inject a lot of drama and human interest through voice over and strong editing - that doesn't mean they are hyperbolic about it like Reality T.V. - But listen carefully to the narration and see how the structure is used to keep you watching.
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Old December 17th, 2012, 08:55 AM   #8
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Re: Doc writing, a story without drama ...

Thanks for all your thoughtful responses!

Let me add a few details about this project.

This project is not intended for broadcast in the traditional sense, maybe Hulu or Netflix, but I have no intention of getting it on "TV".

This project is intended to be a highlight/nostalgia reel for attendees AND a promotional piece to attract new ones. I also want it to be a historic record of the event.

The organization, event and this film are all fan-fueled and non-profit. Money is not the motivation for making this film and I would only ostracize myself if it where. If I should find any profit in this film, it will go toward a charity like Child's Play or back to MAGFest.

I hope this is not a one-off, but it's not necessarily a series either. I'd like it to be an annual production, I'll try to frame each edition differently but always covering that years events.

I think the natural run time will be between 30 minutes and 60 minutes.

This is a subculture film with a specific audience (music, games and art), I'm not making this for the general public.

After considering some of your suggestions, I was thinking about building a story around, "How can one attendee do everything MAGFest has to offer in 4 days?"

It's promotional in nature and it's a man vs. time story. So that's the "conflict" right there.

The protagonist would be the viewer and the story would unfold from a first person perspective (possibly from a GoPro camera on my head), interspersed with interview footage and B-roll as needed. I would act as the narrator but the narration would be presented as thoughts in my own head ... "WHAT?! 9 o' clock already! I need to get to the concert!"

The story will lead the viewer through the major aspects of the event, ending with the realization of, "I can't do everything at MAGFest in 4 days, so I'll have to come back again next year!

I know that needs to be refined and fleshed out, but that's what I've got in my head right now.

What do you think? Any more suggestions? Is it viable? Does it totally suck?
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Old December 17th, 2012, 01:36 PM   #9
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Re: Doc writing, a story without drama ...

That's not a bad angle. I think it might get a little dull at 30-60 minutes, even to the core audience. I'd see how much you can cover in say 24 minutes (6 minutes per day) that'd be enough for reasonable amount of depth but to keep things moving, also means if your audience is on the web you can break it down into episodic chunks that aren't too long.
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Old December 17th, 2012, 04:38 PM   #10
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Re: Doc writing, a story without drama ...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Craig Parkes View Post
That's not a bad angle. I think it might get a little dull at 30-60 minutes, even to the core audience. I'd see how much you can cover in say 24 minutes (6 minutes per day) that'd be enough for reasonable amount of depth but to keep things moving, also means if your audience is on the web you can break it down into episodic chunks that aren't too long.
I may do something closer to 24 minutes this year as i'm going for more of a promo. But when I go to make the full doc it's going to be over 60 and probably over 90.

It seems like most of the online distributors won't take anything under 60 and most docs I see online are 90+.

I've watched a lot of them and they do get a bit boring, but it seems like feature length is what distributors want.

The right audience will endure the mellow progression.
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Old December 18th, 2012, 03:04 AM   #11
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Re: Doc writing, a story without drama ...

For a 60-90 minute doc you need a much stronger narrative than sy a 24 minute promotional video, irrespective of audience.
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Old December 18th, 2012, 08:23 AM   #12
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Re: Doc writing, a story without drama ...

Yea, I know what you mean. I think the full doc is a project for 2014.
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Old December 18th, 2012, 01:52 PM   #13
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Re: Doc writing, a story without drama ...

George - your post is a good one and that was an interesting video. I watched the full length and I'm not a gamer (sp?). Great ending! (leave it for others to find out).

The post is good because this is a similar thing that I want to do, only with totally different subject matter. For one, there is a local group that is into "victory gardens" - growing food in your back or front yard. They have an annual show-and-tell tour and I'd like to do something similar to help them promote what they're doing. All volunteer effort. This is just one example and I've got a few other projects that I'd like to do.

The replies were very poignant or impactful for me because they will be so applicable and helpful. I'll take them into consideration when I do my videos as I know they will make a great improvement in my work.

Your video was interesting because of all the scenes and it will show what goes on there. There was some discussion about the length of the video. Maybe produce a couple videos? One full-length like what you want and then another but much shorter one for the YouTube watchers? In music they say "Play to the Audience" and by varying the length that's what you'd be doing.

Lighting: I liked the guy talking near the end of the first half, he was wearing a white T-shirt, but I really couldn't see his face because it was so dark. I felt what he was saying really invoked enthusiasm and pumped up the video. Some lighting on his face would have been nice but I know how it is when you're a one-man show. You do what you can with what you got.

Audio: This is another "do what you can...." but like one person/producer said, "Two-thirds of good video is good audio," it would be really nice to have a helper with a boom mic. I had to strain somewhat to hear what some of the interviewers were saying and there were quite a number of interviews. Maybe a lavalier?

Closeups: I liked some of the closeups and a couple I remember was the two people playing one of the arcade machines (one had fingernail polish) and the other with the Pacman kinda looking cards as the guy behind the table was moving them around.

Otherwise, you made this a great post! Oh, and a great ending too!

Last edited by John Nantz; December 18th, 2012 at 01:59 PM. Reason: added closeups
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Old December 18th, 2012, 02:37 PM   #14
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Re: Doc writing, a story without drama ...

For a documentary, you don't necessarily need conflict; you need a dramatic question. The question of whether or not the doc maker can cover the whole show in four days qualifies, but it's a bit weak. I already know the answer: "no". And there are no stakes. So what if you fail? Maybe you only cover 51%, but if the remaining 49% wasn't interesting, who cares?

It would be more interesting to "seek the grail." Maybe you want to find the ultimate game, or best controller, or the ultimate, crazy gamer. Or maybe you went to get laid. Tell us why you seek this thing and you will have provided the stakes. The "four days" thing is still important as it's your "ticking clock".

The acts are 1) the setup/problem, 2) a series of try-fail cycles, and 3) the ultimate success or failure and the consequences. Each try-fail cycle is a mini drama. "Is this game the best? Oooh. Almost..." In fact, it could be structured like a game. You go from level to level. And at the final level, you encounter "the Boss".

With the smaller try-fail cycles, after each one you can evaluate your progress and re-state (or even modify) your goal and the dramatic question that you are trying to answer.

And you can do this without the melodrama of cinema or the verbal abuse of a reality show. PBS Nova or Science Now would be good examples. They might ask the dramatic question of "how did the universe begin?", "is there life on Mars?", or "how can we predict earthquakes?" The audience isn't just simply informed. The structure makes us hunger for answers. And that hunger allows us to watch until the end without commercial interruption.
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