Making Documentaries

This genre of documentary uses various types of multimedia to explore a story from an omniscient point of view, connecting an audience to a subject and inspiring them to action of some sort.   By profiling an individual, an idea, or a social movement through this expressive and creative medium, we can actually affect change in the real world. 

 Bill Nichols, a Professor of Cinema at San Francisco State University said that, particularly in film, “rhetoric swings us in the direction of particularity. It invites theorization that begins with immediate experience before it moves to abstract generalization.” If done well, this type of documentary turns typical information processing on its head.  Audiences can experience something in the confines of a 16:4 window, connect to it, feel the conflict, respond to the conflict in the context of the specific, and then extend that response to the general, the abstract, the every day.  In our case, a five minute documentary can, if done well, affect the way people view and respond to something in the world for the rest of their lives. 

This type of media offers us an incredible multi-sensory venue to explore our topics.  It combines the best of communication methods.  I hope my documentary is as powerful and informative as an end product as it is as a concept floating around in my head.


Why a Visual Narrative?

They say a picture says a thousand words, and it often does.  But sometimes a picture only says ten words, or it says a thousand words it’s not supposed to.  Pictures are not entirely  unpredictable, though.  Their effects are evident with a little research and an artist’s eye.  By altering color, contrast, and even placement, we can change the whole effect of any given image on an audience. 

Pairing images with text gives us multi-dimensional opportunities to tell our stories.  People love photography for a reason; photos often say things that text can’t.  And people love reading for a reason; text often says things that photos can’t.  When we combine text and images to tell a story, we take advantage of an opportunity to showcase both of their strengths, combined into one cohesive narrative. 

Images can strengthen readers’ associations with the subject matter, but they can also enhance a piece’s rhetorical power.  Allowing the audience to look into the eyes of that child is a far superior pathetic appeal than trying to simply describe the child’s circumstances.  The pictures we select, and their composition, can instantly boost or destroy an ethical appeal.  While images are not the best for logical appeals (at least in the sense of a narrative) they can tie in well to textual arguments. 

Even slight changes in the way we pair and modify pictures and text can have dramatic effects on what our audiences take away from our stories.  For example:

This man is preparing for a role as Santa Claus in a Christmas play at his church.


This man just killed three children he met on the internet. 

Isn’t it amazing how much a story can change with a few simple alterations?