by Peter M. Gordon
One of my favorite series this summer is Current TV’s “50 Documentaries to See Before You Die.” Hosted by Morgan Spurlock (Director/writer/star of “Supersize Me”), the series counts down the top documentaries of the last 25 years. Documentarians like Michael Moore and Penelope Spheeris, as well as an expert panel of film industry pros and critics, discuss the impact of the films and tell the stories of how they were made. At this writing they haven’t revealed the top ten yet. I suggest you all watch the series and the final ten next week. There’s a lot we can learn to apply to our own content.
First of all: Passion. All of the documentarians exuded passion for their subjects. No matter whether the subject was Heavy Metal, the rise of extreme skateboarding, or the truth about the Vietnam War, every filmaker believed passionately that their story was one that had to be told.
Second: Go where the story takes you. Errol Morris never thought he’d get a 20 hour interview with Robert MacNamara, which became the center of “The Fog of War.” Andrew Jarecki started to make a film about children’s entertainers in New York and ended up making “Capturing the Friedmans.” Go where the story takes you, and don’t be afraid to tell the truth.
Third: Make it happen. Every project had its own troubles, ranging from a lack of funds, lack of historical footage, inexperience of the filmakers. They didn’t let the roadblocks stop them. The documentarians figured out a way to incorporate the roadblocks in the story or they worked around them. The passion they had for their subjects wouldn’t allow them to give up.
So find a story that fires your passion. Go where that story takes you. Make it happen. In the words of M.B. Ray:
“Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand — and melting like a snow flake.”