Filmmaking Blog Posts by Indie Film Factory

Documentary Production: Elevating Human Storytelling

documentary production

The Distribution Dilemma in Documentary Production

Documentary production, despite its long-standing struggle to find appropriate distribution channels, is a testament to the resilience of filmmakers. These films, with their profound impact, often struggle to reach broad audiences. A few years ago, the once fertile distribution platform Amazon Prime decided it would no longer allow self-released documentaries on its platform. This decision was a setback, but filmmakers have shown remarkable resilience and are continuing to push the boundaries of distribution. 

Why Documentary Filmmaking Matters for A Larger Production Industry

As a collective society, we need documentaries. Having made three documentary films in my career, it’s the most complex and fulfilling form of filmmaking. Documentary production represents the truest form of storytelling, capturing the raw, unfiltered essence of the human experience, exposing the truth, and calling attention to topics that have shaped our lives. It combines the content focus of journalism with the artistic fees of narrative filmmaking. As a video editor and producer, I have also seen value in helping companies and brands share their messages authentically. 

Addressing the Limited Reach of Documentaries

The challenge of distribution for documentaries is not new. Traditionally, these films have been relegated to film festivals, niche markets, and occasional television broadcasts. While these platforms are vital, they often limit the reach and impact of documentary films. In a world where stories have the power to change perspectives, inspire action, and bring about social change, the need for more effective ways to distribute documentaries is urgent.

Embracing the Digital Age for Documentary: New Avenues for Production

Okay, so I have vented enough on why it’s tough with distribution for documentaries, but what about the ways you can make the best of what you have? I’ll start with where we are today with media technology. For starters, the age of TikTok, Discord, and Instagram offers unparalleled opportunities to promote and even showcase your work to supportive audiences. There are unprecedented opportunities for documentary production to break free from these distribution gatekeepers and think outside the box. Streaming platforms like Vimeo and YouTube can still help you reach a proper audience, and control your film’s positioning, while investing in social media messaging can help you bring a broader awareness to your film and build your audience. 

Additionally, despite having streaming aggregators that will place your film on major streaming platforms for a fee, documentaries still struggle for visibility. The sheer volume of online content means that even the most compelling documentaries can get lost in the noise. This is where the actual value of human storytelling comes into play. It all goes back to marketing!

The Power of Authentic Human Stories

Documentary production is, at its core, about capturing real-life stories in their most authentic form. Unlike scripted films, documentaries offer a window into the lives of individuals and communities, presenting their triumphs, struggles, and everyday realities. This authenticity is what sets documentaries apart and makes them such powerful storytelling tools. This is also your most powerful marketing tool. 

Tapping into the conversations that matter the most to people can dramatically help you garner organic support for your film. For example, ending animal cruelty is something that most of us can get behind. Start the conversation with your audience if you’re making a film on this subject. Understand their beliefs and make that an integral part of your storytelling. Investigate what matters to them, and work at delivering answers to those questions.  

Ways to Mitigate Heavy Production Costs on a Documentary Budget

One of the greatest values of this medium is freeing yourself from the logistical and expensive mechanisms of conventional narrative filmmaking and video production. Climatic cameras, drones, large crews, cast, and locations have their place in narrative films. Still, with documentaries, audiences tend to be more forgiving with financial limitations. They are less likely to score you on your non-polished aspects if you are authentic. 

The overall production, sound, and editing quality must reflect your documentary’s theme. For example, suppose you’re making a documentary about surfing. In that case, you need to find ways to capture shots that reflect the energy of that lifestyle. Things like mounted cameras on surfboards, drone shots of crushing waves, or slow-motion video of surfers escaping the impossible break may help create a better visual. The audience will want to be close to this action, so your investment should focus on the tools you need to capture that and no more. If you’re doing a political documentary, audiences may forgive the found-footage look or raw media from your cell phone as long as it is relevant to your approach and story. 

Community Engagement: Amplifying the Reach of Your Film

Educators, activists, and community leaders can amplify a documentary’ reach by integrating them into curriculums, organizing screenings, and facilitating discussions. This can help ensure that these important stories are seen and heard by a wider audience. Connect with the people and organizations that may support your film’s mission. In fact, many documentaries have been launched by niche groups such as churches, non-profits, and political organizations. 

The Bright Future of Documentary Production

As I see it, independent journalism and documentary production will continue growing in popularity. I believe the future is bright, but it requires a concerted effort to ensure these films receive the attention they deserve. Filmmakers must continue to push the boundaries of storytelling, exploring new subjects and experimenting with innovative techniques. Meanwhile, they must think outside the box to navigate the ongoing struggles of marketing and distribution. 

Documentary production is about more than just creating films; it fosters understanding, empathy, and connection. It is about using the power of storytelling to illuminate the human condition and inspire change. By supporting documentary filmmakers and advocating for better distribution, we can help ensure that these vital stories are told and their impact is felt far and wide.

This post was helpful. Keep making movies. Learn marketing, and always push for truthfulness in your work, no matter the medium. If you’re in need of some consultation for your filmmaking endeavors, each out to us.

That’s all I got for you today. Peace out!


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