7 Tips for Structuring a Documentary
by Eguaogie Eghosa Dec 10, 2021 Views (235)
Ken Burns, a renowned documentary filmmaker, understands how to use narrative structure to entice viewers. Burns advises on how to structure a compelling documentary.

Documentary filmmaking can assist us in determining the truth about previous or contemporary events. Documentarians make non-fiction films that tell a true tale in cinematic form, employing a variety of approaches and a captivating plot structure to entice viewers and make them care about the subject matter on screen. The style of storyline you want to emphasize in your documentary feature or short film can affect the story you want to portray.

Ken Burns: A Quick Overview:
Ken Burns has been filming documentaries for over four decades. Ken's films have received a slew of accolades, including 15 Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards, and two Academy Award nominations. Ken received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in September 2008 at the News & Documentary Emmy Awards. The Statue of Liberty (1985), Huey Long (1985),

The Civil War (1990), Baseball (1994), Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery (1997), Jazz (2001), The War (2007), The Dust Bowl (2012), Jackie Robinson (2016), and Country Music (2018) are among Ken's most acclaimed historical feature documentaries (2019). His most recent PBS documentary, The Gene: An Intimate History, was just published.

The 7 Tips for Documentary Structure by Ken Burns
Genuine connection with the narrative arc is the best technique to hold someone in place while watching a movie. Documentary filmmakers must be able to convey a compelling story, and tension is at the heart of compelling storytelling. The anticipation of not knowing what will happen next. You keep reading or watching because you don't know if things will go as planned. Ken Burns, the acclaimed documentary filmmaker, provides some tips on story structure:

1. Accept the rules of storytelling and use them to your advantage
The laws of storytelling apply to all filmmakers, whether they're making a documentary or scripting a feature film. The best documentary screenplays have a beginning, middle, and end, as well as primary characters, antagonists, protagonists, character development, climax, and dénouement. These guidelines apply to documentary storytelling as well.

Instead of being didactic, instructive, or politically campaigning, a documentary can convey a tale utilizing the same expositional methods as a feature film. Then you have the option of relocating people at the same level, with the added benefit of it being real.

2. Rearrange the structure as needed until it functions properly
Everything is a curve in its own right. There is an arc to a sentence you write. An arc can be found within a paragraph or a comment. The arc of a scene is unique. The arc of an episode is made up of a grouping of sequences. When making a documentary on genuine events, whether it's history or not, you're always fighting a war between the obvious plot demands and the truth that human existence often defies them. You're continuously trying to improve the existing arcs. It might be as small as altering a single word in a sentence.

You must be willing to give up something or consider a new connection at any given time. You'll have to rewrite a lot of things. Adapt. To replace the talking head who appears to be the key, or to make a first-person voice a stronger part of the role and move that voice. You want to keep that construction project's scaffolding and fake workaround up until you're certain the structure is beautiful and will stand on its own.

3. Immediately engage your audience
The start of the movie becomes the most artistic, demanding, and pivotal scene. It's the initial note on the instrument. How do you start on a good note that entices your audience to join you in your endeavour? Every film needs to find a method to provide the viewers with a chance to escape the reality they're in. "How do I transport you from your tremendously busy and compelling existence to this moment?" filmmakers must question themselves. The exaggerated drama will not persuade folks to participate. The early shots and scenes are where you and your viewers form a bond. You're soliciting the rare gift of the audience's attention, then rewarding it for the next two hours or 18 hours.

4. Small details can help you tell bigger stories
"By the summer of 1861, Wilmer McLean had had enough," Ken writes in his book The Civil War (1990). A Union shell exploded in the summer kitchen as the First Battle of Bull Run, or Manassas, as the Confederates dubbed it, raged across the ageing Virginian's countryside. McLean then moved to a desolate small crossroads named Appomattox Courthouse, far south and west of Richmond, out of harm's way, he prayed.

"The battle began in my front yard and concluded in my front parlour," Wilmer McLean could legitimately declare three and a half years later when Lee surrendered to Grant. This was supposed to be a footnote at the conclusion, but Ken put it right at the start. You can't underestimate the significance of even the most little and mundane events in the grand scheme of things.

5. As a guide, use chronology
Ken believes that chronology is the most crucial aspect of a story. "God is the greatest dramatist," Shelby Foote reportedly said to Ken. Things take place in the sequence that they do in nature. That isn't to say a flashback isn't possible. Sometimes you need to start a powerful flashback—and sometimes it doesn't. You may need to move it to the beginning at times. Returning to linear chronology is always an option.

Because we're attempting to keep everything in order, our storyboards remind us that we can't truly move anything.

6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
There isn't a universal climax law. Something happens, you're aware. When we think of climaxes, we don't always think of a massive crashing event. It can be more subtle at times. It can be blatant and dramatic at times. The episode eventually resembles a pot on the stove. Then, after it boils, you have a release, which may be done in a variety of ways. It doesn't mean you can't express it or talk about it, but there has to be some sort of in-and-out breathing that becomes more instinctive.

7. Return them safely to their homes
Ken believes nothing is redeeming about the Vietnam War's three million casualties. Ken explains that the artist is responsible for leading you out of this hell. There doesn't have to be a conclusion, just some peace. As a result, you permit a dismount. Ken wanted to remind the audience that there were moments of love, sacrifice, heroism, and kindness throughout the Vietnam War (2017) horror story—and that, in the end, the best of all of those things, love and reconciliation, could happen.

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