I’ve always been interested in research. I loved the library growing up and was always piling up books on various subjects in the corners of my room. As storytellers, a massive part of the journey is the research that kicks off any of our projects. It only takes a few clicks to find something out and it’s easier than ever to collaborate across timezones.
With most of our projects, we spend as much time as we can in the “discovery” phase, where we are gathering information on the project’s goals, intentions, branding, messaging, subjects, etc. With documentary filmmaking, the more research and preparation you do, the better you are able to capture authentic and spontaneous moments.
This got me thinking about the research I do as a documentary filmmaker and the resources I often use to keep my mind sharp. Or in other words, the practices I use to perpetuate the ongoing “discovery” session of great documentary storytelling.
So without further ado and in no particular order, below are my top four favorite resources for documentary storytelling.
The International Documentary Association (IDA) is an incredible organization that exists to serve documentary filmmakers and the documentary community. They put on educational and community events, provide funding, and put out a quarterly magazine with the latest news, research, projects, and highlights from the documentary world. Many of their events take place in Los Angeles and it’s a great opportunity for me to connect with other filmmakers as well as share stories and ideas.
Nerdwriter is this awesome video essay series that breaks down really interesting pop-culture ideas or references and delves into the art, design, thought, or hidden messages embedded in it. He often uses movies and art to talk about really interesting topics or themes and it’s a fun way to challenge your brain and broaden your perspective.
The Moth Podcast is a storytelling podcast that features real people telling true stories in front of live audiences at story slams all over the globe. It’s a huge source of inspiration for me, not only because the stories are so great, but because it reminds me of the craft and power of storytelling even in it’s simplest form. (It’s also a great way to pass the time during rush hour in LA!)
Short of the Week curates the best short videos from around the internet and highlights a new short every week. It’s divided into content areas so I try to watch the documentary short every week. Often they feature lesser known or up and coming filmmakers so it’s a great place to stumble upon new talent.