Response To “Michael Moore’s 13 Rules for Making Documentary Films”

Q: Which 3 of his Rules to you agree with and why?

1. “No. 2 – Don’t tell me shit I’ve already know.”

It is really easy for documentary filmmakers to fall into this a trap of over-explaining a topic or an issue. Sometimes it is about a topic or an issue that the general consensus have already know or drilled into by the media masses or even films that has slight touch on it. It is understandable as to why they did so. Not everyone know about what is the topic or an issue that is being brought forth. But retreading those issues or topics can be dull and repetitive, and a  good documentary filmmaker do not want to associate with any of those. Documentary films are more than just feeding loads of information. It is first and foremost, a storytelling device.

2. “No 7 – I think it’s important to make your films personal.”

The more personal, the better. But not to be confused again by putting yourself in front of the camera. Like Michael Moore said, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. Storytellers have been known to be a bit of themselves throughout times and therefore shaping themselves to .By utilizing “Voice of God”, or having a person’s voice carrying the story, the documentary will feel more humane, and thus making it more personal. It is amazing that what that personal touch could do to audience.

3. “No. 12 – Less is more. You already know that one.”

The term “lose your darlings” is a term that some emerging documentary/filmmaking practitioners really hate to hear. But, by taking a step back from the process and looking at the entirety of it, they can see that “the darlings” that they hold dear to, is holding them back. The first and foremost the thing a documentary or a filmmaker needed to realise when writing/editing/shooting their films is, “Would it serve and make the story better?”. With that question at the back of their head, the process of making a film, would be a lot clearer and more refine.


Q: Which 3 of his rules do you find most challenging, and why?

1. “No. 9 – Books and TV have nonfiction figured out.”

To get an audience for a documentary is hard enough, to get high ratings for it is even harder. Even with the success of documentary series like “Making A Murder” on Netflix, there is still no guarantee that it will last long.  To make it solely for ratings is achievable in somewhat degree, although those spaces has been occupied with reality television shows, which sadly is also part of the “Truthful Cinema” or Cinema Verite that a lot of filmmakers adore and love. The best kind of films and documentaries are always the ones that balance fiction and reality on a healthy dose. “How to balance it?” is the toughest question emerging practitioners could ever ask to themselves.

2. “No. 10 – As much as possible, try to film only the people who disagree with you.”

Conflict is good. It is the essence of Drama, for both film and documentaries. It resets expectations and it drives the story to the Unknown. It is the Holy Grail to 3 Act Structure. With a fictional film environment or production, a filmmaker can do whatever she or he is please with it. But for a documentary, conflict can ranged from “Absolutely Minimal” to “Extremely Life-Threatening”. To know when or when not to film something in documentary, could be a matter of life and death situations.

It’s not even just that. A lot of times, the drama sometimes lies with people who agrees with you. To know who or what to shoot in the right moment, it is something that many emerging practitioners still struggling with.

3. “No. 13 – Finally… Sound is more important than picture.”

“Sound is 50 percent of your film”. Not many emerging practitioners of both film and documentary realise this. In fact there are a few of filmmakers who also failed to realise this as well. Sound could make or break your film. To a very respectable degree, it is understandable why some filmmakers treating sound more than it being half of a film.

Even with the filmmakers understanding that aspect of filmmaking, in Documentary Land, it is pretty easy for them to fall back into the idea that Visual is King. Whether it is because of time restrains, budgeting constraints or even the environment they’re working with, sound recordists have very very limited space saying on doing a retake of shot in a nonfictional film. And it becomes even more limited in a documentary environment.


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