Production | 5 MIN READ

How to develop a documentary

If you are anything like us, then you love a good documentary. A wonderfully woven story that grips you from beginning to end and represents something real or perhaps a chance to walk in another person’s shoes. Maybe you have your own ideas of what would make a perfect documentary. But have you ever thought what it takes to craft a story of that size?

On the morning of April 13, 2013, ELM’s Co-Founder Darren Durlach walked out of his Quincy, MA home and headed to his assignment. He was working for the Boston Globe at the time as a Senior Multimedia Producer and his job for that day was to highlight a man who was running the Boston Double, two back-to-back marathons on the same day. Luckily for Darren, he was not on location when the bombs went off, having left the finish line only a few hours before. He spent the next year putting together a documentary that would focus on five runners who will forever be linked by that one horrific moment.

Darren says there are a few things that go into creating a good documentary.

Layered Storytelling

Darren says to think about storytelling sort of like an onion. “You’re not trying to tell everyone everything at the beginning of the story, you want to save the interesting bits and peel them back layer by layer.” This approach keeps people engaged and invested in the story and characters. The goal is to keep the audience on the edge of their seats in anticipation for the next reveal.

Building to a Narrative Climax

“Every great story builds to something.” Darren says. “In 5 Runners, the climax was these 5 people who were trying to get back into the 2015 race so they could get some closure from when they ran it when the bombing happened. Our goal was to build toward that moment when they found out and create that tension for the audience.”

A Face for the Bigger Issue

Darren believes that people naturally relate to other people. He says, “it is hard to get people to care about a topic as a whole, but if you can get to know a person who is affected, then it gives you something to care about.” It is the idea that a strong character can carry any content.

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Rebecca McCutcheon

About Rebecca McCutcheon

Rebecca is a multifaceted storyteller. Her focus is people, her passion is telling their stories. With a Bachelor's in Film from Ringling College of Art and design, she continues to form her skill set and is always looking for something new get her hands on.

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