Alyssa Clifton is a student at the University of Central Missouri who has experience in documentary film making and is a social justice advocate.
Social justice topics can create a lot of controversy. Most of us want a chance to state our opinion and creating a film is a great way to do so, but if you want to give your input or perspective on a topic or issue, make sure that what you are saying is accurate or clearly informed as just opinion.
IN OTHER WORDS….Do your research on the topic! Nothing could be worse for your film than to have the audience completely reject it because your information isn’t credible. Not to mention you no longer become credible. While the documentary world allows you to make your own interpretations, the importance of research to back up your claim is just as important.
photo credit: United States Census Bureau
Research can be daunting especially when it comes to applying that research to a film, but trying to create a documentary that sparks conversation without any background is even harder. When I was in the beginning stages of developing my film, it was important for me to answer some preliminary questions.
Preliminary questions are questions you ask yourself that establishes the problem you are trying to present. My film was about students with disabilities pursuing higher education, so the first thing I needed to know was, is this a problem we need to address or a cause that needs awareness. In other words, were there other schools who had programs like my university or not. I used this as my jumping point in my film to capture what my university’s program does to allow these students to achieve their dreams.
After I did the basic background research of my topic, I knew I needed to do research on the specifics. Usually you want the answer to these questions to come out in your film, but it might be a good idea to get an understanding of what answers you need so you know how to come to them in your film.
For instance, I wanted to know how my university’s program was helping these students, what resources they were offering, and the success rate. I wanted these answers in my film, but it was important that I discovered these answers early so that I knew which direction my film needed to go.
So yes, research can be a bit overwhelming and can open many doors to new questions; however, this is beneficial. I would rather have hours of footage to sift through and determine what is relevant to my overall problem, than very little footage in which it might be a stretch to making them all connect.
Research can also really help you decide how you want your film to go. When I first began researching I had one idea of what I ultimately wanted my film to look like, but as I began to learn more about the topic, I took my film in a more powerful direction. One that I personally felt better addressed the topic in general.
Think of research as the first drafts to your film, because even as you begin to film, it will change, grow, and develop into something more and that is a good thing.