UNCORRECTED GALLEY

Filmmaking for Change, 2nd edition
JON FITZGERALD

ISBN 9781615932771
Pub date: October 1, 2017
Price $26.95
Pages: 258
Michael Wiese Productions

If you have any questions, please contact
kenlee@mwp.com
“Filmmakers can broaden their audiences and create powerful learning
experiences for hundreds of thousands of students who might not other­
wise see a particular film. This book helps to provide resources to film­
makers looking to impact both teaching and learning in the classroom.“ 
—Joanne Ashe, founding director www.Journeysinfilm.org

“We believe in the power of film to inspire social change. With this book,
emerging filmmakers now have a resource to help them develop engaging
stories and tools to help activate audiences around the world.“
—David Linde, CEO, Participant Media

“Films can have such a profound impact on how we view the world and they
can truly create everlasting, positive change. This book will help you create
a blueprint for empowering action.“
—Morgan Spurlock, Academy Award nominated filmmaker: Super Size Me;
POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

“I have never seen anyone handle a wider variety of demands with more
grace and skill than Jon Fitzgerald. He has earned the respect and support
of everyone involved with the film community. This book is a great tool for
filmmakers to produce and distribute projects that can make a difference
in the world.“
—Steven Soderbergh, Academy Award winning filmmaker:
Traffic; Erin Brockovich

“Filmmaking has become the most powerful weapon in the world, what I
call ‘a weapon of mass construction.’ Filmmaking for Change is this new
movement’s instruction manual.“
—Louie Psihoyos, Academy Award winning filmmaker:
The Cove; executive director, Oceanic Preservation Society

“Covers how to create a documentary from start to finish... important
aspects of filmmaking, such as developing ideas, applying narrative struc­
ture, production scheduling, marketing, distribution options, film festivals,
and more. A great book for filmmakers who want to create change.“
—Tom Farr, blogger: A Journey of Faith and Creativity
“T his book reminds us that film schools should concentrate not just on the
technique of filmmaking, but the content as well, and how these stories can
inspire audiences to take action.“
—Tom Pollock, former chairman MCA/Universal, former chairman of the
board AFI, executive producer: Up In the Air

“Jon Fitzgerald’s Filmmaking for Change is an invaluable guide to making
and marketing movies that can make a difference. By critically examining
case studies of five different movies and how they were developed, pro­
duced, and distributed, Jon has provided great insight into a process that
confounds many filmmakers. This is an essential and practical guide for
filmmakers wanting to make social issue movies.“
—Mark Litwak, attorney, producer’s rep, author: Risky Business — Financing
& Distributing Independent Films; Dealmaking in the Film & Television
Industry

“Filmmaking for Change is a marvel, a revelation, and a must-read for film
buffs, indie filmmakers, film festival programmers, studio heads, film
distributors, and screenwriters.“
—Elizabeth English, founder, executive director, artistic director —
Moondance International Film Festival

“As a reviewer of documentary films, I have become passionate about the
power they have to inspire much-needed social and individual change—and
I have become intimate with the challenges documentary filmmakers face
in producing and distributing their films. Like a powerful documentary
film, I have no doubt Filmmaking for Change will ‘change’ and expand the
world of documentary filmmaking—as well as narrative films based on
critical issues of our time.“
—Don Schwartz, CineSource magazine

“It’s hard to say exactly how to make a documentary, due to its unpredictable
nature, but Filmmaking for Change manages to give useful tips, as well as
touch on the very important aspect that should be focused on from day one:
How do I get my film actually seen once it is finished (distribution)? As
someone currently filming a documentary, this was exactly the kind of book
I was looking for!“
—Erin Corrado, onemoviefiveviews.com
FilMmaKiNg
For
cHaNGE
2nd
ed

M A K E F I L M S T H AT T R A N S F O R M T H E W O R L D

JON FITZGERALD
Published by Michael Wiese Productions
12400 Ventura Blvd. #1111
Studio City, CA 91604
(818) 379-8799, (818) 986-3408 (Fax)
mw@mwp.com
www.mwp.com
Manufactured in the
United States of America

Copyright © 2017 Jon Fitzgerald

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
reproduced in any form or by any means without
permission in writing from the publisher, except for
the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.

This book was set in Scala and Gotham

Cover design by Johnny Ink.
johnnyink.com
Interior design by Debbie Berne
Copyediting by Sherry Parnes

ISBN: 9781615932771
CONTENTS

How to Use This Book  viii
Introduction  1

SECTION I — DEVELOPMENT
1 T H E P OW E R O F F I L M   7
The Open Road — Calling all Storytellers 10
The Shift is On — Time for Transformation 13

2 D O C U M E N TA RY S T O RY S T R U C T U R E  16
The Call to Action — Real to Reel 20
The Finances — Green to Green 24

3 N A R R AT I V E S T O RY S T R U C T U R E   3 4
The Stories — From Facts to Fiction 40
The Finances — Shaking the Money Tree 44

C A S E S T U D I E S : D E V E L O P M E N T   49

Words of Wisdom from Industry Professionals 60

SECTION II — PRODUCTION
1 P R E - P RO D U C T I O N   6 5
The Crew — Get Set! 76
The Final Prep — Go! 81

2 P RO D U C T I O N   8 8
The Non-Fiction Film — Documenting Reality 91
The Narrative — Filming Fiction 95

3 P O S T- P RO D U C T I O N   1 0 0
The Work Flow — Sculpting the Work 101
The Final Package — Delivering the Elements 110

C A S E S T U D I E S : P RO D U C T I O N   1 1 3

Words of Wisdom from Industry Professionals 120
SECTION III — DISTRIBUTION
1 M A R K E T I N G   1 2 5
The Strategies — Marketing 101 126
The Sales Tools — Adding the Polish 130
The Internet — Window to the World 134

2 P L AY I N G T H E F I L M F E S T I VA L C I RC U I T  14 0
The Submission Strategy — How to Join the Party 142
The Process — Get Your Dance On 150

3 D I S T R I B U T I O N   1 5 4
The Hybrid Strategy — A Paradigm Shift 166

4 A C T I VAT I O N   1 7 1
The Execution — Putting the Plan into Action 175
The Impact — Measuring Change 181

C A S E S T U D I E S : M A R K E T I N G & D I S T R I B U T I O N  186

Words of Wisdom from Industry Professionals 193

In Conclusion 197

R E S O U RC E S   1 9 9
Glossary of Terms 200
Sample Budget 203
Finishing Funds Campaign — Front the Back Nine 205
Fundraising Sample — The Back Nine Keynote 206
Sample Survey 215
Sample Press Kit — The Highest Pass 218
10 Keys to Playing the Festival Circuit 226
Host Your Own Screening Sample 230
Delivery Requirements 240
About the Author 244
H OW TO U S E T H I S B O O K

With so many different levels of independent film production, film­
maker styles, and stages of the game, this book is structured to serve
multiple functions. Whether you are an emerging or established film­
maker, film student or professor, industry professional or philanthro­
pist, these pages will speak to you. Presumably, you are interested in
the core concept and purpose of this book, which is to demonstrate the
power of film to make a difference in the world. While Planet Earth is
seeing many changes, so too is the film business. As industry veteran
Peter Broderick says, “Welcome to the New World of distribution,”
where independent filmmakers chart their own path to audiences.
With that in mind, I present the three primary stages of the life
of a movie, from the seed of an idea (Development), to the making
of the film (Production), through the final delivery to the audience
(Distribution). Throughout these general sections, as you will see in
the Table of Contents, there are subcategories, where you will discover
information on specific topics. For this 2nd Edition, we have added
Activation as a category under Distribution, which will cover they key
bases for engaging and measuring change.
At the end of each section, you will find Case Studies for five dif­
ferent films, presented as Question and Answer sessions from film­
makers on topics applicable to each respective category. And on the
heels of the Case Studies, I have included Words of Wisdom, insights
and important tips from industry professionals.
I have had the opportunity to produce and direct five documen­
taries since 2010 (The Back Nine, The Highest Pass, The Milky Way,
Warrior One, and Dance of Liberation). Each of these projects has had
a profound impact on me, and based on audience feedback, has had a
positive effect on many viewers. It was the cumulative effect of these
experiences, combined with recognizing that we are living in a time

viii
that calls for change, which led to the writing of this book. Therefore,
whenever applicable, I have included examples from my work on
these films. These Author’s Notes will be in italics for the purpose of
simple identification.
In addition, there are a number of industry terms used through­
out the book, and I have put them in bold to indicate that a definition
can be found at the back of the book in the Resources section under
Glossary of Terms.
Finally, there are some terrific documents, articles and templates
for you in the Resources section at the back of the book. These tools
apply to various stages of the journey that is filmmaking. Some film­
makers may have been thinking about making a movie for some time
and just need this extra push, or the right resource. Others may have
already started the process, or have the film in the can but are seeking
some final words of wisdom before they bring the film to the world.
Wherever you are on this path, please see Filmmaking for Change as a
support vehicle. Audiences are waiting with open eyes, looking to be
engaged, and ready to take action.

ix
Introduction

I was in grade school by the time I got my first real taste of a socially relevant
movie. I saw To Kill a Mockingbird, with my class. This was heavy,
dealing with issues of rape, racial inequality and gender roles. As evi­
denced by the fact that this movie, and of course the book from which
it is based, is taught in classes all over the world, there must be some­
thing substantial between the lines.
Then in college, the year I declared my major in Film Studies, I
saw The Thin Blue Line (1988). There’s no denying that director Errol
Morris’ acclaimed documentary made a difference. It’s the story of
Randall Dale Adams, a man who was wrongly sentenced to death for
the murder of a Dallas police officer. Adams was eventually given a
chance at a retrial, acquitted of the murder charge, and given back his
freedom.
Cut to 1999 and the movie that took the cause movie to another
level, An Inconvenient Truth. Whether or not you agree with his prem­
ise, there’s no denying that former Vice President Al Gore’s film about
the possible dangers of global warming became a cultural phenome­
non. In addition to being the fourth-highest grossing documentary in
U.S. history, An Inconvenient Truth is credited with raising awareness
of the issue around the world and helping to make climate change
a major subject of debate in subsequent political campaigns. What
participant media did with this film, and many others, was to really
connect the dots between the issues and the causes they support,

1
Filmmaking for change

while creating opportunities to take action. And from an industry per­
spective, the film proved these projects could do more than just raise
awareness, they could make money.
The First edition of Filmmaking for Change was published in 2012,
when the golden age of documentary was in full swing. I was thrilled
that the book was so embraced by the social impact film commu­
nity. From film schools to film festivals, non-profits to impact orga­
nizations, we were all recognizing the groundswell in filmmaking for
change. Thanks to the attention to the book, and by extension my com­
pany Cause Pictures, I had the pleasure of consulting on a number of
high profile projects, including Landfill Harmonic and Sold, and was
hired to produce and direct The Milky Way (a film about breastfeeding)
and Warrior One (about female empowerment).

. . .

Given the remarkable evolution of film as a storytelling device, the
current state of the world’s affairs, and our access to information, we
can expect that a new wave of filmmakers will emerge feeling the call
to create more meaningful, transformational and entertaining stories.
Documentary film production is on the rise, and these projects con­
tinue to be all the rage at film festivals, before being featured promi­
nently in the Netflix cue. It may take some aspiring filmmakers longer
than others, but many will eventually see movies as much more than
a form of entertainment or a way to get rich and famous. Independent
filmmakers will see the cause film as a new kind of opportunity; as a
vehicle to make a difference in the world. Many projects will be devel­
oped by accomplished filmmakers, with others being conceived by
non professional citizens and groups, simply recognizing cinema as a
powerful tool for change.
Filmmakers, industry leaders and educators are coming to recog­
nize that the old model is broken. A new paradigm is taking shape, and
a new cause genre is being defined. Audiences want to be enlightened

2
introduction

through entertainment. More than welcome this, we need to nurture
it. It may take some longer than others—for aspiring filmmakers to
see movies as much more than a form of entertainment or a way to
get rich and famous. This next generation of independent filmmakers
should see the cause film as a road to opportunity, but they will have to
learn to wear many hats. They will have to be more than visual artists,
more than documentarians. They have to become entrepreneurs in
their own right, and help in redefining the business model.
Celebrities are joining the documentary ranks en masse, and docu­
mentarians become celebrities. Morgan Freeman, Leonardo DiCaprio
and Fisher Stevens have participated in leading documentaries; and
studio director James Cameron formed Earthship Productions to
make documentaries about ocean exploration and conservation.
There continues to be an increase in social impact filmmaking,
from indie to mainstream, in all categories and formats, documentary,
narrative, VR and “premium” content. Yes, there are still a number
of low-end realty shows, but their target audiences are not trying to
change the world. Audiences are calling out for more films about the
world we’re living in. And someone’s listening. We have more the­
atrical releases for cause movies, more diverse digital platforms pre­
senting documentaries and classes being offered in colleges across
the country.
Indeed, our filmmakers of tomorrow have a new calling,
Filmmaking for Change. These projects are made with a goal in mind,
a mission to share, and a movement to foster. With the information
provided in the following pages, I hope to provide insights for this new
model, filmmaking anchored by a cause, with engaging stories pro­
duced in an entertaining way. Like any art form, filmmaking has many
styles, formats and tricks of the trade. Fortunately, in the documentary
category, I’m proposing a structure that provides a roadmap, for the
seasoned filmmaker and the emerging change maker. From the idea
to production, distribution through audience engagement, the tools
are here.

3
As the Cause Cinema genre becomes more defined, along with
the expanding distribution platforms, it will become more import­
ant to mobilize impact campaigns. Inspired audiences want a clear
path so they can join the movement. For this reason, I have added the
“Activation” section to this 2nd Edition. Social impact films are made
with a goal in mind. Our challenge is to share engaging stories that
cause action, which then leads to measurable results. Let’s demon­
strate how these films can truly help transform the world.


SECTION I

DEVELOPMENT
“If you want to send a message, call Western Union”
—Samuel Goldwyn, MGM

5
1
THE POWER OF FILM
T H E H E R O ’ S J O U R N E Y   —   A PAT H W I T H P U R P O S E

Throughout human history people have shared stories. Whether around a
campfire, at a theater or in a living room, storytelling has always been
more than just a form of entertainment. It has been a vehicle to pass
on important information about the human experience, trigger imag­
ination, and at its best, provide inspiration for future generations. We
have always pondered our place in the world, with a few timeless ques­
tions. Why we are here? Where are we going? What is our purpose?
The early tales eventually became myths, and as presented by
Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, a deeper, met­
aphorical context to human storytelling evolved. Campbell applied
significance to the connection between myth and the cultures of the
world. The quest, a symbolic yearning for inner transformation that
all heroes seem to share, became the anchor for his revered text, The
Hero’s Journey.
People identify with heroes, living through them, participating in
their journey, and finding ways to integrate these stories into their
own lives. From the dramatic excitement of the nickelodeons of the
late 1900’s to the event pictures of today, audiences have always had
a thirst for seeing stories on screen; for the “spectacle”. And yet, while

7
Filmmaking for change

the “escape” factor has always been a key part of the draw, and the psy­
chological effects of the communal theater experience is significant,
motion pictures have demonstrated their ability to transcend pure
entertainment. Many studio and independent pictures have inspired
us to take a closer look at ourselves, the issues and other cultures in
the world around us.
Motion pictures produced in the early 20th Century were primar­
ily about real people, dealing with real issues. We didn’t have special
effects as we know them today. Fiction or not, audiences connected
with the stories on a tangible, personal level. For the narratives to be
compelling, they had to have engaging characters doing things that
members of the target audience could connect with. They had to share
emotions we could relate to in our own lives. One of the early film
pioneers, DW Griffith, created Birth of a Nation (1915), demonstrating
a remarkable emotional power. “It was the first film to be taken seri­
ously as a political statement and it has never failed to be regarded
seriously as a ‘sociological document.’ People who had previously dis­
missed the movies as nothing more than crude entertainment sud­
denly realized that they had become the century’s most potent and
provocative medium of expression . . . mass communication, mass
entertainment and also the possibility of mass indoctrination,” said
historian Harry Geduld.
During the Golden Age of Hollywood, considered by many to be
the late 1920s to the early 1960s, the studios churned out thousands
of films, in numerous genres. They built a very profitable industry,
with commerce winning out over art. Studio executives didn’t openly
embrace the idea of producing movies with any social relevance, sto­
ries with purpose. Studio pioneer Sam Goldwyn once said, “If you
want to send a message, call Western Union.” It is clear, however, a
number of movies presented audiences with important issues of
their day, sharing relatable themes and often a taste of their history.
Whether this was a primary intention, or they refused to admit it, stu­
dios did give audiences a fair share of meaningful pictures.

8
THE POWER OF FILM

As you will see in the pages that follow, in the golden age of
Hollywood, many of the most successful films at the box office were
also the most critically acclaimed. The filmmakers running the stu­
dios at the time had a pulse on the audiences of the day. Many of
the films were based on books, but the storylines hinged on historical
context, such as Gone with the Wind and All Quiet on the Western Front.
And while the source material broadened, and the studio system con­
tinued to evolve, it wasn’t until the advent of the studio blockbuster
that the industry started its downward spiral. The percentage of pres­
tige pictures gave way to formulaic studio fare.
Good news, bad news. Always the bad news first. Once the stu­
dios began trying to find the next blockbuster, and produce the next
remake or reboot, their efforts to support the more difficult, “mean­
ingful” movie was greatly reduced. The good news is that a number
of independently produced films found their way into the multiplex.
From An Inconvenient Truth (2006) to Precious (2009), a number of
wonderful, meaningful pictures found their way to the screen, and
thanks to Amazon, iTunes, Netflix, evolving VOD platforms and the
growth of online exhibition, more of these cause-related pictures are
finding audiences than ever before.
With films produced by companies like Participant Media and
released by distributors like Roadside Attractions, audiences have
learned more about the cultural and social issues we now face. Equally
important, a number of these films have had a direct impact on the
world around us. When Morgan Spurlock made Super Size Me (2004),
a public nutrition debate kicked into high gear and six weeks after the
film premiered, McDonald’s announced that it was eliminating the
Super Size option from its menu. How’s that for the power of film?
In tracking this specific sub genre of food and nutrition, for exam­
ple, we had Food, Inc. (2008) from Participant Media and Food Matters
(2008), followed by Forks Over Knives (2011), which spawned many
ancillary business lines. More than a dozen popular food docs graced
the digital platforms in the past few years, with Food Matters launching

9
Filmmaking for change

their own channel (www.fmtv.com) and Netflix creating a hit series
with Chefs Table. Yes, a slight sidebar. But the point is, audiences are
embracing stories about real people, with real issues, in a culture with
a growing concern about our well being.

T H E O P E N R OA D   —   C A L L I N G A L L STO RY T E L L E R S

In terms of competition or economics, barriers to entry are typically
considered obstacles to enter into an existing market, or those a person
may face to enter a certain field or profession. Sometimes they involve
official rules or high costs, making it difficult for a person or company
to get into a particular type of business. One of the best things about
the film business is this: there are no rules. And anytime it seems a
rule or formula was being established, a rule breaker comes along. As
distinguished screenwriter William Goldman once said, referring to
Hollywood, “Nobody knows anything.”
Films are not widgets. They’re stories. Some our greatest story­
tellers were playing with cameras at an early age (Steven Spielberg),
while others learned their craft in film school programs (Francis Ford
Coppola). Regardless of their path, one of the few constants in this
industry is that the “discovery” of a good story can come from any­
where, and anybody. If you have the perseverance, there are low bar­
riers to entry.
A few years ago, Brian Wendel was selling real estate. He had
been conscious of the value of nutrition and how it can affect your
life. A healthy diet makes you stronger, your mind sharper, and as he
would come to learn, it can actually save your life. Wanting to share
these ideas with the world, he explored the best avenues. Brian was
not a filmmaker by trade, but he ultimately realized film was the best
medium to share this information. A few calls and two meetings later,
he had a producer, a director and the title for his movie. Forks Over
Knives was born. (More on this film and the process from the seed of
the idea to release on DVD can be found in the Case Studies section.)

10
THE POWER OF FILM

This is just one of many inspirational examples, where the germ
of an idea becomes a movie that can transform lives. Of Forks Over
Knives, Roger Ebert said, “Here is a film that could save your life.” As
you will see in the pages that follow, there are many different catego­
ries, issue-engaging stories that can make a difference. The trick is to
discover that core concept, find the characters that can help shape the
story, and surround yourself with the best team to bring the project to
life. Anyone with an idea, passion to share it and a healthy dose of deter­
mination can get a movie made. The trick is to find the all-star team that
will give you the best production value you can get for the money.
Two lactation consultants wanted to use the power of film to share
their insights on the significance of breastfeeding, and America’s
failure to support the nursing phenomenon. They wanted to know
why we had a 15 percent success rate of breastfeeding in America, as
opposed to over 90 percent in several Scandinavian countries; and
provide scientific data and expert analysis to support the importance
of breastfeeding. Fortunately, one of them had worked with my fam­
ily, so it was an easy connection point, and The Milky Way (2014) was
born. These nurses became filmmakers and started a movement to
restore the nursing mother archetype.
There was a similar revolution in the 1990’s. Several indie film­
makers made highly profitable movies, produced at a very low cost.
Their success triggered an avalanche, and mountains of horrible indie
films flooded festival directors around the world. I know, because I
was one of those festival directors!
It started with El Mariachi (1992), a little film shot for less than
$7,000. The movie played to much success on the film festival cir­
cuit, was acquired by Columbia and went on to gross over two million
dollars at the box office. More importantly, it launched the career of
Robert Rodriguez; and his book (“Rebel Without a Crew”) and DVD
extra “Ten Minute Film School” became popular with emerging film­
makers wanting to follow his example of making movies for a price.
Then Kevin Smith burst onto the scene with Clerks (1994) at the
Sundance Film Festival. The film was made for under $30,000, did

11
Filmmaking for change

over three million at the domestic box office, and demonstrated once
again how you can make an entertaining film for very little money.
The prize for the biggest success, in terms of cost to revenue ratio,
belongs to the Blair Witch Project (1999). This little movie was shot for
under $30,000. Of course, it ended up costing over $400,000 to fin­
ish, with another 25 million put into prints and advertising budgets,
but the franchise has generated over 500 million in revenues.
While these films don’t fall into the cause film bucket, they repre­
sented a significant movement for independent cinema and demon­
strated what can be done with very little money. These films spawned
a new generation of filmmakers, as independent artists came out of
nowhere to make movies. We saw a proliferation of film programs in
colleges. And while some emerging filmmakers learned the hard way
that this business was not for them, this low barrier of entry enabled
many true artists to find their calling. Documentary filmmakers cer­
tainly took notice.
As we moved into the new millennium, a number of quality
non-fiction filmmakers came to the forefront, and one of the more
unique talents was Morgan Spurlock. He had learned of two over­
weight kids suing McDonalds. In their suit, they argued that they had
become obese as a result of eating McDonalds food. They ultimately
lost the lawsuit, but Spurlock decided to make a movie on the subject,
documenting the effects of eating only McDonalds for 30 days. The
result was Super Size Me (2004). He wanted to explore the psycho­
logical and physiological effects this food would have on him person­
ally, as well as how the fast food industry continues to encourage poor
nutrition for its own profit.
Not only is this an entertaining and award-winning documen­
tary, but it was shot for less than $64,000, using a Sony DSR PD150
(which you can buy for less than $1,000). The movie went on to gross
over 11 million dollars theatrically in the U.S., and over nine million
in foreign markets. While the movie brings up some major issues,
from corporate greed to America’s problem with obesity, it once again

12
THE POWER OF FILM

demonstrates how a film, anchored by an important issue, can be
made for modest amount of money, certainly by Hollywood standards.
There will be more on this topic in the Production section of the
book, and this is not meant to be an oversimplification on the subject,
but for less than $5,000 you can acquire the minimum tools needed
to make a powerful film. Of course, there are a lot of questions to be
answered in terms of crew costs and final delivery, but consider these
key ingredients:

1 Digital Camera: Canon, Nikon $300–$2,000
2 Sound: Seinheiser Microphone Package $1,500 or less
3 Editing Software: Final Cut Pro $300
4 Laptop Computer: MacBook Pro $1,500 or less

With a good idea, and the right team, you can develop a storyline
and put the project into production. It will take a great deal of time
and commitment, but it’s a small price to pay to make a difference
in the world. With such low barriers to entry, the time is now to take
that leap.

T H E S H I F T I S O N   —   T I M E F O R T R A N S F O R M AT I O N

Now, more than ever before, audiences are seeking characters they
can connect with, heroes they can relate to, cultural revelations. With
obstacles that include the economy, a deteriorating environment, and
issues of human rights just to name a few, filmmakers have captivat­
ing, important, and relevant subjects to explore.
Audiences are also looking for correlations to the environment.
They want to know what is happening in the world around them, and
why. There is a reason why cause movies are in demand. People are
looking for answers. And let’s face it, charities and causes are in vogue.
There were over 250 billion dollars in charitable donations in 2011,

13
Filmmaking for change

and 373 billion in 2015. Studies show that more than 83 percent of con­
sumers polled want to contribute to companies who give back to char­
ities, or where a percentage of their purchases goes to worthy causes.
Corporations are starting Cause Marketing divisions, and financing
sweepstakes with money and prizes going to causes. People are finally
getting altruism, and even more studies show that giving makes peo­
ple feel good. Imagine that! Charity is no longer an obstacle. It’s an
opportunity. Whatever angle you want to play, it’s clear. People want to
make a difference.
From a filmmaking and storytelling perspective, reporters are
talking about how news content is shifting more and more towards
video content. Authors are writing about how business slogans and
pitches need to be more like stories, and A-list producers are look­
ing for more meaningful movies. Finally, entrepreneurs like Jeff Skoll
(Ebay) created Participant Media and Ted Leonsis (AOL) coined the
term filmanthropy, launching online documentary site SnagFilms.com.
CauseCinema.com will be the cause portal, guiding audiences to
the best in social impact cinema, connecting movies to related causes.
Hell, if they can make dark crime dramas in the 1940’s and 50’s, from
stories that emerged in the U.S. during the depression and call it Film
Noir, why can’t we create a new subgenre for our time? Cause Cinema
represents the socially relevant films of the day, with the stories being
connected more directly the causes they support. If we’re living in the
golden age of the documentary, now is the time to coin the term, as we
all welcome the opportunity to use film to affect positive change.

14
« T H E P OW E R O F F I L M »

SUMMARY POINTS

·· The quest, a symbolic yearning for inner transformation that
all heroes seem to share, became the anchor for Joseph
Campbell’s, The Hero’s Journey, a tool eventually used as a
storytelling structure in filmmaking.

·· People identify with heroes in movies, living through them,
participating in their journey and finding ways to integrate
these stories into their own lives.

·· In independent filmmaking, the germ of an idea becomes a
movie that can transform lives.

·· For less than $5,000, you can acquire the minimum tools
needed to make a powerful film.

·· Audiences want to know what is happening in the world
around them, for correlations in their environment; which is
the reason why cause movies are in demand.

EXERCISES

1 Watch one of your favorite films from the past and see if you
can identify elements of the hero’s journey and how character
traits or points made throughout the film relate to your life.

2 Consider any movie that won the Academy Award for Best
Picture, and see if you can articulate to a friend or on paper
the “message” of the movie.

3 Visit your favorite online video store and review the
documentary options. After selecting and watching a movie,
take a few moments to identify the issues raised in the film.

15
2
DOCUMENTARY
STORY STRUCTURE
T H E H I S T O R Y   —   TA L E S O F T R U T H

A few years after DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915) and the simultaneous
development of the Hollywood studios, a genre dubbed the “narrative
documentary,” was taking shape. By their very nature, these non-fiction
films provided a glimpse into other cultures and issues of the world.
Robert Flaherty, for example, became interested in the harsh lives of
the Eskimos of the Belcher Islands. After living with an Eskimo family
for fifteen months and filming their daily lives, he edited the footage
into a feature documentary entitled Nanook of the North (1922). The
film achieved great critical and commercial success.
Another documentary, Grass (1925), highlighted the extreme
hardships faced by nomadic peoples, as well as the bravery and inge­
nuity of the Bakhtiari. At the same time, the film is also a reflection of
the context out of which it emerged, that of Hollywood in the 1920s.
The central concern of Grass is to present primordial human struggle
with harsh environments, as in the Nanook of the North. Like Nanook,
the filmmakers attempt to document “timeless” and “ancient” human
struggles.

16
DOCUMENTARY STORY STRUCTURE

Both of these documentaries were deemed “culturally, historically,
or aesthetically significant” and selected for preservation in the United
States Library of Congress National Film Registry. These, however,
were exceptions to the rule. While a few filmmakers sprinkled doc­
umentary works into the mix over the years, most struggled to find
movie screens. Studio movies, driven by narrative storytelling and
made with recognizable talent, dominated theaters.
Over the years, it continued to be a struggle for documentaries
to find screen time in theaters, but with the advent of television, they
would find an audience at home. A few movies really stood out in
this period. Michael Apted kicked off The Up Series (1964)
with a sim­
ple hook: Fourteen British schoolchildren would be interviewed every
seven years, well into adulthood. Seven installments later, this series
continues to provide powerful insight into the cycles of life. More rock
doc than Cause picture was DA Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back (1967).
Tracing Bob Dylan’s England tour in 1964, the film became a land­
mark in both film and rock history. High School (1968)
was Frederick
Wiseman’s exploration of a Philadelphia school, deftly weaving in
a social critique, as the authority figures feeding kids hollow values
took on a new level of significance. Not only did this project strike a
nerve with general audiences, it was one of the first to be presented
in schools across the country, as an example of using film as a tool for
discussion on the issues at hand.
Documentary took another big step forward with Roger & Me in
1989, a film that was given a fairly wide theatrical release for a non-­
fiction title. The film also presented the controversial Michael Moore
to the world, who would go on to make a number of successful films,
including Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, Sicko, and Capitalism:
A Love Story. Love him or hate him, he really helped to establish the
documentary as a commercially viable medium.
In 1994, one of the best films of the decade took the festival circuit
by storm, in Hoop Dreams. In fact, Roger Ebert picked it as his number
one film of the year, and later of the decade! The project tracks two

17
Filmmaking for change

young African America youths and their quest to play professional
basketball. Filmmakers had originally intended for the film to cover a
grade school transition and their personal struggles. Yet, as the story
evolved, they chose to continue filming, ultimately taking nearly 10
years from start to finish.
In the new millennium, the documentary genre really took off.
They started to score at the theatrical box office like never before, with
Fahrenheit/911 (2004) and March Of The Penguins (2005) both gross­
ing over 100 million dollars, with Moore’s film leading the charge.
With his blue-collar persona, Michael Moore used a loud camera
voice to inspire debate. His subjective documentary style of filmmak­
ing catered to a generation immersed in audio/visual stimulation.
Fahrenheit 9/11 pushed the boundaries of politics and entertainment.
With a mixture of popular music, humor, and documentary-style sto­
rytelling, Moore was able to involve audience members in ways that
politics alone could not. With a release so close to an election, people
did try to prohibit the film’s release. However, Moore used the sur­
rounding drama to fuel the promotion of his movie, stating, “I want to
thank all the right-wing organizations out there that tried to stop this
movie either through harassment campaigns, going to the FEC to get
our ads removed from television, or the things they said on television.
All they have done is given more publicity to the film.”
Following in these footsteps, the popularity of the genre contin­
ued to grow, with twenty of the top twenty-five grossing documenta­
ries in history being made in between 2000-2010. At film festivals,
largely considered a barometer for quality independent cinema, the
documentary sections generated more buzz than the narratives time
and time again.
Here are 10 of the standouts:

1 Food Inc. (2008)
2 An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
3 Inside Job (2010)
4 March of the Penguins (2005)

18
DOCUMENTARY STORY STRUCTURE

5 Super Size Me (2004)
6 Born Into Brothels (2004)
7 Hoop Dreams (1994)
8 Citizenfour (2014)
9 Fog Of War (2003)
10 Waiting for Superman (2010)

The genre had evolved from being a primarily static, talking
heads category, to a broader range of technical styles and structures,
with more of a narrative flow and heightened sense of storytelling.
Examples include: Man on Wire (2008), The Cove (2009), and Exit
Through the Gift Shop (2010). While there were some great biopics
and slice of life docs over the years (Crumb (1994); Hearts Of Darkness
(1991); Fast, Cheap and out of Control (1997); and Grizzly Man (2005))
and Rock Docs (The Last Waltz (1978); Gimme Shelter (1969); Stop
Making Sense (1984); Don’t Look Back (1969); and Bob Dylan: No
Direction Home (2005)), playing the nostalgia card, it was this new
chapter in the genre that really led to what many are indeed calling
the Golden Age of Documentary. “Although dramatic films based on
real life are in vogue, cinema’s most direct connection to the world at
large remains the documentary film, and 2010 has seen a remarkable
resurgence of the form,” says Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times.
Another contributing factor is simply the current landscape of
the world. Clearly, we are living in difficult times. From the economic
and political crises to global warming, and a full range of social and
ecological issues in between, audiences seem to be turning to the doc­
umentary to get some answers. “I really do think we are living in a
golden age of documentary filmmaking. There is a frustration with
traditional media and a hunger for documentaries that have the stamp
of integrity. People are looking for bigger truths about the way we live
now, truths they are not getting from Hollywood or the traditional
media,” says filmmaker Lucy Walker. As the stories change, so do their
platforms and values. We are now living in a time of uncertainty, and
the need for more socially relevant stories has emerged. 

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Filmmaking for change

T H E C A L L TO AC T I O N   —   R E A L TO R E E L

So you want to make an engaging film; tell a story that will make a
difference in the world. Now what? If you already have a subject mat­
ter or an idea to explore, you are ahead of the game. If not, where do
the ideas come from? There are a number of resources to help you
find the idea you really connect with. Whether it’s surfing the net for
compelling characters, stories or causes, or going a more traditional
route of perusing publications (books, newspapers or magazines), the
ideas are out there.
Perhaps you know an issue you want to explore, such as education
or the environment. If so, what’s the angle? Do you have someone in
mind, a “hero” to anchor the story? It all comes down to telling an
interesting story. One of the most successful television shows off all
time is 60 Minutes. When the founder, Don Hewitt, was asked how
they decided what segments to produce, he said it was pretty simple:
“Tell me a story”. Yes, they made good choices about their subjects and
had the journalistic experience to present the stories in compelling
way. This is just an example of just how important “story” is.
Often times, news content presents the core idea for a good movie.
They can even present a rich and detailed history that provides much
more than just an idea. Is the story already connected to a “cause” or
are there themes you can easily connect? Publisher GOOD is a great
resource (https://www.good.is/), as is www.causes.com.
There are literally hundreds of categories that have subcategories;
and many real people with real stories to tell that can inspire audi­
ences to take action. Here are some to consider:

• Education
• Environment (Ocean, Pollution, Nature Preservation)
• Human Rights
• Inspiration
• Animal Rights

20
DOCUMENTARY STORY STRUCTURE

• War
• Health (Cancer, Aids, Autism, TB, Depression, Obesity)
• Arts
• Political
• International Issues
• Children
• Homelessness
• Water Crisis

In 2007, I was ready to transition back into filmmaking. I had a couple of
investors and wanted to make a movie for a price. Something I could control.
I didn’t want to wait around for one of my bigger projects to get the ever-elu-
sive ‘green light.’ I was walking down the fairway on a golf course in Palm
Springs, doing what I love to do. Then the idea hit me. I wondered if it was
possible to become a professional athlete after turning 40. Was it ever too
late to chase a dream? I was sliding into 40 and was up for the challenge. I
talked to some friends, and did some research about the number of golfers in
the U.S., North America, and the world. In short order, I learned there were
well over 50 million golfers in North America alone! I would call my film Be
The Ball—after that famous line in Caddyshack. I would walk into a golf
pro’s office and say “You have 10 years to make me good enough to qualify in
a professional tournament. Is it possible?” I developed a plan, a budget and
a tagline: ‘It’s never too late to become what you wanted to be.’ I had a cheap
HD camera, and an assistant with camera experience. I was ready to move
into production . . .

Once you have a subject, category or idea, there are other key factors
to consider, including:

• Goals for the movie
• Audience
• Time commitment

21
Filmmaking for change

Having a goal for the movie may seem obvious. You want to make
a movie that tells a great story. One that manages to raise awareness
of an issue. Bring attention to a subject. Get people to take action.
These are all great ideals. I’ve talked to a few filmmakers who have
been fortunate enough to work on some amazing documentaries; and
when I asked about next steps, or their call to action, they say, “I’m a
filmmaker, and am onto my next movie.” Surprising, yes, but it cer­
tainly helps to know your purpose, and your strengths. If making the
film is a gig, the activation of a movement may not carry the same
weight. This is where your goal for the project comes into play. Are
there specific goals? Targets? Do you want to get a law passed? And
who is paying for the project? Do they want their money back, or is it a
donation for the greater good? These are all questions, many of which
will be addressed in the Activation section of Part III, but they key is to
start with the end in mind . . . right from the beginning.

When I started working with Jill Wheeler on Warrior One, she was already
providing support for groups and individuals in the category of empowerment
and leadership, primarily working young girls and women. She had dreamed
of taking a team of girls into nature, incorporating what she calls ‘adventure
therapy’. Jill also knew how the power of film could inspire other kids seeing
the movie to think differently about themselves, find more positive influences,
and find their path to become leaders in their own right. The intention was
always to be able to show the movie to kids, to present it in schools and screen
for organizations. By seeing these underprivileged kids go through a training
program that culminates in a trek in Peru, to the peaks of Machu Picchu,
viewers are inspired themselves.

If you are developing a movie to have an impact, reaching your target
audience is typically part of the goal. Of course, most filmmakers put­
ting time into the production of a movie would love to have the biggest
audience possible. But many get sidetracked with visions of theatrical
grandeur. They think that theatrical release is the Holy Grail. There
are many reasons, detailed at length in Section III, that this may not

22
DOCUMENTARY STORY STRUCTURE

make the most sense for your movie; and it may prove counterpro­
ductive to your primary goal. Are you thinking National Geographic,
Discovery Channel, or HBO? If your goal is to get the film on HBO,
one of the more prestigious networks, you should know that as of this
writing, they only buy 38 documentary features a year. And in 2011,
there were over 2,000 documentaries made—that we know about!
The point of this exercise is to consider the playing field. If you
have an important story to share, a message to get out there, you can
make it happen; but you have to be realistic. Dream big, but manage
expectations. Are you content to play the festival circuit and sell your
DVD on Amazon (which virtually anyone can do)? Or do you have
higher aspirations for the film? For example, I would argue that film
festivals have become a form of distribution for many documentaries
(and narrative films, for that matter) that would not otherwise find
them. Some films play dozens, or even hundreds, of festivals. Do the
math. That’s a lot of people, seeing your movie, on the big-screen.
And you won’t have to spend 30 million dollars (the current studio
average) to put those cheeks in seats. BUT you don’t make any money.
Then again, cause based movies aren’t about money. They are about
creating awareness, sharing issues, with and for audiences, inspiring
them to take action.
Which brings us to the next point. Know your audience. Again,
you just may be passionate about a person, cause or story and are
committed to getting it made. But you have to know going in whether
there is a legitimate core audience for it. Of course, you can buy your­
self a Canon 7D for a mere fifteen hundred bucks, use your iPhone,
or hire a cameraman who will work for free for the credit and shoot
your movie. But if you want more than your friends and family to
see it, you need to do some research about the core audience you are
trying to reach. There are many ways to target that core audience (see
Section III), and if the story is truly compelling, you always have that
chance of crossover to other, more general audiences. You are looking
for viewers to champion your movie, and hopefully spread the word to
the less obvious of audiences. Chances are if the story falls into one of

23
Filmmaking for change

the sub-categories listed above, you are well on your way; but you still
have to do some more homework.
This conveniently leads me to the next point. Commitment. If
you have already worked in the business, on a movie or perhaps even
made a film, you already know this idea is key to success. But for the
emerging filmmaker, I can’t stress this enough. To do this right, to
develop the subject fully, produce the best movie and get it out into
the world, you’re looking at an average three-year commitment. Sure,
you can interview your subject, put in some pretty pictures and slam
it together in Final Cut in a few weeks; but you will most likely never
fully realize your audience with that project. And let’s remember why
you are reading this book in the first place. You want to make a movie
that can transform the world. You can’t have an impact with your proj­
ect if nobody sees it. So let’s assume you are one of the filmmakers
ready to develop an amazing story, produce it in an informative and
creative way, en route to finding the widest audience possible. This
takes time, but it’s worth it. You will enjoy the process, a journey you
will never forget, AND you will make a difference in the lives of many.
So make sure you are totally committed to the idea before you take
the leap.

THE FINANCES — GREEN TO GREEN

We’re going to assume you are firing on all cylinders if you’ve gotten
this far. You have a general idea that it’s going to make a difference
in the world, one that’s going to help us grow. You know there is an
audience and are willing to make the commitment. The next thing
you have to consider is the money. If you are very well off and are will­
ing to risk putting money into an endeavor that may not fully recoup,
that’s great. But if you are going to borrow from your family, take out
a second mortgage on the house, apply for some extra credit cards

24
DOCUMENTARY STORY STRUCTURE

and/or seek investors, there will be some sense of obligation to try
and make the money back. Or are social returns going to outweigh
financial returns?
I have seen amazing documentaries that cost very little, and some
cost well over a million dollars. Some ideas have a big core audience.
Others are not as obvious. Again, do your homework. Research what
projects with similar targets have done, what docs with similar struc­
ture have generated in revenues. This information is not always pub­
lished, but you would be surprised how open most documentary film­
makers are. More often than not, they will share information to help
a fellow filmmaker.
Of course, it comes back to the goals for the film and the story. We
will go over these items in greater detail in the Production section of
the book (and we have included several budgets, at different produc­
tions levels, in the Resources section of the book), but before you can
lock into a budget, you have to be able to answer many questions that
fall into these buckets:

Production Schedule

Like a traditional narrative film, will you establish a shooting sched­
ule? For example, can you schedule your shoot over a few days in three
to four weeks? Will it be periodic filming over the course of a year
or more? March of the Penguins was filmed over the course of a year.
Hoop Dreams for nearly 10 years. It really depends on the story, subject
and structure of your project. We shot The Back Nine over a three-
year period, but The Highest Pass was a scheduled three-week shoot, as
we essentially filmed a planned motorcycle adventure, with a specific
destination in mind. These are important questions because you will
most likely have to pay and feed your crew, and you may have to rent
gear, so the number of days/weeks is crucial to budgeting properly.

25
Filmmaking for change

Crew

Many docs are filmed by the director/producer, but given the oppor­
tunity, it’s always best to have a trained Director of Photography (DP).
The same goes for sound. I’ve seen directors plugging wireless micro­
phones into the camera, and I’ve done it myself. But the sound comes
out better with the right equipment and sound person. They know
how to test the levels and adjust for changing environments; and
sound is important to the overall production value of the project. Both
cinematography and sound are often taken for granted on indepen­
dent film projects. And yes, with documentary, there are times when
the realistic look, cinema verite, can work to your advantage; but make
it a stylistic choice and not a bad result from lack of planning.

Post-Production

Will you be working out of an office, with the editorial team coming
in daily for a period of months? Will they do it out of their home? Will
you buy Final Cut and do it on your laptop? These decisions obviously
can affect the budget and the timing of post-production process. To
some extent, knowing what your intentions are with the final product,
in terms of distribution, will help to dictate this. Again, you can do
the home movie, post it on YouTube and share with friends model,
but we’re trying to affect positive change, right? So let’s develop the
best idea, hire the right team and bring it out to world. If with widest
distribution platforms possible is the target, then there will most likely
be lab costs (color correction, final mixing and tape/DVD) stock you
cannot avoid (again, see budgets in Resources section).

Deliverables

Back to the goal for distribution. If you plan to consider any combina­
tion of the following, you will have a long list of different media types

26
DOCUMENTARY STORY STRUCTURE

and sound mixes to consider: Film festivals, DVD replication and
duplication, VOD and SVOD, International territories, and perhaps
even theatrical. What about extras? Some are easier and less expensive
than others. The Case Studies and budgets in the Resources section
will provide more info, but just wanted this on the radar. Making some
decisions on these categories can help shape the direction, cost and
ultimately the story structure.
In many cases these past few years, a number of feature length
social impact documentaries are given a slimmed down “educational”
cut version, usually between 35-50 min. This can help with certain
broadcast regions, as well as work for the classroom setting.

Unlike the golf movie mentioned above, my next documentary (The Highest
Pass) had a set schedule and a set budget. The hero of the story, Adam
Schomer, brought us this amazing project with the dates and “journey”
already set. He pitched me the idea: A small team of riders followed Indian
yogi Anand Mehrotra on a motorcycle adventure through the Himalayas, to
the highest motorable road in the world (at 18,500 ft.). Oh, and the leader,
Anand, was carrying a prophesy given to him at birth that he would die
at the age of 27 in an accident. And yes, he was 27. The trip was already
planned. We had to reduce the original budget and make some crew changes,
but ultimately, we set the budget at $125,000 and booked our flights. Within a
few weeks, Adam was in India working with Anand on logistics for the riders
and finding some local crew to support, while I stayed in LA to finish prep. I
found a great DP (Dean Mitchell) who had experience filming with motor-
cycles. Dean and I pulled together the gear and headed for India for approxi-
mately three weeks of shooting . . .

Story Research

Before pulling the trigger on a project that will not only require major
commitment but have an impact on the community, you need to do
your homework. What films may have been made on the subject?

27
Filmmaking for change

Which documentaries have proven successful, with critics and/or
audiences? Can you produce a film that will make a difference? Which
film(s) have certain structural elements you can model, yet allow for
your own unique perspective and creativity?
I was fortunate in falling into the role of festival director; by
default, we started Slamdance to show our own films. I found myself
in a position to have to watch literally thousands of movies over the
years. I watched some in my living room and some in a theater with
audiences. Either way, there was huge value and learning in my being
able to see, experience, and compare films.
There are a number of film lists worth considering. One is Kevin
Kelly’s “200 Films You Must see Before you Die” (http://www.kk.org/
books/tf3.pdf), and more recently Super Size Me director Morgan
Spurlock, who worked with Current TV put out “50 Documentaries
to see before You Die.” Google provides many more, from Roger Ebert
to Paste Magazine.
If you have a subject that will cost a pretty penny, you will also
want to think of the distribution opportunities, looking at both conser­
vative and optimistic viewpoints. If you spend several hundred thou­
sand dollars or more, for example, you will need to find a combination
of distribution platforms. You may not need theatrical, but you will
have to achieve a certain level of storytelling and production value to
secure a cable deal, and perhaps DVDD and SVOD. There are excep­
tions to the rule, where certain films did a special event release, or sold
several hundred thousand DVD units out of their garage, but you have
to manage expectations and build from there.
If the film has a direct cause, can you approach the related chari­
ties for feedback, support and leads? Are there special interest groups
that can ensure some level of support for the release of the film?
These are all considerations. Again, it’s great to have a noble
cause, and tell a story that is important to you; but if you are going
to tackle an issue that can really have an impact on our culture, the
movie needs to have a certain level of storytelling, production value,

28
DOCUMENTARY STORY STRUCTURE

and audience penetration. To appeal even to your core audience, the
movie needs a certain sense of storytelling. Long gone are the days
of talking heads, snore fest documentaries. The reason this genre is
thriving is because filmmakers have picked up on the idea that the
structure can have more unique visuals and a more narrative flow; and
connect with audiences in a similar way to traditional fictional films.
Once you have your core idea, and feel there is an audience for it,
it can help to think about a storyline. Yes, it will change in post; but
what I learned is you have to start with a big ball of clay—your core
idea—and then you sculpt from there. You go in with a core concept,
an issue you want to present; and then you find the best story and ele­
ments to hang from it to best engage the audience. You need enough
to seed the imagination, perhaps tug on the heartstrings, and then put
in a framework that audiences can understand.
At some point early in my career, I read an amazing book called
The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. I had heard about Hero
with a Thousand Faces, but it was Vogler who fed these ideas of the
hero’s journey into a screenplay structure. This was a game changer
for me. Followed by Myth & the Movies: Discovering the Myth Structure
of 50 Unforgettable Films by Stuart Voytilla, where he applied these
concepts of the Hero’s Journey to 50 movies in varying genres. And
it wasn’t just Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, the list included
Dances With Wolves and Boyz N the Hood. I was certain that this model
could be applied to the documentary category, and what I hope we are
defining as a subcategory, the Cause genre. Based on these concrete
examples, audiences clearly embraced the idea of a hero who had to go
through a certain number of “phases” in life.
I could take a subject/hero and their fundamental purpose and
feed it into this framework. They all start somewhere (Ordinary
World), find themselves on a mission/journey (Call to Adventure) and
have to go through a series of obstacles (Tests) to face their greatest
challenge (Ordeal) and ultimately have to find their way back (Return
Home). I can assure you that there is a very good chance you can work

29
Filmmaking for change

Myth and the Movies, your subject matter into such a structure. And by
written by Stuart
Voytilla. His books have the way, you can lay this out on a dry erase board,
been very influential
in the development on 3 X 5 cards or in Final Draft, just to give some
of many indie and
Hollywood mov-
structure to your shoot.
ies, and in our three However, know this throughout the develop­
documentaries.
ment process: After filming, your movie will not
be what you expected it to be. The trick is to have
a goal, and know your core idea has purpose. All
you can do is prepare as much as possible. Do
your homework and enjoy the process. Develop
the key pieces of the story as much as pre-produc­
tion will allow. Make sure you can afford to shoot
the movie you want and surround yourself with a
team of all-stars to help you get the best footage.
The production will take some twists and turns.
The better, more flexible and creative producers
welcome the curve balls and know how the story
can evolve far beyond what they ever expected.
Then in post-production, you will go forward
with a great editor, an open mind, and hours and
hours of great footage. Your movie will be made in
the editing room. This is where the fun starts, and
from there, it’s in the hands of the divine mother.
The cover of the The
Writer’s Journey, by
Christopher Vogler With all five documentaries, I used the books above
and the stages of the journey as structural guidelines.
As a festival director, I had seen many documentaries, and had also done
plenty of research on the growing demand for this film category. What became
clear was that many of the more interesting, and successful, documentaries
were actually structured more like narratives. They had a better flow than the
more traditional ‘talking heads’ documentaries. Right or wrong, and there are
many different styles and tastes, I embraced this idea and integrated into my
docs. Here are some of these ideas put into practice:

30
DOCUMENTARY STORY STRUCTURE

A graphic representation of the Stages of the Journey from
Myth and the Movies.

Early in The Back Nine, we established my background and my “ordi-
nary world” story. We had the “call to adventure” and set out to find the team
that would help me chase this dream. Then we had the obstacles, the adjust-
ments and the resolution. Of course, there is a lot in between, but I don’t want
to give too much of it away. Point is, the story had the elements that could
give us a narrative flow.
With The Highest Pass, we establish Adam as our hero and his “call to
adventure” as his yogi teacher and “mentor” invites him on this incredibly
dangerous adventure. Adam had never even ridden a motorcycle before, much
less tackled such treacherous terrain. But he accepted this challenge to face any
fear that would come up—one of the main themes of the film. Yes, there were
plenty of obstacles en route to the ‘highest pass’ and a satisfying resolution.
In Dance of Liberation, we establish Parashakti’s goal of becoming an
accomplished spiritual leader and practitioner, anchored by her unique style of

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Filmmaking for change

dance therapy. We learn her history, see her move to the U.S., and watch her
struggle to face her demons. Parashakti learns that she ultimately has to settle
the score with her past and her family in Israel before she can be liberated and
truly move forward in her life (a theme also prominent in The Back Nine).
In Warrior One, Jill mentored her heroes, providing the support and
structure to a program that would change their lives. They were all from
Florida and we would have an opportunity to work with the kids, and get to
know them and their surroundings before we all got on a plane to “leave the
ordinary world” and head to Peru. This helped establish the narrative struc-
ture, as we clearly moved into Act II when we left the U.S..
There was a similar case for The Milky Way, as our heroes established a
background of issues related to breastfeeding, and shared details about how
Americans were statistically poor at making it to the six-month month target.
To find out what was working better in other countries, many in Scandinavia
for example, where they rank in the 90’s, the team boarded a plane and
headed to Europe to find out why.

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