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Pouring Your Heart Into Your Film (Exercise)

After the “ideation” or discovery mode and choosing a subject for a story, it is important to remember that cinema is a magnifier; whatever you capture that is profound and moving will be memorable, and what is superficial and banal will become even more so (Rabiger 104). Considering how sensitive this medium is, we need to ask ourselves tough questions that will help us find out if we are the best people to handle the material at hand, or if we are fooling ourselves into wanting to do the movie. Remember that the filmmaking process is long and slow. Our enthusiasm will only stick if can put our hearts into the story. We have to be in this for the long haul.

cinema is a magnifier; whatever you capture that is profound and moving will be memorable, and what is superficial and banal will become even more so


Find a quiet place and ensure that you will not be interrupted for two hours. Get your director’s journal and prepare to record some answers. Close out all distractions and take your time to think about the following questions concerning the subject we have chosen. These questions are expanded upon from “Directing the Documentary” 2014 by Michael Rabiger.

Do I really want to make a film out of this?

Consider the years that may go into this project. Are you willing to make this movie a chapter of your life? Where can this subject benefit you? Will it benefit you at all? Do you think it may surprise you?

Am I knowledgeable in this subject?

What do you know? Would you be confident to make a university presentation on the topic? Are you interested in learning more about the topic?

Am I opinionated?

What bias do you hold? What’s your conclusion to the moral arguments that the subject presents? Do you think that you are unconditionally correct? Are you willing to understand other arguments?

What is the underlying significance of this subject to me?

Why would you want to do this? How can it affect you? Have you had history with this topic? Do you have a social, personal, spiritual, or physical goal you want to accomplish?

Do I have the drive to learn more about this subject?

Does this subject interest you? Will your goals push you hard enough? Are you willing to read through multiple books or watch other documentaries. Research is such an important part of this process.

Can I do justice to this subject?

You may not have it all now, but do you have the capacities to grow into a person and storyteller who will be able to respectfully tell the story of this subject? This subject is about real people’s lives and the creation of God. Expectations for you are high.

What will I (exclusively me) be able to cover really well?

Consider yourself and your personality! Where will you take interest most in the subject? How do you think you will have the most fun? Who would you relate to the most? What’s your style like and where would that fit?

Do I feel a strong emotional connection to the material?

What do you feel for the subject? Do you have an internal pain that may be healed during the making of this film? Is there pain from any of your loved ones that you wish to solve in the world? Do you have empathy from people who are being tested and who are struggling within the subject?

What would I most like to discover about this subject?

Are there unanswered questions that are egging you? Where can you improve on your life through this subject? Is there an injustice or mystery that you want to seek the answer to?

What do most people already know about this subject?

What’s assumed? Is there stereotypes? Misconceptions? Are there headlines of this topic? Is this well known or uncommon?

What do they (audiences) not know?

What do you feel that audiences will find surprising? Do you feel like there is something to be learned even by the people you respect the most?

What is unusual and/or significant?

Is it special/interesting to audiences? What makes this subject different than other stories? How does this fit into the world?

Where is the “specialness” truly visible?

In what aspect of the subject does “specialness” that emotional chord of realization, or profound insight, truly shine? Each story will have its own.

What can I show instead of narrate? (does the story have action?)

Do you feel that the story will have driving cinematic material? Is cinema the best medium to tell this story? Where do you think cinema can tell this story the strongest?

What do I personally want to show?

It’s important to set down on paper of what you want to highlight within the subject and what you really want to explore.

What do I not want to show?

Setting limits upon yourself is important to creativity because it forces you into “new areas” (Rabiger 105). Are there any topics that you want to avoid that may dilute your intentions?

Can I (exclusively me) shed new light on the subject?

What is special about you that will bring something new to the world of the story? Do you think you can take modern people on a new journey with you?


If answered honestly, these questions will flush out where the ideas need more work. “The aim is not to block or dim your engagement, but to keep you digging until you unearth a subject and an approach that will feel so right that they will energize you. Clarifying your personal feelings about a subject should take you down a new and exciting road.” (Rabiger 105)

Clarifying your personal feelings about a subject should take you down a new and exciting road.

Keep going back to the ideation and this exercise until you have a story that gets you pumped! Then schedule a weekly appointment with yourself to quickly review these answers throughout the production of the movie.


Thanks for Reading!

I hope this information will help you on your filmmaking journey. Please share this so that more may learn about Reel Nation Media.

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