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Oliver Karstel Agency / All Articles  / Documentary Film Production: How to Tell a Story

Documentary Film Production: How to Tell a Story

Developing, filming and producing a documentary film production project that stands out among the rest is no easy project to approach. 

How do you create something that goes further and does more? How can your documentary stand out among the rest?  

Well, the answer is simple. 

Through the use and implementation of storytelling. 

Well, that is a half-truth. 

The answer may seem simple but actually making use of proper storytelling within your documentary film requires a thought out plan. 

Here are some tips to ensure that your documentary film production project makes use of storytelling in a way that is effective and relatable:

Documentary Film Production Best Suited for Storytelling:

Before we start applying storytelling to our project we need to understand why documentaries are best suited for storytelling. 

Documentary films do not only tell a story, they also aim to educate and help viewers understand the deeper and more intricate developments and happenings within the story. 

This in return helps viewers form a real-world understanding and connection with the subject in the documentary.

We all know and love various fictional characters and understand the perils of their journeys but they remain just that, fictional. Whereas documentaries focus on real people. 

The subject of a documentary film production project could include, your family, your neighbour or even someone you’ve passed in the street, this is important because we can build stronger emotional connections to real people than fictional characters. Their struggles are relatable which allows the viewer to empathize with them.

The realness of the story being told is probably the most valuable commodity a documentary has in its possession.

How to Integrate Storytelling in your Documentary:

In our minds, there are five steps you can follow to ensure that your documentary film makes use of effective and relatable storytelling:

Why are you making a documentary?

It is important to establish why you are pursuing a documentary film production project, a documentary without a set purpose makes no sense.

Are you aiming to educate viewers on the industry, social topics or a problem within an industry relevant to them? 

Here are a few things you should know about your documentary film:  

  • Who your documentary is for
  • What your documentary is trying to tell people 
  • How your documentary aims to communicate its message

These three things could significantly impact the style, progression and end result of your documentary film production project. You’re not going to use the same elements in a documentary about skateboarding that you would use in a corporate documentary on international trade.

What is your documentary film trying to achieve?

After you’ve established why you are producing a documentary you need to decide what you are trying to achieve with your documentary. 

Is it aimed at:

  • Raising awareness
  • Education
  • Marketing 

Compile a list of relevant goals and ensure that you work to these goals throughout your production journey. 

Documentary film scriptwriting:

With your list in hand, you and your preferred documentary film production company can work through the goals that you have set up.

Once both of you have a good understanding of your vision you can move forward with the scriptwriting process. 

By creating a powerful script alongside your documentary film production company you can ensure that all of the goals that you have set out for your video are appropriately addressed. 

A powerful and well thought out script will allow you to maintain consistency while telling your story this will make the process of evoking emotion within the viewers of your documentary film easier. 

This will also be a crucial part of the shot planning process.

Creating narrative within your documentary film production:

After you’ve created the first draft of your documentary script with the use of your goals and establishing your viewership you can start building a narrative within your film. 

To build a narrative in your documentary film you need to understand the deeper impact of your story.

  • How does the story impact the local economy?
  • What can this story do for the people?
  • How does the subject matter affect the environment?
  • How does it make the world a better or worse place?
  • Is there a solution to the problem?

Never underestimate the deeper impact of your story, it is important to create a space where people are able to connect with characters within your documentary, understand their struggles and want to be a part of the solution. 

A strong narrative will strengthen your story and aid in evoking emotions within your viewers, narrative should be applied within your script to ensure that there is progression and a deeper meaning to and in your documentary’s story. 

Producing your documentary:

Now that you have a clear understanding of the goals set up for your documentary film production, a powerful script and a deeper understanding of the narrative that you’ll be utilising. 

You can move forward with your documentary production company to create a compelling company video that addresses all of the above while delivering a memorable message that will make you stand out among the rest.


Documentary films are an effective way to communicate a story to individuals while enticing them with a powerful narrative that evokes emotion within them. 

People don’t just want to see or hear, they want to feel connected to the story and they want to understand how it may relate to them or affect the world they live in. 

Storytelling is much more than a bedtime delight, it is how we provide the world with truth, even if it is our own truth.

If you have a story to tell, get in contact with one of our team members today.

We are a leading video production company in Johannesburg and have one of the top learner management systems in South Africa. We specialise in Video ProductionPhotographyGraphic Design, eLearning DevelopmentWeb DesignAnimation and Creative Consultation. | info@oliverkarstel.co.za | www.oliverkarstel.co.za | IG.com/oliverkarstel

Comment: 1

  • Asepaestah
    10/02/2022 11:41 AM

    I completely share your opinion.

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