On Judging the World Press Photo Multimedia Awards 2014: Part Two: 20 Tips When Making A Documentary Film


The process of viewing so many pieces of documentary film work created by so many people from so many countries for so many different reasons inevitably but somewhat bizarrely produces repetitive themes of construction, approach and delivery. I hate using the word ‘zeitgeist’ but it seems appropriate as somehow or other global aesthetic trends to visual storytelling do seem to come in chronological waves; this was certainly the case with this year’s World Press Photo Multimedia Awards.

When judging a large submission of work you are always looking for the stand out pieces of work. Those that come together and work as a creative whole, those that seem to point to the future whilst not forgetting the best of the past and those that grab you from the moment they start telling their stories and leave an indelible memory on your conscience. Well that’s what I look for anyway! Although I can confirm that this year’s jury shared many of my expectations and disappointments with some of the work submitted I am not speaking on their behalf. The observations I outline here are mine and mine alone.

I must also say that there were a number of outstanding entries that fulfilled all of the criteria I was looking for as is evidenced by the quality and variety of the winning pieces of work in all categories.

You may agree with what I have to say, recognize your self and work in some of what I have to say or feel that my observations are either too harsh or not harsh enough. Whatever your feelings are I hope that the following twenty observations are enjoyable, useful and points from which to continue the debate that leads to the creation of great work.

1. Creating a rich and appropriate soundscape to accompany moving image is not just important it is essential.
2. Choose the approach appropriate for the story you want to tell and avoid corporate storytelling templates.
3. Avoid third party voiceovers recorded in sterile environments that do not suit the visual identity of your film.
4. Work with a good editor and when they tell you that you have lost the narrative arc of your story listen to them.
5.If you are working for an NGO don’t spend three quarters of your film creating the film you want to create and then stick their message on at the end. It makes it feel like a bad ad.
6. Let your subjects have a voice.
7. Take risks and be creative in all aspects of your work but only if appropriate to your story.
8. Telling positive stories does not make you a lesser filmmaker.
9. Avoid monotonous voiceovers.
10. Panning across and zooming in on stills feels very dated.
11. Discordant single note piano and melancholy cello are definitely overused.
12. Dig deep in interviews do not accept the obvious, vacuous or shallow.
13. Ensure you have created both emotional and intellectual connection.
14. The beautifully shot without narrative depth is just surface.
15. Avoid overly complicated typography for no reason.
16. Pretentious titles often lead to pretentious films.
17. Does your film need to be so long?
18. Stills have to be outstanding if included.
19. Does the pace of your film have to be that slow?
20.Learn how to start a film, engage an audience and establish a narrative clearly, promptly and appropriately.

© Grant Scott 2014

You can read more of Grant Scott’s insights into the world of professional photography in his new book Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained published by Focal Press and available form www.amazon.com