Documentaries cover an enormous range of subjects. Titles getting attention from just this year include violence prevention (The Interrupters), iconic musicians (George Harrison: Living in the Material World), product placement (The Greatest Movie Ever Sold), and gender and media (Miss Representation).
This list barely scratches the surface of subjects of other documentaries, let alone the list of subject after subject available for documentaries yet to be made.
So it baffles me a bit when I get comments, tweets, and e-mails asking me this question: What should I make my documentary about?
If you’re asking ME that question, you’re starting in the wrong place. Sure, I have plenty of ideas of topics for documentaries, but really the subject for your documentary should start with YOU. Documentaries take time and commitment, and if you are not committed to your subject, then making your documentary will become a struggle instead of an exploration, a joy, a discovery.
Some documentaries start with something in your own life, such as an issue in your community or even in your backyard. Josh Fox’s Gasland began with a question from industry asking to lease his land for fracking.
Other documentaries start with conversations with other people. You might learn about issues and stories that way.
Still others start with a newspaper story or even a book. Several recent documentaries started with books, such as Money-Driven Medicine.
Even others start with community groups who want to raise awareness about their causes and issues or with groups that want to preserve or tell history.
So if you’re looking for a subject for a documentary, start by examining your own interests. Talk with people around your community. Read your local newspaper, and see if something catches your attention.