Week 2 Reading

Week 2 Reading Log

"With every source, you have possible characters, situations, plots, 
and meanings to be found" pp.129

Rabiger – Developing Your Story Ideas

Chapter eleven is all about coming up with an idea and the development of this story to best fit the documentary format. In my experience as a story writer (and all around fun person), a good narrative can come from any origin. As long as one is open to interpret all angles of a subject and have the creative ability to develop an idea, any idea can spawn into a great narrative. There are differences between Story, narrative and plot I feel I should address before continuing. To quote a film analysis course I took in the past, the three aspects are defined as:

  • Story: ‘the set of ALL events in the narrative, both ones explicitly presented and those the viewer infers, comprises the story’ (Bordwell & Thompson, 1997: 92)
  • Plot: ‘the term plot is used to describe everything visibly and audibly PRESENT in the film before us’ (Bordwell & Thompson, 1997: 92)
  • Narrative: ‘a chain of events in cause-effect relationship

Rabiger does not initially recognise the difference between these aspects of film, whether he comes on to, uses them interchangeably or doesn’t mention the difference, I feel its best to define them at the top of this blog post.

I will be splitting this blog post into the subheadings that Rabiger uses in this chapter.

Coming up with an idea

Collecting raw materials

Rabiger talks about the seeker, a person who is “committed to searching for meaning among the many baffling clues, hints, and details in life.” pp. 128 (I feel I can relate). I hadn’t before this considered how other people would collect data for an upcoming task. I have always taken the approach of attempting to look at everything in life as a joke or an opportunity, perhaps this technique may too spontaneous to be reliable.


Rabiger recommends keeping all your initial ideas written down (Neat new idea), no matter how terrible the idea. Another, more modern idea, is to create a thematic database to note trends/related ideas.

"Rereading your journal becomes a journey" pp. 129

Newspapers and Magazines

Maybe showing how the times have changed since 1987, Rabiger talks of collecting articles from magazines as well as newspapers as they show real life and real people’s struggles/triumphs. He concludes this section with a quote which I feel applies to modern technology too, “With every source, you have possible characters, situations, plots, and meanings to be found” pp.129. This quote summarises the question of how to find an idea.


Right out of the gate Rabiger is getting philosophical, “History is all about point of view,”  and, “you see not objective truth but someone’s interpretation and wish to mark or persuade” pp.129. He then goes on to describe why this is useful to a documentarian, explaining how human history is a “full canvas of human drama”. This is perfect for a documentary on past events. Everything has happened and the facts are on changing if new information is discovered. (The discovery of new information in historical fact has made many good documentaries).

Myths and legends

Rabiger goes on from history to discuss, “inauthentic history,’ in this section. I believe what he is trying to get across in this section is that different cultures all over the world have characters that are hyperbolised to the level of a ‘Myth’, be it good or bad. Rabiger concludes this section by arguing within documentary “every character of magnitude … is re-enacting one or more myths” and thus to find out the “mythical role” of the character is a key part in discovering “thematic trust”. This section was, and still is confusing to me, and will be a part of the reading that I will investigate further.

Family stories + Childhood stories

The section on Family stories I feel wasn’t necessary in this book. Aside from being hilarious, the only advise on making an idea out of this is if your family have interesting tales… WELL OBVIOUSLY. This can go for anyone, friends, friends of friends, that one bloke on the bus who doesn’t shut-up, anyone. I feel the concept of ideas coming from all aspects of life covers if your family have interesting tales. (Again with Childhood stories, the next sub-heading).

Social science and social history

This I feel links to history aside from one section which was intriguing to me, about observation and interpretation. “Case histories… usually include both observation and interpretation, so you can see how your interpretations compare with those of the writer” pp.131. This concept I feel is integral in creating a documentary.


In Rabiger’s final section on creating ideas for documentaries, he describes how fiction should not be ignored as a wealth of ideas. Often narratives in fiction are rooted in actuality. As I have discussed in my previous work before studying documentary, fiction is based on the contextual societies issues, fears and bias’, even if portrayed through metaphor and allegory. It is thusly perfectly reasonable to look toward fiction as a place of ideas for a documentary, even though documentary film focus’ on fact.

Developing/testing an idea

Developing an idea, testing the Power of an idea, begins with one question, “Do I really want to make a film about this?” pp.132 But it makes sense to consider before you attach yourself to an idea you don’t know about and don’t care about. Rabiger goes on to say how “good documentaries go beyond factual exposition,” that a documentary should tackle the ambiguities in life. Rabiger lists the questions one should ask in choosing a topic of a documentary as the idea goes into further development:

  • Is there an area I am already knowledgeable/opinionated
  • Do I have a strong emotional connection to this subject
  • Can I do the subject justice?
  • Do I have the drive to learn more about this field?

One major issue, especially I will face, is accessibility. Without any budget, the subject of my documentary will need to be local; as well as this, I have a time limit on this project, so long process’ such as getting permission to be in an area or permission to film will be off limits to me. I also must consider what I want to show, not just what I am able to show. These limits will shape my developing idea, as Rabiger concludes this section with, “think small. Think local. There are many good films to be made within a mile or two of where you live.” pp.133.

Locating the story pressures and “Raising the stakes”

This section is the main part of any compelling story, the twist. A film without a gimmick or twist doesn’t have a narrative and is the reason people will watch your film over others. “Raising the stakes” in a film is to create conflict within a narrative, creating a compelling story for the audience to engage. Rabiger also discusses how this twist can occur naturally, issues you see in your subjects film possibly happening, but usually the twist is set up by the filmmaker. This section lays out a guide to follow in creating a narrative twist:

  • “What obstacles your protagonist will face
  • Whether it will happen spontaneosly
  • What you may need to do if your camera is to be in the right place at the right time
  • Whether you can legitimatly arrange things to optimize your chances
  • How to film appropriately and with the greatst credibility”


Rabiger stresses how you are able to construct the reveal of this twist, as a filmmaker, but not to fabricate the twist. The issue occering in the documentary should be an actual issue within the subject of your docuementary’s subject.

In Conclusion

A documentary, at the end of the day, is a film. It must have a compelling story arc, characters, and their development, and risks/stakes. The film needs to be compelling throughout, especially now in an age of media where attention spans could not be shorter, the film must play as a film throughout. Choosing an intereseting subject matter that you will enjoy filming/researching is imperative. You as a filmmaker must be the most interested in your subject, and to portray this subject you are to passioante about to an audience, you must follow the guidlines set by Rabiger here in choose a story, test the subject matter and nailing a compelling narrative twist.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s