Feedback on making a documentary

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John's email to Dave

On Sun, Apr 9, 2017 at 7:20 PM, John Kelly Hughes <> wrote:

Hi Dave,

Just watched your video clip. I applaud your action.

A little feedback to consider. Please understand the spirit of this feedback is constructive. As a long time student of marketing, writing, filmmaking and music, these observations are worthy of your consideration, especially if you want to influence those that are not in our choir. Lastly, I am not making a thorough list of issues, simply highlighting a handful that I encountered in the first two minutes.


  1. You need a good sound man. I couldn’t endure the whole video with the wind garbling in the right channel. The mic used had no windscreen, and if it did, it’s not a professional version. You need a good shotgun mic with windscreen, or you need to wire each interviewee with a pro-level wireless lapel mic with windscreen. On the topic of sound, you need someone to write, produce and properly edit the soundtrack. Even Hollywood doesn’t get it right half of the time.
  2. You would be wise to get a good script writer that understands storytelling. Every second you face the possibility of losing your audience, hook me in every scene and I’ll continue to watch. I’m not talking about special effects. Intelligible content that is focused, compelling, and transforms is the way to make lasting change in the viewer.


Acronyms are great, and especially good when they reinforce the focus. Your’s — Cooperative Humanity’s Ongoing Social Efforts is a big umbrella, and not specific enough, which will damage your campaign.

I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, and you may have already considered this. Cooperative Humanity’s Ongoing Social Efforts, feels more like a foundation, a mothership of many projects. It is too general to be a documentary title. Your title needs to be stout, to make a statement that gets attention, creates interest, and compels one to take action.

If I may suggest, consider the late Peter Drucker’s wisdom when he said, You’re not selling a product; you’re selling an experience. The experience of a cooperative humanity in their ongoing efforts is larger than epic, right? What part of that ongoing effort are we talking about?

I love Drucker because he always cuts to the essence with clarity. I’m not a fan of the dark sides of corporations. However, the way they build culture unifies employees with the values of the corporate mission. A documentary needs to chunk down the essential elements in a way that illustrates values that people identify with strongly. For this, and many other components of your story, outlining the arc of the story is crucial.

I’m going to challenge you. I’d like you to tell me the story of your documentary in six words. Focus on the essence of the experience. Here are some examples, and it’s likely that none adequately detail your story, because I don’t know what your story is.


Don’t get me wrong. I love acronyms, but one can learn a great deal by studying the marketing experts, propaganda masters, and team builders. You likely know there are specific strategies used to influence an audience; make constant use of them.

If I may also suggest, have at least three conversations with experienced documentary filmmakers. Ask them each how they produce a successful documentary, and have them include what they consider the most important elements.

Here are some links to review on using film as a change agent:
  1. It would be good to state the focus, very specifically.
  2. Before assembling your kickstarter page, a detailed arc would be described.
  3. I would take the page down until your outline is done, script is written, interviewee list is confirmed, and a whole lot more.

Documentary Films For Study

Dave's Reply

You asked me for some things:

  1. Well, CHOSE isn't the name of the documentary. It's the name of the idea that produced it, which will, I suspect, be, as you pointed out, "a foundation, a mothership of many projects". I like the idea of finding an acronym for the first of those projects, which is a documentary that tells the story of
  2. (A six-word version of the story the documentary tells:) A broken IRS perverts human cooperation.

You would also like to see my skills improve through interviews of people, watching documentaries, and reading some links about "using film as a change agent." Those items are now on my todo list. I have seen at least one of the Zeitgeist movies (the first, I think, and part of the second, which I abandoned - or was that the third? Not sure - I may have watched all three). I never liked Jacques and TVP, but that's beside the point because he did reach a lot of people with his media.

Lastly, you may not have noticed that the current KS project is only asking for $500. This is because I strongly suspected that, as you put it, "Before assembling [my] kickstarter page..." there's a lot of work to do that I am not qualified to do. Who is? I don't know. I'm looking. I suspect that your ability to influence how the world works is much stronger than you think, and I might be how you discover it. As I spend time reviewing Peter Joseph's Zeitgeist, Freakonomics (another friend's recommendation for the same reason) and reading those links, can I also forward what you've written to me here to the five other people who are very interested in helping? They are: Bob McNeil (in Texas), Don Eminizer (in PA), Ernest Dempsey (in Pakistan), Matt (I don't know his last name but he lives in northern CA), and Ryan Newby (who live in Temecula, just a bit south of me). I can add you to the group email too, if you want.

There's another friend (Pari Kazeminy) who is very interested in the project, but I haven't thought of a way for her to contribute much beyond making a video asking the questions.