I recently finished post-production on a short documentary I’ve been directing and producing called ‘Streetside Sonder’, about a homeless Mancunian’s Friday night. The participant has been a friend of mine for many years and much of his life has over that time been demystified to me – more so since we started on the documentary. We finished filming and I assembled a super rough cut to show to a couple of friends. Their reaction was a real surprise: the bits that I thought were quite boring and humdrum, were actually the bits they liked most!
In getting close to the subject of homelessness – spending time with homeless people and getting to know them and their lives, I’d forgotten that most people do not in fact know the ins and outs of homeless life. The lessons here are twofold. For one, you should always remember who the film is for: your audience. Just because something is interesting to you, it might not be interesting to your audience, and vice versa. Secondly, never just rely on yourself – talk about your work with others, and not just fellow filmmakers. Show your friends and family clips, not to see if they think it’s good (they’ll always say it’s good), but to find out what they find most interesting. What do they want to see explored in more depth? Which of your participants do they want to see more of? What bores them? These are all the questions that we simply cannot answer alone.
Before I sign off, I’d say one final thing: do not focus group your documentary to death. Getting input from others is essential, but it’s your film. You’re the director. Trust yourself. Be bold. You’re not an essayist, a researcher, or a scientist: you’re a filmmaker. You’re an artist. Believe in your own vision.