What’s in the Future for Documentaries? Decade of Docs Event Has the Answers

Documentaries have the ability to inspire, connect and spark change. However, in order for documentaries to continue to have a lasting impact, the art form must evolve over the next few years. On May 20th, over 200 of the area’s filmmakers will get together to discuss the evolution of documentaries at the Decade of Docs, an event organized by Docs in Progress at George Washington University.

If you’re interested in documentary filmmaking and want to see what’s in store for the future, you should definitely attend (I’ll be there!). But, as a precursor to the event, here are a couple of my thoughts on the major shifts we’ll see with documentary films over the next several years:

  • Integration of interactivity – These days, documentaries are more than just stand-alone films. Gone are the days where a producer or director can rely upon a theatrical release. Over the next few years, documentary producers will have to adapt their long-form stories and create other assets. It will be important for producers to develop short-form content for social media distribution, interactive widgets for the web and other featured content (interviews, events, etc.) for marketing purposes. We will continue to see creative ways for reaching audiences and making stories more interactive.
  • Focus on quality – These days, just about anyone can be a Producer in some shape or form. However, the ability to break through the noise and reach an audience is much more difficult – and it will only get worse. Therefore, quality content will rise to the top. But, it won’t just be quality in the technical sense. Whomever can balance a deep story (film, website, discussions and other tangential content) with amazing visuals will have a good chance of success.
  • Creation of trusted channels – The increased amount of documentary content will become hard to navigate. We’re already at a tipping point to where great content sometimes doesn’t even make it through the clutter. As the level of video content increases, viewers will begin to rely more heavily on trusted channels and branded networks. Some of the channels will be familiar (PBS, Discovery, etc.), but we will also see new opportunities surface. One example, which we recently highlighted on our blog, is WonderPL. This company focuses on an audience “that cares about quality and deserves a viewing experience free from clutter.”
  • Development of new types of filmmakers – Folks who can bridge the connection of technology, critical thinking, storytelling and marketing will excel. Five years from now, it will become nearly impossible to create a documentary without integrating all of these disciplines. In fact, checkout a recent article on PBS that discusses some of these changes in college documentary curriculums. Furthermore, if you want to learn more about tactical ways to intersect entertainment, marketing, transmedia and technology, checkout Houston Howard’s Make Your Story Really Stinkin’ Big. I think it’s a must read for today’s documentary filmmaker.
  • Further Adoption of Branded Content – It’s no secret, producing a documentary can be expensive. Unless a filmmaker has deep pockets, funding sources are required. One of the major sources of funding can be through national or even global brands. Over the next several years, we will see more and more brands align with filmmakers to develop authentic documentaries that highlight shared values. Some notable examples that come to mind are Nokia’s New American Noise series and Jack Daniels’ own Independent Lynchburg.

Ultimately, these are just some of my thoughts on documentaries and the future. For a more comprehensive discussion, checkout the Decade of Docs event on May 20th at George Washington University.

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