Whether you're looking for a story or finding the best way to tell it, a good film is one that surprises, challenges, and, often, informs. This means that the information going into that film needs to be surprising. All too often, documentaries just repeat information that everybody knows. The easiest way out of that trap is to stop and challenge yourself. "Energy equals mass"—what does that mean? The Apollo 13 space mission—why was it named Apollo? "Everybody knows" that Rosa Parks was the tired seamstress who didn't feel like giving up her seat on that bus in Montgomery in 1955, right? It's a nice story, this downtrodden woman who has reached her breaking point. What if you found out that she was an active member of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, a group fighting for civil rights? Suddenly she's not so much a victim of oppression as an activist who sees an opportunity to fight it. You're telling better history and bringing fresh details to an old story that everybody thought they knew.
Good research is a sequence of questions, answers, and more questions. As mentioned previously, why start a project if you just want to prove a point? We've all seen films like this, where the filmmakers are out to prove that strip mining is bad or that a certain election was rigged. Have you ever seen a group of people telling each other what they already know and agreeing with each other since no one disagrees? That's how stimulating your film is going to be. If you want to change someone's mind, or at least raise doubts, hopes, and ideas, you have to trust in that person's ability to make an informed decision. Give him or her information that will lead to that decision. That kind of information comes from a research process that is open-minded.
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