Dear Documentary Filmmakers: Too much of anything can be annoying. Take it easy w graphics effects, cards, etc…
This could be expanded to include many other things that can be done to excess, such as narration, but I’ve basically addressed that elsewhere, or music, but that merits its own DDF sometime in the future, and I’d rather keep this one visually focused.
Generally, the advice here boils down to “less is more,” at least a lot of the time. I was specifically inspired to write about this by a doc maker who seemed to be so enraptured with Google Earth that s/he used it in their film about every other scene. I get it, you want to use a cool new technology to add visual interest to your project – but take a step back and assess its impact on your overall film. Is its use distracting, or diminishing the impact of other elements in your film? Is it fun to look at the first time, but more and more irritating each time you go back to that well? Is it necessary or are you just indulging yourself by playing with a new toy? I’m not advocating eliminating all visual effects, of course – I’m simply saying think about the most effective and appropriate ways to employ them.
The same thing can be said for storytelling elements like text cards. I happen to prefer cards over narration as a general rule, if you feel characters’ dialogue doesn’t explain your situation clearly enough, but, again, rein them in. Be succinct and strategic about how much text you put in front of a viewer and at what points. I’ve seen projects where it felt like I was reading the opening scrawl of STAR WARS every 10 minutes or so – if you need to provide that much exposition via cards, something’s clearly amiss with the way you’ve put together your film.