Dear Documentary Filmmakers: Resist the foolish desire to film yourself introducing your doc to the viewer.
Like Tuesday’s DDF, this one also takes off from the same previous post about directors making themselves the subject of their docs. Indulge me, there’s unfortunately more to be said about this unfortunate trend.
Admittedly, this is less prevalent than filmmakers appearing in their interviews, but I’ve come across it enough times in recent months to inspire this post. This should really only apply to beginning filmmakers or perhaps to those who have come from an institutional, industrial, or educational film background but are now trying to reach a broader audience. In the case of the latter, there can be different conventions in play that make filmed hosted introductions acceptable, but this is not really appropriate for films that go out on the festival circuit or onto potential distribution or broadcast.
If you feel that your audience needs some kind of context to understand your doc, filming yourself explaining it to them is probably one of the most awkward ways to provide that information. It looks tacked on, it establishes a weird storytelling tone, and it is disruptive. As I’ve said before, consider alternate ways to impart information in a less obtrusive manner – re-edit the film to provide a clearer opening, perhaps, or insert a title card or narration to briefly set up the context.
If you’re using yourself in a filmed introduction because you think you need to connect with your audience in some way to persuade them of your film’s merits or message, you’re not trusting in your work enough. This is where your ego or your insecurity should be checked – if your doc doesn’t function the way you intend it to, showing your face and warmly greeting your audience before they watch it isn’t going to fix anything – if anything, it points to a more fundamental problem with the larger project, which might need a more radical rethink.
The introduction of your doc is key to setting up the audience’s expectations for how the rest of the film will look and feel – it should grab their attention, intrigue them to want to see the entire thing, and honestly represent the project as a whole. Slapping on a “welcome to my film” message doesn’t accomplish any of that.