The Problem With Motivational Documentaries

There’s a recurring problem with documentaries these days, specifically the call to action ones. The point of them is to make you feel motivated to get involved and to educate yourself, and to take action right? However this is all ruined by their story arc. They’re using a story arc that is the same as hollywood blockbusters: The opening, the crisis, the rising tension, the climax, and then the denouement. 

And that is the wrong way to do this. 

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Have you ever noticed at the end of a documentary, they leave off with upbeat, thought-provoking music, an interviewer who makes a speech about hope and things getting better, or a narration that belittles the problem and basically says “this problem is here, but don’t worry, it’ll figure itself out eventually.” 

It makes you feel satisfied, like you actually did something to help solve the issue. You walk away from the documentary feeling great- but not motivated. It values awareness rather than action, and don’t get us wrong, awareness is great, but awareness without action is useless. 

When was the last time a documentary actually made you get up and do something? Maybe if they developed their story arc more and focused less on a feel good ending, they wouldn’t have this problem. 

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Take out the denouement, take out the sunset shot with uplifting music, take out the hope speech, and leave the audience with the emotional high they experienced at the climax of your documentary. Let the audience do something, and have them produce their own denouement. The point of documentaries is to address a problem, solved or not, and if the problem isn’t solved, then it is up to the viewers to do something about it. Although if documentaries followed the guideline we suggest, they might come off as “preachy,” but sometimes, everyone need to be motivated by a good sermon. 

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