Are there any best practice approaches to structuring a documentary film? I am big believer in the Aristotelian approach to story telling, because it seems to be one of the better frameworks capable of capturing the attention span of a diverse audience. The Aristotelian documentary story line centers around three acts:
Act I:0 -25% duration) The Problem – The protagonist’s (subject’s) life before some significant event, with the introduction of the antagonist;
Plot Point 1) Some significant event occurs that challenges the subject, typically introduced by the antagonist;
Act II: 25-75% duration ) The Journey – How the subject deals with the event, the ups and downs, the ins and outs, lots of tension, lots of failures – the battle between the protagonist and antagonist;
Plot Point 2) The subject sees the resolution to the problem;
Act III: 75-95% duration) How the subject finally overcame and conquered the problem, betting the antagonist;
Finale:95-100%) The subjects new life after overcoming everything.
You can see this approach used in numerous documentaries, The King of Kong – Fistful of Quarters being just one great example. The first quarter of the documentary is mostly about Steve Wiebe’s life prior to his scoring a Donkey Kong recorder (act 1), which was disallowed (plot point 1). Act II, the middle, follows the battle between Steve and Billy Mitchell (record holder) through their ups and down. Finally, Steve decided to take on Billy in public (plot point 2). The final battle (act III) is all about this big Donkey Kong event. No spoiler, you need to watch it to see how it turns out.
So, this Aristotelian approach works. But are there other formats that work just as well?