NewImage.jpgBombay Beach: A documentary-record-cum-drama with dreamlike musical elements describing a small community on the fringes of the lost American dream, and the dreamers who populate its surreal and poetic landscape. Bombay Beach is one of the poorest communities in southern California located on the shores of the Salton Sea, a man-made sea stranded in the middle of the Colorado desert that was once a beautiful vacation destination for the privileged and is now a pool of dead fish.

Film Quote:
“It takes a community to raise a child. But you have to remember, even the some of the best raised children can turn bad.”

Film director Alma Har’el tells the story of three protagonists. The trials of Benny Parrish, a young boy diagnosed with bipolar disorder whose troubled soul and vivid imagination create both suffering and joy for him and his complex and loving family.
The story of CeeJay Thompson, a black teenager and aspiring football player who has taken refuge in Bombay Beach hoping to avoid the same fate of his cousin who was murdered by a gang of youths in Los Angeles; and that of Red, an ancient survivor, once an oil field worker, living on the fumes of whiskey, cigarettes and an irrepressible love of life.

Together these portraits form a triptych of manhood in its various ages and guises, in a gently hypnotic style that questions whether they are a product of their world or if their world is a construct of their own imaginations. The narratives are interspersed with choreographed sequences in which the protagonists dance — to music specially composed for the film by Zach Condon of the band Beirut and songs by Bob Dylan.

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For those looking to a watch a great documentary now and then, or at one espoused to be great, here is a tally of the “best” documentaries of 2011. 

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While we like, and sometimes even agree with, the documentary awards in the info graphic, it feels like a few are missing. What do you think? Please send us your list of documentaries so we can create a broader and deeper “Best of” list.

NewImageStory telling is vital component of any successful movie making venture, something often overlooked by the modern documentarian. For one reason or another, documentary story tellers have tried over 13 different genres, most leading to less than viable commercial success. But without exception, the most powerful and compelling story telling format is rooted in the early works of AristotleDramatic Structure and the one company that best exemplifies this format is Pixar

Alright, you’re right, Pixar is not know for their body of documentary work, but they are known for great stories. So, learning to learn from other is the point of this post. Pixar’s success can our success. As documentarians, we can learn to apply the dramatic structure to any story, not withstanding our own work. 

NewImageLast year, Pixar story artist Emma Coats has tweeted a series of “story basics” over the a month and a half — guidelines that she learned from her more senior colleagues on how to create appealing stories. Here is the compilation of the work, most of which we can benefit from:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Did Emma miss anything? Do you think any of these elements don’t apply to documentary storytelling? Please send us your ideas so we can continue the buildout of these best practices. In the meantime, see how many of these ideas can be applied to your next great documentary and let us know how it turned out.


NewImageWhile there are numerous ways through which a documentary can be produced, studies now confirm that story forms are the best way people process information. This conclusion was presented as part of a larger “53 Mind-Blowing, Psychology-Proven Facts You Should Know About Yourself” web post.

Stories are very powerful — They grab and hold attention. But they do more than that. They also help people process information and they imply causation.

Tried and true story formats — Aristotle identified the basic dramatic structure of stories, and many people have expounded on his ideas since. One model is the basic three act structure: Beginning (first 25%), Middle (25-75%) and the End (last 25%). 

So, regardless of the subject, using compelling story forms is the best way to impact on the audience, assuring future actionable outcomes.

NewImage.jpgMotor City Raising: Motor City Rising celebrates the deep and rich human tapestry of a city as it literally rises from the ashes. The interconnecting stories of the creative thinkers, artistic innovators and Detroit residents trying to survive in a once great industrial city are all interconnected and prove that nothing is as powerful and tenacious as the creative, innovative and philanthropic American spirit.

Film Quote:
“When people tell me ‘no’ it just pisses me off and compelled me to do something!”

While this is an Ovation original series, it nevertheless endevours to tells a series of stories from the point of view each community. In the first episode, Anthony plans to meet his estranged father, while Nina holds a show to sell her art pieces. Kobie Soloman and his Tag Team transform the Mims building into an inspiring landmark and the Mims brothers plan to bring attention to it by using it for Sean’s upcoming record release party. Rick plans a big surprise for Nina.

Make sure to check out Live The Dream Films for other documentaries and Social Filmmaking activities.


Live The Dream Films has revised our website to reflect more of the core principles we aspire to – a dedication to discovering, making, and distributing best of class documentary films covering socially-oriented topics of the day. 


NewImage.jpgThe Parking Lot Movie: Often described as the documentary version of Clerks, The Parking Lot Movie follows a select group of parking lot attendants who work at The Corner Parking Lot in Charlottesville, Virginia. The eccentric brotherhood of attendants consist of grad students, overeducated philosophers, surly artists, middle-age slackers and more.

Located nearby the University of Virginia and tucked in behind a number of bars, the assortment of overeducated attendants who work at The Corner Parking Lot have to deal with throngs of drunken frat boys, vandals, and SUV-driving jerks who either take off without paying or fight them over sums as low as $0.40. Fortunately in this establishment the normally agreed upon rules of customer service don’t exist. Disrespect the staff and face the consequences. 

In what becomes a discourse on American life, these overeducated parking attendants wax profoundly about car culture and capitalism, seek vengeance against entitled patrons and thieves, and make fun of drunken jerks.


If the intersection between the status quo and the quest for freedom is their ultimate challenge, could a slab of asphalt be an emotional way station for The American Dream?

Make sure to check out Live The Dream Films for other documentaries and Social Filmmaking activities.