Richard Saiz on Avoiding Potholes

Got the chance to catch up with Richard Saiz at Silver Docs (the Silver Spring Documentary Festival that just wrapped up). Richard is an award-winning documentarian, former ITVS programmer, and script doctor extraordinaire.

His four guidelines for film writers, (unfairly boiled down into bullets, but it’s a blog!)

  1. Theme: Don’t forget about the theme of your story (yes, plot drives it, but everything has to connect to the larger theme).
  2. Characters: Are your characters vivid and interesting enough to inspire viewer interest? (Given that I have wanted to do a documentary on math which would use equations as ‘characters’ I think he’d say I need some help in this dept.)
  3. Backstory: it needs to be there to answer key questions, but not so present that it seeps into the foreground of the film.
  4. Plot drift: Does the narrative move forward or veer into interesting, but off topic, excursions?

Parallel to advice in other types of writing. If it doesn’t earn its place on the page, out it goes. (Not a rule I find easy to follow.)

Two films he holds up as examples of getting it right:

The Education of Shelby Knox and The Cats of Mirikitani

Neither of which I’ve seen, and both of which are on NetFlix Streaming.

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