The Story Beyond the Story

Fernanda Rossi June 11, 2010

Dear Doc Doctor: How do I shape my story to improve my chances of getting distribution in the new media outlets?

Doc Doctor: Screens are getting smaller. From the cineplex to TV to the computer or iPhone screen, surfaces have shrunk, but creativity and resourcefulness have expanded. In The Line, about consent in intimate relations, producer/director Nancy Schwartzman’s creativity wasn’t limited to what would go into the film but extended to how the film will travel the circuit.

You are aware by your very question that an innovative approach to distribution and outreach is not a surprise but a must. During our consultation work on Nancy’s rough cut, she was already very aware that her documentary would be just part of the story, the larger story being her activism and overall message: consenting to a sexual relationship is not necessarily agreeing to everything that can possibly happen between two people.

Her long-range vision had a positive impact on the session.  In discussing the structural issues of her rough cut, she didn’t seem too attached to any details, even to any order of scenes:  this was not for lack of a point of view, but because she was thoroughly aware of what mattered. Her focus was on creating the right vehicle to initiate a larger story, or stories—those collected from the audience as they gained new awareness on this topic. Having had the experience of starting the Safe Street initiative, she knew how to use the web to create that interaction. And she knew how to maximize a dollar. Therefore the idea of raising money and spending time to continue the making of the film in real time and in real life was filled with promise.

One of the most interesting ideas she implemented was to play with the title of the film, The Line. After a screening she passed around stickers with the question: "Where is your line?" and then photograph those stickers for the collective group blog: and also made available through the Flickr photo album service. Thus the story inside her film continued actively with the audiences live and online.

Therefore I suggest that you tell the story you want to tell, but also consider how that story connects to the real world. Then invite them to keep telling their story and offer a platform to participate. This is not new—we are just recalling the past, a time when we used to sit around a fire collectively building the stories that would become mythology. We are sitting around the flicker (or Flickr) of our computers building a new mythology. We are fast approaching a time of no audiences, just storytellers pausing until it’s their turn to talk.

International speaker, author and story consultant Fernanda Rossi has doctored over 300 documentaries, scripts, and fundraising trailers around the world including two Academy Award-nominated projects. In addition to giving private consultations, lectures and seminars worldwide, she has served as festival juror and grant panelist. She is also the author of the book Trailer Mechanics: A Guide to Making your Documentary Fundraising Trailer. More info and book at