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Based On A True Story: Choosing Doc or Narrative

When is a true story best told as a documentary film, and when as a narrative "based on a true story"? What are the creative implications, the ethics considerations, and the business realities of each? Or is it a false choice? This panel brings together filmmakers who have told “true stories” in both genres – often blurring the lines between them -- to discuss their experiences, their preferences, and their approach to new material. Matt Naylor has screened documentary work at SXSW, but transitioned into a fictional short – based on a true story -- for last year’s festival. Alex Karpovsky has directed pure docs, a surprising hybrid in WOODPECKER, and acted in movies and TV shows that use doc-style scenes and improvisational dialogue to blur the lines. Richard Linklater is a master narrative filmmaker who made a foray into documentary with his film INNING BY INNING and recently wrote and directed BERNIE – a narrative feature that employs doc-style technique - based on a very true story.

Additional Supporting Materials


  1. What is “true”? How far does “based on” allow you stray in narrative? How much can documentary be manipulated until it becomes hybrid or fictional?
  2. What defines “doc-style” filmmaking vs. documentary filmmaking -- and how is it being employed in narrative films?
  3. What's the best way to get the right to tell a specific true story? What's the difference between getting the legal rights to a true story for doc vs. narrative?
  4. Can/should the difference in funding models for doc and narrative drive decisions about what genre to pursue with your true story? Is either one “easier”?
  5. How are docs and narrative impacted by the subject’s involvement in the filmmaking process, or the distribution/marketing process?



Matt Naylor, Co-Founder and Creative Director, Flow Nonfiction

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