Three Secret Ingredients in Great Features
(aka If the Muppet Show swedish cook had been a feature maker)
Never mind Great. No idea about that. Let’s aim for palatable. A Good Feature sets out to entice the gods, to cross its fingers, to whistle through the graveyard, to dare the impossible. It cannot be too direct. It must try to arrange things propitiously to entice the spirit of the feature. Like making friends with a stray cat, it can take quite awhile, especially in the beginning…cats can be capricious. They, basically, don’t give a shit for you.
1: Feeling, blind feeling. Feeling what it is, but not knowing. Having a hunch about the direction it lies in. But if you KNOW what it is, then there’s no point in making the feature. Give up. The feature is the search, the journey. It’s a process, explicitly not leading to a destination, but just vaguely pointing in the right direction. The listener must complete the journey. You cannot insist upon their point of arrival, and you will not get there yourself. Too bad for you. So how do you know if it’s there at all? You don’t. How embarrassing then. Feature-maker caught with her pants down, ha ha. Are you prepared for that?
2: A talisman. I believe in finding a talisman during initial thinking & research, and placing it on my audio editor (when I reluctantly get around to editing). Some object connected in some way to the theme that exudes a kind of magnetic pull that will drag the feature maker through the misery of creation. Imbued with the essence of the documentary, but at a certain point in the creative process, the soul (of the talisman) leaves the body and flies into the feature. So my house is littered with “feature talismans” – objects that once had power, but now are just meaningless objects. The features have the power now. Or perhaps it is just my ego that likes to flirt with this belief. It could be, as my wife says, that I just mess up the house with junk.
3: Caring, really really caring.
4: Something that strikes you. A sound, a person, or something someone says on tape. So the feature must live up to the promise of that.
5: Take a chance – preferably an impossible chance. It will get dragged down soon enough by your own habits of mind, the limits of ProTools, the snickers of colleagues, so make sure the initial jump is a big one.
BTW: When you find the melody of the feature, know that eventually it will be alright. More like a rhythm than a narrative. It’s that you have found a road. But where does it go?
Ok I can count. I know it’s more than 3. Sautee all that anyway, flambé with some over-proof protools juice – poof! Cross your fingers and serve.
Chris Brookes is an author, storyteller and independent radio producer whose documentary features have won over forty international awards including the Peabody Award and the Prix Italia, and have been broadcast around the world. He resides in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where he directs the production company Battery Radio.