Make a better documentary: turn off the soundtrack occasionally

I only ever took one filmmaking class but one lesson stuck with me: good documentaries don’t have a constant soundtrack. Recently, two television shows have proven that rule to me. The Truth Behind from the National Geographic Channel and How It’s Made from the Science Channel each cover short documentary-style explorations behind a single topic and each features an incessant soundtrack.

This is obviously a trait of television documentaries but it’s interesting to me how this extremely basic rule of filmmaking is ignored. The result is that the content isn’t focused. Constant soundtracks distract us from what the subjects are saying. It’s a bad way of communicating.

My suspicion is that these “documentaries” are probably really boring to watch without the soundtracks. So the sound has become the high fructose corn syrup meant to flavor an otherwise bland meal.