Free international shipping on orders over $99

The book

The book The Uncertainty is about developing Character driven Documentary film

Character driven Documentary film is the only art form beyond control of the creators. This makes the creation process extraordinarily difficult and extremely interesting. 

Why? Because Character driven Documentary is founded on Complementarity, a contradiction where the two sides of an issue both compliment and exclude each other:

How do you create a narrative when the building blocks of the story are beyond your control? How do you identify a potential story that has not yet happened? How do you present a film that does not exist? How do you budget and finance a product loaded with these uncertainties?

These are some of the issues I address in THE UNCERTAINTY. It involves overcoming obstacles to experience the incomparable pleasure of turning events into dramaturgy without altering reality.

Who is the book written for?

THE UNCERTAINTY is aimed at the wonderful and hardworking documentary creators, that work with the genre Character driven Documentary, with a special glance at the films intended for international distribution.

Documentary enthusiasts in general are welcome to join.

Chapters of the book


to read excerpt


I find striving consciously for the impossible a life-affirming characteristic. A complementarian contradiction.

Creating Character driven Documentary holds this contradiction. Deciding what the film is about while acknowledging that reality for sure will change this decision.


The documentary film genre consists of a mix of components, some within and some beyond our control.

The documentaries where we use interviews, archive, voice over, animation etc. are to a certain extent under our artistic control.

With Character driven Documentary film it is the opposite.


For me a character is a person that the film presents with a past, a present and a future. In direct cinema it is one of the biggest achievements when you are able to spot and film events in the present in a way that will tell us something about the past.


There is no such thing as stories in reality, only events. A chain of events, random and chaotic. It is what you and I do between the time we get up and go to bed. Or after …

Events happen, stories are created. Events take place in the real world, stories take place in art.

And yet, we very often mix them up.


I believe it is a common human reaction to avoid frustration if possible. So, it is very tempting to fool ourselves into believing that by describing events, we tell a story.

If reality holds some very dramatic events, it is easy to get blinded by reality.


We applied for deficit coverage from the Danish Film Institute. Ten minutes into the screening the film commissioner fell asleep. After long discussions we decided not to wake him up.


The main obstacle is that we have adopted the terminology from fiction. The result being that it is a total mess.

I suggest abandoning the fiction terminology from documentary film all together, and to name the documentary text according to its purpose.


I believe that this contains what a director of a Character driven Documentary is looking for: To spot people in a situation that will generate the realization of abilities.

The inevitable story.


Maybe the often-seen reluctance to ‘story’ is, that we hear it as a request for a specific dramaturgy when the word ‘story’ is introduced.

Or it simply is the word in itself; I mean, a story only exists when it is there – and it is not until the film is shot or even edited.


I think that – contrary to fiction – a documentary scene can be constructed of multiple shots from different locations and different time. It makes sense to work with this dramaturgical difference in what a scene is, since we don’t control the shooting as it is the case in fiction and therefore constructs the scene in the editing not on location.


Is it the film, that was nominated for Best Documentary at IDFA? she asked. And did not win?

I confirmed. Then she declined. And regretted not being able to offer taking it into her sales catalogue, but the timing made it too difficult.


Light can be measured both as a dot and a wave. This is of course an impossibility but nevertheless a well-documented fact.

This is what the father of quantum mechanics, Danish Niels Bohr, named Complementarity: a relationship in which two sides of an issue not only compliment but also exclude each other.

The director of a Character driven Documentary also works in the world of complementary contradictions, conducting an artistic interpretation of real events without violating reality.


Imagine I am sitting in my living room together with my son and daughter. I turn towards my daughter and say: ‘I have no words to express how proud it makes me to be your father’.

The framing and the position of the camera will determine the subtext of this scene: How proud I am of my daughter; how glad my words make my daughter or how sad they make my son.


If you have two different shots in a scene, that are too complicated or unclear to understand, the audience will get confused.

If you have two different shots in a scene, that are easy to read but point in two different and unexpected directions, the audience will get curious.

It’s the unexpected combination of simplicities that creates complexity.


She was looking for film projects for a theme evening at ARTE. She congratulated me for my good producer’s work: It’s spot on for my theme, she said.

I answered that I had no idea about the theme and that it was merely a lucky coincidence.


A very wise DoP, I know, after many years realized that he was always looking for three different types of shootings with his characters:

The once-in-a-lifetime situations.

The routines.

The impressions.


A sound technician friend told me, that in the days of sound tape she used to let the tape keep rolling on location when the DoP stopped filming, which very often gave some golden recordings because no one paid attention to it.

Today the sound stops when the camera stops.



A 10-minute taxi ride shared with a commissioning editor changed my perception of their profession forever.

I referred to her as my financier. I’m not your bloody financier, she said.


When you edit fiction, the editor refines the already created. When you edit Character driven Documentary, you create a form from the unfinished.

This means that the documentary editor needs to listen to the material differently than the fiction editor.


A good colleague of mine, a Danish editor, usually starts the editing process by looking for moments rather than start editing the film. And especially important for him: Marking up moments is based on an emotional experience, not a search for structure. It is merely the act of registering moments that does something to him; no analysis, only reactions.

And by doing so, interesting enough he often ends up with scenes, that later tends to structure the film.


As much as I enjoy the uncertainty of storytelling in documentary film, I never got around to enjoy the stressful uncertainties of unforeseen productional events; coincidences that has nothing to do with creativity.


Why are there so few funny documentaries?

Is it because most documentary film subjects grow out of concern, frustration, social indignation, the urge to change the world – and that this doesn’t come together with humor?


Lyrics from Canadian singer- songwriter Leonard Cohen:

‘I was always working steady
But I never called it Art
I got my Shit together
Meeting Christ and reading Marx’

This is not necessarily to discuss if documentary filmmaking is art; I think it is, but the discussion itself is probably a lost cause.

It is more to note that many of us shy away from calling ourselves artists.


I once asked a group of directors what they expected from their producers and within 2 minutes there were no empty spaces on the white board where I listed the expectations.


Commercials are he incarnation of the things I dislike: overspending, selling goods through sex, commercializing human emotions.

So, it was a really good feeling when I was asked to produce one and finally got the chance to say no thanks to making commercials.


Three aspects to consider for you, before entering a co-production:

You will now need to decide all vital aspects of the production together with more partners.

You will need to respect your co-producers’ obligations towards a film fund in a country where you are not familiar with the regulations.

Your director’s decisions, that used to be a matter between you and your director, now needs to be accepted by your co-producer.


We have all experienced the desperate look in the eyes of a director when the first question after a project presentation is: ‘What is the story’? The answers are endless variations of ‘I am not quite sure, it is too early to say how it will unfold’.

The unsaid answer is: ’How on earth should I know; my story will be based on events that have not happened yet’.


We store things in our short-term memory for approx. 2-4 minutes. Within this time the essence of a film project needs to be transported to our long-term memory, otherwise it will be deleted for good.


The pitch trailer is a form that seeks another form, and this at a time where we have not decided about the final form and have very limited material to work with.

It is a tough task.


It was my first pitch ever. At IDFA, of all places.

We made all the mistakes possible. We did not get any meetings. Nor did we get any financing. And the film was never made.


The first forum took place in Amsterdam during IDFA in 1993, and today there are hundreds all over the world every year. The idea was – and is – remarkably simple: the broadcasters and distributors are looking for projects, the film teams are looking for funding and distribution – let us bring them together.



The success of the forum stands and falls with the selection. The selection of projects and the selection of decision makers. It needs to reflect both the art and the market. The Forum organizers need to be experienced and well connected since the parties only show up if they trust them and their selection capability. The organizers act on their behalf.


A film commissioner once told me of his approach when he received a new submission: If it included visual material, he would watch this as the first thing. He did not read anything, did not check who sent it in, not even if the visuals were research material, trailer, previous film – just: they sent this in, let me see if it makes me curious.


Remember how vulnerable it is to put a documentary project out there at a time where they are painfully aware of all the decisions not made yet.

I’ve always said this to myself when meeting directors at workshops. But it was only when writing this book, that I found out what it means.


A few years ago, I was moderating a pitching session and asked a commissioning editor from ARTE about a project and she answered: ‘ARTE does not broadcast Character driven documentaries’!

A little later she was very enthusiastic about another Character driven project. It turned out that this one worked because of the subject that was incorporated in the personal story.

Very illustrative, I think.


An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.


Ok, if I have been on thin ice in some of the other chapters in this book, this is a final attempt to take it to an even thinner level. An examination of the connection between quantum mechanics, including quantum computers, and making character driven documentary.


It seems to me, that most people from fiction film know very early what they want to be – directors or producers or DOPs or … With documentary people it’s almost the opposite.


When I studied script writing at The Danish Film School, we were taught that coincidences can initiate a story – but not, as in NOT, accepted to solve the plot. It will simply be unsatisfactory to let a coincidence redeem the film.

This is exactly what happens a lot in football.


The psychological minefield of making Character driven Documentary entails engaging oneself unconditionally in controlling a process that is uncontrollable. My personal epiphany occurred when I discovered that it is exactly this paradox that holds my lifelong addiction to documentary film.

I find developing Character driven Documentary the most interesting activity on earth. Why? Because it is based on a contradiction.

First edition of THE UNCERTAINTY came out in November 2021.
The second edition came in January 2023 and added five new chapters to the first edition.
The third edition came in February 2024 and added 9 Scenes to the second edition.
The book is 61 pages and is only available in a printed version.

The book The Uncertainty about character driven documentary film