As a documentary filmmaker, it’s your job to tell a story. Just because it is a documentary, doesn’t mean it has to be boring, or lack any of the cinematic techniques employed by traditional narrative filmmakers. So whenever I am shooting this kind of project, I look for ways to tell the story as if it were a scripted narrative. Here are five ways in which I go about doing that.

  1. Know the story: during the pre-production phase, I learn all I can about the story I plan to tell. Whether it’s a corporate promotional film, or a personal profile, I get as much information as I can about the people, places, and events related to the film.
  2. Create a shot list: as much as possible I determine ahead of time the shots I want to get to tell the visual story I want to tell. Naturally a big part of what I plan to shoot will be based on sound bites I get during the interviews. But the more I know up front what I will be shooting, the more shots I can plan ahead of time.
  3. Shoot it like a script: in much of the work I do, I’m NOT a journalistic filmmaker, capturing events as they happen, like an ENG news shooter might. Usually I’m directing the “talent” (i.e. employees, interview subjects, etc) and doing minimum production design (even if it’s just rearranging someone’s office to make it look just right). Where appropriate and whenever possible I also get good coverage (e.g. wide, medium and close up shots of the same “scene”; opposing angle shots; etc.)
  4. Mind the metaphorical: my favorite kind of narrative storytelling is metaphorical or allegorical imagery similar to the Nooma examples I gave above. Where I have the opportunity to shoot narrative scenes that have no literal connection to the soundbites, but have the strong emotional resonance.
  5. Music is the key: when I get to the editing process, I put a lot of time into finding the right music. Music has almost as much influence in eliciting emotional responses to a film as the visuals do.

Credits: Desktop – Documentary

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