What is a documentary? Here is one definition – “a movie or a television or radio program that provides a factual record or report.”
As film students, documentaries are a great way to cut our teeth into an exciting industry or film and television. In can also be a wonderful career in and of itself. Regardless of your end goal, learning to make great documentaries is a tool to so many aspects of storytelling within a vision format.
That’s what’s great about documentary, about working in it. You work with the light that’s available and create something with what you have at hand. It teaches you how to be quick in terms of setting the frame and finding the angle and reading what’s happening – reading the development of what’s going on in front of you.
And that really relates to fiction as well, when you look at actors working, blocking, and rehearsing a scene. I feel like my documentary experience comes in handy during those situations. I still feel like I’m looking at real life and figuring out how to place myself and the camera to translate what’s happening within the scene. – Roger Deakins (Cinematographer)
Roger Deakins began his career as a documentary filmmaker. Look where it took him. His credits include: The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, A Beautiful Mind, Skyfall, Sicario, and Blade Runner 2049, the latter of which earned him his first Academy Award.
Some Worthy Looks
The following is short list of notable documentaries that I encourage you to watch.
The list below are longer documentaries and they may require you have access to a streaming or rental service.