A Documentary May Be The Best Way To Tell Your Brand Story
Updated: Nov 23
I went to film school instead of law school in the 1990s because of a strong interest in documentary film. That appreciation is still with me today. I was fortunate to learn from some of the best in Chicago. I had a professor, Michael Rabiger, who was a BBC film director and had arguably written the best textbook of the era. He was kind and perceptive. And my first paid job ever in film was for the iconic (and Academy Award-nominated) “Hoop Dreams,” where I got to interact with great director Steve James, who is still among the most important filmmakers around. Yes, he was also kind and perceptive. That was good fortune for me, and also set the bar high for all my work to come.
Now, first and foremost, documentary film is a way to explore a subject, but it almost always begins with a thesis in mind. You then go out and gather proof, in the form of interviews or careful observations, to test it out. This process will typically reshape your story in slight but often significant ways. Where you land is different, and typically deeper, then where you set out to go. It is a creative exercise but also somewhat scientific/journalistic.
This sort of exploration, with a thesis in hand, is also good for a brand looking to discover and relaunch itself. Yes, documentary film, often created over years, can sometimes get dark, and a brand’s documentary, which needs to be done in weeks, won’t go there. That said, a brand story is a tale about a successful, positive organization. So, like in our personal lives, we’ll certainly accentuate the positive. But you will definitely learn something along the way! And it is typically better than what your expected to find. Trust the process.
I often recommend a documentary to really understand and define your brand. And then, once it is shaped, you must put it out into the world to let folks see you in all your glory. (That process is a bit scary, but that's a good thing!) But it is also important to remember that it’s just a launching off point. You must continue to build upon your story with much more about your “why,” customer testimonials, and culture too, among other vantage points. Dive deep, tell your story honestly—and ever heroically—and continue to evolve! Stories, and our future, depend on it.