On Documentary & Life
Updated: Sep 16, 2019
I headed to film school – instead of law school – because of my love of documentary film. From the outset, I was fortunate to have strong, experienced teachers like Michael Rabiger, of the BBC, and Steve James, of Hoop Dreams fame, to instruct me on how to do things the right way. Some find their way without mentors, but I was fortunate to see great work up close and to learn from that exposure. (During my years in film school, I found truth in fiction/scripted pieces too.) These filmmakers espoused the idea of deeply connecting with your subjects and unearthing the story in warm, personal ways.
I’ve made personal films of which I am proud but, for the most part, I’ve created work for strong brands in the realm of marketing. That said, I’ve always been driven to capture and portray their truth in clean and compelling ways too. And I’ve been fortunate to have partners from these brands who sought and appreciated that mindset.
Well, marketing in the highly interactive digital age is largely about authenticity and tight storytelling. I do think art and commerce have come closer together. There used to be a larger chasm between independent work and commercial work, but it’s largely closed up due to the public’s penchant for the truth on most fronts. (There are certainly deviations form this tendency but that’s for another post.) Warhol said commercial work was the highest form of art; I remember that from my visit to his museum in Pittsburgh years ago. He has a valid point.
A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to interview the four presidents of a great brand in order to create a meaningful documentary that I won’t elaborate on here. But it was a great experience learning from exceptional individuals who had flown fighters, led a branch of our armed forces, and succeeded in business on many fronts. They even discussed some of their failures, as part of their story, and how that shaped them. It was honest and heartfelt.
I relied on the same methods I learned in film school -- along with decades of experience -- to bring this story to life. Namely, to do your homework about the technology and what makes your subjects tick, and to engage them warmly and genuinely to bring out their best. And, perhaps above all, it's important to set out to learn from high-achieving individuals.
Of course, most professionals don’t interview people on camera for a living – and I also do much more on the creative front – but bringing that same mindset to every relationship we have, will elicit great results in life too. I set out to understand and learn from others. I suppose I learned that from my parents too. This trait has also enhanced my life in many ways but, of course, there's much more to learn.