Thursday 3: Why documentaries are truly moving pictures

For an authentic connection, it’s hard to beat the power of documentary video.

BY Shaun Ruddy
Director, Video, Imagination

Documentaries have been around almost since the inception of film, and they’ve evolved into a remarkable and powerful storytelling medium. Part of that power comes from the idea of being authentic.

The desire for an authentic connection with an audience helps the documentary style preserve its power in the current video-driven market. Documentary videos change the way we see the world around us, teach us about our differences and similarities, educate and empower us to stand together, take action and enact change.

Smart brands sense this power. I believe we’ll see an ever-increasing demand for documentary storytelling in the immediate future. In the meantime, here are three that get it right.

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

I would have loved to be a fly on the wall to see how a simple B2B campaign evolved into a feature-length documentary about our connected world—directed by the legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog. I can only imagine there were many opportunities for this project to go off the rails, so the strength of the finished product is a testament to Netscout’s belief in the idea and strategy.

The film opened at the Sundance Film Festival, then to a limited theatrical release before becoming available on streaming services. That’s not a typical distribution plan for a piece of sponsored content, but it has bolstered Netscout’s strategy of promoting its new brand positioning as “Guardians of the Connected World.”

The Balloonist

“From an early age, I always wanted to fly” is the first quote we hear in the video. And yes, the video is about a hot air balloon pilot. But one could argue the quote also applies to the companies and teams that are creating the video.

FreeFly, a pioneer in aerial cinematography, teamed up with the Emmy award-winning directing duo at Mindcastle and Arriflex cameras to create The Balloonist, as a way to showcase the practical application of their products.

Toward the end of the video, the hot air balloon pilot quote: “I’ve taken a lot of people up for their very first flight” mirrors filmmaker Casey Warren’s quote: “Putting the ALEXA Mini on the helicopter was, I believe, the first time ever that an ALEXA has been flown on an RC drone of this size. So everyone was really excited.” I feel like those two quotes really capture the theme and message of the video while effectively showcasing the capabilities of their technology in this inspirational story.

The Great Big Story

Do a Google search for “Great Big Story,” and you’ll see the description, “A social video network for the jaw-droppingly awesome.” Somehow, even that tagline doesn’t do Great Big Story justice. The content from this company is awe-inspiring, masterfully shot and is never without a focus on storytelling.

Start with the headlines: “The Only Relative of the Giraffe Looks Like a Zebra,” “Saving an Ancient Language Through Pop Music” and “At 84, the World’s Oldest Female Sharpshooter Doesn’t Miss.” They may sound like click-bait, but the content—short, amazingly authentic slices of life—backs them up. I had a hard time picking just one video for this story, since Great Big Story is a great big rabbit hole for me. There’s no brand connection here, but there is great documentary filmmaking sure to inspire others.

I chose the clip above—"She Sings The Blues: Jamming with the Legendary Beverly Watkins"—because of my love of documentaries and the blues. Beverly Watkins, a 77-year-old musical great, still rocks some badass blues with a guitar slung behind her head. Beverly just wants to do her thing: “look good, have a good time and just get up there." Seriously, what more can you ask for?

published: May 4, 2017

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