What It’s Like to Film a Company Documentary

Thinking about making a company documentary but wondering what the experience will be like? As a producer who specializes in this powerful format, I completely understand. It can be easy for those of us who do it all the time to forget that a film shoot is a very unique experience for most people.

That’s why I want to reassure you that…

A company documentary shoot won’t shut down your business.

Filming a company documentary will not halt your business! In fact, the format is designed to capture the mood and essence of an active business.

Interview footage

A professional production company will be sensitive to the fact that your facility is still a workplace while they film and make every effort to do their work without taking over your entire facility at once.

Since company documentaries generally include sit-down interviews with leadership and staff, the film crew may use a designated area or room for interviews so the rest of the facility can continue as normal. Alternatively, the crew may move from place to place to accommodate the person they’re interviewing in her own space.

It’s important to keep in mind that the production will probably only interview one person at a time, so it won’t require everyone’s attention at once. There is no hard rule about how long these interviews take, but a production company emphasizing speed over quality may not deliver as satisfying a result.

Non-interview footage

Most company documentaries include footage other than interviews (“b-roll”). Depending on the size, scope, and style of the production, this can be candid or staged. There are advantages to both approaches.

There are different ways to shoot b-roll for a company documentary
Candid b-roll can be less intrusive and capture very authentic moments. Photo by Garry Knight/CC BY

Candid b-roll can be captured by a single camera operator roaming around the facility and filming without a specific plan. This can result in pleasantly authentic moments, and is typically less intrusive. It can also yield a wider variety of footage because more can be filmed in a given amount of time. However, the scenes will not be as carefully lit (if at all) and the camera angles not as carefully considered. This can result in images that may not look as professional as they would if staged (though not necessarily bad).

Staged b-roll will usually look more “high budget” in the final version. Staging b-roll also gives you and the film crew more control over the story, because each shot will have been planned ahead of time, ensuring that nothing important is missed. On the downside, staging b-roll is more disruptive to the normal course of business, and requires the full attention of anyone who may be featured in the shot. One of my favorite ways to stage b-roll is to film an interview subject driving their car from the inside. Driving always brings a person into a sincere contemplative state.

Most of our company documentary work involves a combination of candid and staged b-roll. Sometimes, even with the most meticulous planning, we’ll notice something in the moment that’s too good to miss!

The film crew will not be looking for dirt.

Despite the implications of the word “documentary”, a company documentary is still a marketing video. It’s not designed to be an exposé or to highlight information you don’t want publicized. You’re a paying client, and the production company shares your goal of putting your brand’s best foot forward.

The crew will not be looking for dirt.

What makes a company documentary different from a conventional marketing video or advertisement is that it communicates authenticity by using visceral moments with the people behind the brand. “Visceral” does not mean unflattering or embarrassing. In fact, the real magic of the brand documentary is in its ability to make a company shine in ways that are impossible to script.

You’ll have control over the final cut, so you don’t need to worry about revealing anything that makes PR stir. However, being a little more flexible than usual with your messaging can yield wonderful results for your credibility with a public hungry to do business with more human brands.

You’ll rediscover your own excitement about your business.

The production company is your ally. They have as much investment in the quality of the project as you do. It will reflect on their brand, too. It’s in their best interest to create an atmosphere of ease and delight during your shoot. They’ll be excited about your business, your team, and your product. They’ll be motivated to get you excited, too.

A great interviewer will ask you and your team questions designed to connect you with the core reasons you got involved in the first place. He will follow threads that light you up and reflect your positive energy back to you. You may end up discussing inspiring ideas and concepts that sparked your initial interest in the business, but that you haven’t thought about in a while. You may rediscover your passion.

This is easily my favorite part of any company documentary shoot. It’s so easy to get lost in the daily minutiae of business administration that it can be easy to forget about the human impetus that birthed the company in the first place. I love seeing an entrepreneur reconnect with their why.

Need help?

We love helping brands rediscover and communicate their authenticity. If you’re curious about creating a company documentary, please don’t hesitate to contact us today!