Off With the Talking Documentary Head

Posted on May 20, 2007


As noted before, some classmates aren’t the biggest fans of the documentary aspect of our curriculum. Reasons vary from the lack of full creative control, non-fictional (educational) stories, or just sheer dislike for the documentary genre.

I’ll admit that prior to this past semester I hadn’t seen as many documentaries as I’d like to, so to correct that and prepare for my own venture into the documentary world I hit the documentary section on Netflix to watch some of the top rated films. Below are two films I wanted to point out that create a narrative feel yet are documenting real events, proving that a documentary doesn’t always require a narrator or interviews ((See Cinema Verite)).

The War Room

The War Room documents the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign, run by James Carville and George Stephanopoulos. There’s no narration, no formal interviews – just the filmmakers following the action at the campaign headquarters in Arkansas (which Hilary Clinton nicknamed “The War Room”). Yet the film is just as engaging and entertaining as any other political drama – maybe even more so because a documentary has “this is a true story” built right into it.


Salesman follows four door-to-door bible salesmen in the sixties as they try to sell expensive bibles to low-income families and deal with the harsh requirements of traveling around the country to make a living. Again, no narration or interviews. The camera is right in there as the salesman are making their pitch and trying to cut any deal to make a sale.
Made by two brothers, the Criterion Collection DVD has a great interview with them explaining how there were no pre-arrangements made with the prospective customers the salesmen would visit. They would just show up with their equipment (which was pretty mammoth) and ask each person for permission to film them. Stuff like this always gives me a little motivational boost since I have the bad habit of assuming a ‘no’ before I even ask.

The main challenge in creating these types of documentaries is you’ll have one monster editing job ahead of you. Both films probably had hundreds of hours of footage to sort through in order to find the stories worth telling.

So if documentaries haven’t been your thing, you should check these two films out and give it another shot.

Get the latest news, tips, and insight in the world of video and marketing

Get Media Signals sent straight to your inbox - our weekly email for entrepreneurs, marketers, and creators focused on using video to grow their brand.

Related Posts

5 Favorite Films I Saw at Sundance

This is just a a quick writeup of some of the films I enjoyed most at Sundance. More importantly, these are out of a very small pool of films I was able to see, because even with a badge, it's really, really hard to see films at Sundance. To get a ticket for each of...

Hands-On Review of Shooting with the GH3 in Juarez

I returned from a shoot in Juarez, Mexico, using only the GH3. Bottom line - it's an amazing DSLR. I also rented some of the new Panasonic lenses. Everything in the video above was shot with the GH3. You can read my full review at Filmmaker Magazine. Filmmaker:...

Never Miss a Thing in Video Marketing

Join Media Signals, our free weekly email packed with the latest news and tips in the world of video marketing