Many feature filmmakers are entering the feature film world from nontraditional beginnings, such as music videos, and this includes documentary filmmakers.
Feature filmmakers, fiction and nonfiction alike, often enter the world of feature films from studying film in school or getting their foot in the door with feature films–or at least films of the same genre they are pursuing. The standards for feature films have primarily remained the same throughout the years, however music videos have historically had more freedom to break new ground in creative expression with their production, cinematography and editing. While most filmmakers are still discovered through more traditional routes, a number of filmmakers have gotten their starts in unconventional ways—like converting from directing or filming music videos to more or less traditional fiction or nonfiction features. With this transition, they often bring over a new sense of creativity into the feature film market, and it is becoming increasingly more common for feature filmmakers to be discovered in these less conventional ways.
David Fincher started off directing music videos for artists ranging from The Rolling Stones to Madonna. ”Fincher’s goal is clearly to accompany and accentuate the virtues of the artist performing,” according to AV News. “But looking back at how he did that also shows all of his skills as a later filmmaker—namely, the thoughtful editing, masterful framing, and compositional precision—in full bloom.” Fincher went on to direct films like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Fight Club. Spike Jonze began filming skate videos and music videos for artists like Beastie Boys and Weezer, and then went on to work on movies like fiction film Her and the documentary Pretty Sweet.
More recently Alma Har’el, who directed an acclaimed music video for single “Elephant Gun” from the band Beirut, began employing her music video background to direct feature documentaries. Har’el won Tribeca’s Best Documentary Feature Award in 2011 and a number of other awards for her film Bombay Beach and went on to direct Love True, released in 2016. In both of these films, Har’el uses her hypnotic cinematography to create a documentary that employs choreographed dance sequences to move the story along. Ties to Har’el’s music videos can also be seen in her feature documentary work through the slight use of animal costumes. In her “Elephant Gun” music video, Har’el used small elephant trunk masks on a number of the dancers and actors, and in both feature documentaries she uses a wolf hat in her dream like dance sequences. The style in which her features are filmed and constructed is unique in the documentary world.
Like Har’el, many filmmakers from a nontraditional background have a unique way of making fiction and nonfiction films, and this different way of filmmaking is beginning to stand out more and more.