TOP Talk

Documentaries Part II: The Untold Story of Employing Documentaries

Posted April 07, 2015 By Sue Parente

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We are living in a golden age of storytelling. Everyone has a story, and now, with a little help from technology, everyone has the power to share those stories with an enormous audience, which is awesome. But where there’s huge opportunity, comes a lot of noise. So, how do you get your voice and brand above that deafening din? One such format we’ve been exploring on this blog is the branded (aka corporate) documentary.

In January, we checked in with Kelly Carty, former CNN and Al Jazeera America producer, about her views on the power of the documentary. This time around, we chatted up filmmaker Jared Goodman of Untold Productions about documentary best practices, his favorite docs, and whether you’re a filmmaker, brand, or marketer, the importance of passion in the filmmaking process. Here’s some of what Jared had to share:

Q: How can brands best leverage the documentary art form to engage with key audiences? Are there clear do's and don'ts?

Viewers attach a level of authenticity and honesty to documentary style and if done correctly, brands can attach themselves to these qualities. As for “do’s and don’ts” – I think it is important to focus on telling an engaging story, as opposed to forcing the brand on the viewer. Viewers are very smart these days and will be put-off right away if videos are too heavy-handed with the branding. A little is fine – too much tips the scales. If a story is engaging and reflects the qualities important to your brand, then viewers will feel great about sharing it and everyone benefits.

Q: What does a typical documentary production timeline and team look like?

I remember at the first film festival I ever went to a fellow filmmaker was amazed that I had made my film in only one year's time. Conversely, she had worked on her project for over a decade. The second film I created, Captive Beauty, took me about seven years so I am starting to relate to this woman’s initial point. What I have learned is that every project is different. The important thing is to stick with a story for as long as it takes to capture it - whether that is years or just days.

As for commercial documentary projects, the turnaround is almost always much tighter as deadlines and budgets usually dictate our schedule. We ask clients to award a job at least several weeks before our shoot date(s). That gives us time to reach out to the subjects, organize crew and plan. If creative support is needed we’ll have to get started researching and developing concepts even earlier. After production is complete, we move to post-production. The length of post-production is determined by many factors, including how much material is captured and how many different videos were ordered.

Q: What should a brand look for when selecting a documentary production partner?

Look for a company that specializes in both long format projects as well as short form commercial work. The timelines are so different and commercial projects need to partner with a production company that understands hard deadlines, budget restrictions and collaboration. Working with a company that has had success with feature length projects is very valuable as well. These companies usually have award-winning filmmakers at their reach and can bring these skills to your commercial production. Finally, watch the films and commercials that the production companies produce – do you connect with the characters? Does it feel like they provide nuance but don’t get lost in too many details? Do you think about the subject(s) of their films the day after you watched it?

Q: How do you make sure a documentary is balanced?

Find your story. If a project is about a theme then figure out a great way to make the theme the hero. If a project is more character-based then find an interesting way to capture their story. By narrowing down your perspective and finding your central themes, you establish a great starting point. Then, once the central narrative is established it will be much easier to find your story arcs and create a really balanced and compelling piece.

Q: Are there any other factors brands should take into account when planning a video production?

So many! Every project is different and requires an experienced team to execute a great video. Untold Productions has a really talented creative team, great producers, directors, animators and editors. Just like anything, it is important to work with people who are passionate about what they do. We love telling stories and take great pride in making every project really stand out. Whoever you choose, make sure you select a team that is excited and engaged and then lean on them for ideas, inspiration and advice.

Q: What are your favorite documentaries and what makes them great?

Here are some that come to mind: Murderball, The Cove, Harlan County, U.S.A, Restrepo, The Salesman, Rize, Grizzly Man, The Thin Blue Line, Man on Wire

The films mentioned above are all documentaries but what is great is that they are so different in terms of style and subject matter. Some use re-enactments brilliantly (The Thin Blue Line), some are almost entirely vérité films (The Salesman) and others are highly stylized (Rize, Murderball and The Cove). There are so many ways to tell a story, so many techniques. I think what all the films that I love have in common though is that they tell a story that needs to be told, the filmmakers are passionate and their voice is unique – the creative possibilities are endless.


Untold Productions is a full service production company offering all creative, production and post-production services. Based in Brooklyn, New York and Boston, Massachusetts their projects range from award winning television and commercial projects to popular music videos. See their work at untoldproductions.com.

Sue Parente

About Sue Parente

What inspires me? Brave communicators who dare to put "right" before "safe."