”I have always carried over ideas from documentary to narrative shooting” Ed Lachman
“If something looks too slick in the visual look and the film takes place in reality it makes me suspicious.” Haskell Wexler
EL: I have always carried over ideas from documentary to narrative shooting. One is the immediacy. I always try to keep one eye on reality, on the scene while shooting. The camera is just another actor who is reacting to an action. Also in documentaries you have to respond to the light in the environment you are in. Often in narrative films I try to work with the light I have because any artificial light will respond to the natural light and the surroundings too.
HW: The main difference is that in fiction you are part of bigger team and have more technology at your disposal. You have to listen to a lot of people who have different demands. I am not saying that’s bad, but it’s very different from being on a small documentary crew.
EL: Sometimes in documentaries the cinematographer needs to have a function more like a co-director because he needs to decide just in that given moment what to shoot and how to shoot it. But all films are really documents. Also ‘in narrative film, you cannot plan everything, film deals with time and space, and any given shot is a depiction of that given moment – and moments are never the same.
HW: I don’t buy the idea that in documentary things only happen once. You can retake a lot of shots in a documentary but of course it depends on the subject and your relationship with your sources. It doesn’t make it less real if I move a chair or ask a person to try to walk up the stairs one more time to get the shot from a different angle. As long as you can cope with it yourself, as long as it feels honest for you, it is all right because our notion of honesty is different from one another.
Also the line between fiction and documentary is really artificial. Both types of filmmaking are the results of people’s storytelling. That said, I still think a good documentary should be a learning process. I like the documentaries that not just fill in blanks but where the director gets something that he didn’t want or didn’t know he could or would get.
HW: Who should set up such a limit? I think it’s very subjective. If something looks too slick in the visual look and the film takes place in reality it makes me suspicious. It shouldn’t but it does. But then again, subjectivity is the key to create art. Without subjectivity we might as well put up surveillance cameras and use that footage in our documentaries. – (EL) Generally I don’t like too stylized shooting in documentaries. For instance some of the interview scenes in Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home, they were too cosmetic for my taste. I like the feeling of the sense of the moment which is one of the major strengths of documentary. You want as little technological impact as possible.