Documentary video production

The umbrella of Documentary Production in London is extremely broad and there are many different types of videos out there depending on their intended purpose. Documentary films by definition are described as a non-fiction, live action film, created to document or capture reality whilst informing, teaching or educating its viewers. 

Documentary filmmakers are usually motivated to create a film or short series because they feel that a particular story, person or event needs to be shared with the world. Depending on the type of content being shared, documentaries can follow more of a story-telling and personal approach. They also have the power to evoke all kinds of emotions in their audiences through the medium of film.

What Are the Different Types of Documentary Films?

According to American film critic, Bill Nichols, documentary films can be categorised into 6 main genres: Poetic, Expository, Reflexive, Observational, Participatory and Performative. Although each genre has its own defining characteristics, some may have overlapping features with one and other. Below is a brief summary of each one: 

  1. Poetic Documentaries tend to evoke more of a feeling than necessarily focusing on a truth. They tend to be more abstract films with looser narratives. Poetic Documentaries often feature striking imagery and photographs with the ability to tell a story non-verbally. A good example of a poetic documentary is Leni Riefenstahl’s 1938 film, ‘Olympia’. 
  1. Unlike Poetic Documentaries, Expository Documentaries are designed to inform or persuade audiences on a particular subject. They are one of the best ways to share messages/information and often include stock footage or b-roll, to support and strengthen the narrative of the film. Expository Documentaries use a ‘Voice of God’ style voiceover which is commonly described as being omniscient, impartial and usually voiced by a male narrator. David Attenborough’s ‘The Blue Planet’ (2001) is a great example of a strong and emotive Expository Documentary. 
  1. Participatory Documentaries, also referred to as Interactive Documentaries, often feature an interaction between the filmmakers and their subjects. This involvement can include questioning from behind the camera or actual short appearances in the film. Filmmaker Michael Moore’s award-winning ‘Bowling for Columbineis an example of a strong participatory doc.
  1. Reflexive Documentaries are similar to Participatory in the sense that they both include the filmmaker within the film. Reflexive docs often expose the documentary making process by including the editing and post-production outtakes. Perhaps the best example of this genre is Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov’s ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ (1929). 
  1. Observational Documentaries do exactly, as they say, they observe and attempt to gather the truth around a specific topic. Filmmakers act as a fly-on-the-wall in order to capture their subjects in a raw and natural state. The 1960 American documentary, Primary, gives viewers an insight into the Wisconsin primary between Democratic candidates JFK and Hubert Humphrey, who were both running for the US Presidential nomination. This film was considered a breakthrough in this documentary style!
  1. Much like Participatory Documentaries, Performative Documentaries often include the filmmaker’s involvement(thoughts, feelings and experiences) to evoke a more personal and emotive response to the non-fiction film. They are regarded as the opposite of Observational Documentaries as they require an interaction between the subject and the filmmaker.  American documentary filmmaker, Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me (2004) shocks viewers with the unhealthy side effects and risks of what eating Mcdonalds for 30days can do to your body. 

Where to Watch Documentaries

In such a fast-paced technological world, documentaries are now created with more ease and produced to a much higher standard. Social media platforms, like Youtube, have opened up a whole new way of sharing and broadcasting short films/ documentaries to mass audiences, across the globe. Did you know that Youtube has 2.3 billion worldwide users and is the second-most popular search engine after Google? That’s crazy! 

Online streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, SKY, along with many others, offer endless choices of documentaries for viewers to indulge in. With so much out there, we are certainly spoilt for choice! 

Documentaries have been around for decades but their popularity in the 21st century has undoubtedly increased, especially during the current global pandemic! True Crime Documentary series like Making a Murderer (2015-18) and Tiger King (2020) have attracted millions of views due to their unique and bizarre storylines. Below are their film posters! Have you watched the shows yet?

What Makes a Good Documentary?

As this question is totally subjective, the answer will differ from person to person. However, it is safe to say that most of us will agree that the foundation of a good documentary should have an unusual or intriguing storyline/ subject matter, good cinematography and a strong soundtrack to match the genre of the film. 

People are often drawn to the unknown or things they know very little about. We are often entertained by the idea of confronting our fears, so watching documentaries of a psychological/true crime nature allows this to happen by hooking and intriguing us into the storyline. 

Another popular genre is celebrity-based real-life documentaries. These films tell the story of a celebrity and their claim to fame. Their narrative often starts out very lighthearted and inspiring but as the film unfolds, there is a switch to a much darker tone. Famous faces like Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears all have very intense documentary films about their lives, where they showcase the pressures of stardom and the difficulties they have had to face throughout their career.

Documentaries like this provoke strong emotions as viewers are given an insight into the negative side of celebrity culture, whilst also making the celebrities more relatable. You can check out the top ten celebrities documentaries here! 

Get in Touch With Our Documentary Production Company in London and Woking

At DreamingFish, we have had the opportunity to work with some amazing clients over the years, producing some very exciting and interesting projects for them. Our portfolio is made up of a variety of different videos and we have two that could be classed as documentary-style. 

Firstly, we were asked to film an ‘in the studio’ video for British sculptor and painter, Sean Henry. Henry wanted to have a video on his website that gave viewers an insight into his creative world; sharing the way he works and what inspires him to create such beautiful and unique sculptures. 

Henry works mainly with clay and plays with the concept of scale, with some statues being around 2.2metres tall!Henry has displayed his work globally and you can find four of his bronze-painted sculptures scattered around his hometown of Woking, Surrey. (“Woman, Being Looked At” 2006, in the Peacocks Centre, “Standing Man” 2010 in Jubilee Place, “Seated Man” 2011 at Woking Station, Platform 1, and “The Wanderer” 2012 in Woking High Street.) You can watch Sean Henry’s | In the Studio film below:


Another documentary-style video we created was for the Carnival Arts & Masquerade Foundation (CAMF). Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the 2020 Nottinghill Carnival could not go ahead so, it was our job to make something extra special to take its place. 

The Notting Hill Carnival is an annual Caribbean event that started in 1966 and takes place on the streets of London, usually over two days in the summer. The carnival attracts many people with around a 2.5million attendees, 40,000 volunteers and 9,000 police! We created a film, using archive footage, to showcase the history and importance of the carnival by interviewing the people who make the magic happen; from costume designers, musicians to members of the carnival committee.


The video was live-streamed over the Carnival bank holiday weekend and was enjoyed by many. Perhaps we can look forward to the real event this year, but who knows!

Are you looking to work with a video production agency? With a combined industry experience of 50 years, we at DreamingFish have got you covered. Why not get in touch with us today to see how we can help you with your video needs!

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