Documentaries. You know, films that use real people instead of actors because they’re cheaper. Today, we have documentary film festivals, documentary channels, and documentaries on how to make a documentary.
But why all this documania? Why the obsession with documenting? Maybe our surroundings have become so strange, so captivating, so immediate, that the need to escape through fictitious worlds has taken a backseat to the here and now.
At Typeform, we’re in the business of asking questions. And what better way to dig deeper into ourselves and our organization, than by prodding at our collective persona.
How? You guessed it—by producing our very own Typeform documentary.
Titled “Home,” the Typeform documentary gives viewers an insider look at how it feels to be a Typeformer and what it’s like to work in such a unique-looking office.
Sure, but where’s the narrative arc? Where’s the tension? Where’s Indiana Jones being chased through a cave by a giant-sized boulder?
Creating a film is all about choices. So let’s pop open the hood to take a peek at how we made the film.
Telling the story of a business
“Brand documentaries become honest when everyone is free to say what they think.”
The documentary originally set out to talk about the ups and downs of moving to a new office. But “Home” quickly morphed into something different. Because it turns out that moving to a new space just wasn’t that worthy of a story.
“We wanted to know more about why this space affects us, how we work together, and whether this impacts us as individuals beyond the brand.”
And how did we do that? It’s all in the approach. Normally, when a company creates a video, they receive a brief, shoot a video, and quickly release the product to the public.
With “Home,” Typeform’s production team left the message wide open until the moment they began filming interviews.
“For a documentary to be real, it has to be with real people. Don’t try to control things.”
And guess what. People talked, and talked, and talked. The entire documentary is seven minutes but every interview went on for well over an hour. (Seems that nobody at Typeform has stage fright.)
Because that’s how you let a documentary take shape. You let people talk. You make it a conversation. And you create something built on the pillars of transparency and honesty.
This is the organic process that allowed us to uncover two main objectives:
Explore the ideas and processes that go into creating an office that genuinely reflects people and culture.
Investigate how a community of workers personally interacts with a brand through their everyday space.
Here’s Alex on the interviews:
“We wanted diversity. We wanted people from different teams, from different levels. We wanted to know how people really felt about this place.”
Shooting in an office environment
“Why are you making us shut up if you’re shooting a documentary?”
Documentaries are disruptive. Behind the camera is a barrage of lights, microphone rods, and a foreign film crew dressed in black.
They make noise, they move things around, and they block off large parts of the office for long periods of time. They also say “Shh!” a lot.
Does that piss people off? Or course it does. More from Alex:
“You need to explain the shooting process to staff members so they know what to expect. People complained, we should have done a better job with that.”
For some people, filming can be seen as an assault on their concentration. A word of advice: be conscious of people’s needs, their comfort, and especially—their work areas.
And communicate the shoot schedule, the length of the process, and the scene locations in advance to give people the chance to adjust.
Inside the cutting room
“I wasn’t expecting any of this.”
After all the footage had been captured—over 21:30:26 hours of it—so began the task of sculpting the visual mass into a coherent format.
And that’s when some of the best surprises surfaced.
You see, the texture of “Home” started very much in the style of a documentary. The timing was slow, the tone was tempered, and the overall palette wasn’t too colorful.
But once the team started working on graphics, adding music, and creating titles, they noticed that suddenly, everything became more vibrant.
“We had shots of people playing volleyball, joking at the lunch table, and being so enthusiastic about their daily life at Typeform. Basically, everyone was smiling all the time.”
So the editing team ditched their initial plans and went with color grading, big titles, and no credits at the end. Which brings us to our next valuable documentary lesson: remain flexible throughout your entire process.
A few more things we learned
Thinking of turning out your own brand documentary? Here’s a few more things we learned along the way.
Nail down your story
Nobody follows you if you don’t know where you’re going. Have a story to tell, even if it’s just a general idea or something that morphs as you progress.
Create a storyboard or a script
This helps you plan the project by telling you who you need to interview and why it’s important that certain people are in the film.
Create a budget and get a producer
Since your film (probably) isn’t hitting the box office, you won’t be generating any direct revenue from the project. Funds will be tight, so keep things reasonable.
Premiere it in front of your people
Sharing the project with staff members makes everyone feel part of the process. Get the company together and make an event out of the premiere.
Choose a straightforward title
A humble and unpretentious title sets the tone for the entire project.
Don’t be afraid of subtitles
On “Home,” some people speak Spanish while others express themselves in English. Make people feel comfortable by letting them express themselves naturally.
Keep end devices in mind
Make sure the film looks and sounds good on your audience’s preferred media format. Things like personal computers, headphones, and handheld devices have different requirements than the big screen.
“Home” had its public debut on 16 November in Barcelona, Spain at Typeform’s headquarters. The film took 4 days to shoot and 10 months to make. It involved a crew of 6 people, and the budget was not as bad as we thought.