Our Experience at Oregon Documentary Camp

By Matter

As a Video Producer here at Matter (and repping our Portland office!), I’m always looking to meet local filmmakers and explore the artist community which is especially ripe in Portland. While working with clients to tell their brand stories every day, it’s important to explore the overlap between our approach and the styles and workflows of more traditional filmmaking experiences, such as documentary work.

Which is why, this past June, I jumped at the opportunity to attend a four-day workshop at the Oregon Documentary Camp, hosted in Sublimity, Oregon by NW Documentary. Dubbed “Doc Camp,” the workshop is an invitational for experienced documentary filmmakers to gather with peers and attend master class seminars, participate in panel discussions, show screen works in progress, and share stories from the field and editing room. I was inspired by how well Doc Camp created an environment for learning and support, away from the cares of home, nestled in the beautiful forests of Oregon.

Since it was such a positive experience, I want to share my top three takeaways applicable to any storyteller.


Storytelling is Your Foundation

Storytelling is the foundation for any genre of filmmaking, whether it’s a B2B tech industry piece or a full-length feature. All filmmakers share the storytelling space; it is an ever-evolving landscape where we all have different stories to share. One of the most helpful takeaways from Doc Camp was learning to acknowledge yourself as a filmmaker and the impact of your perspective in the story. It’s important to come into a story and work with what is already there, while also capturing the unique narrative that may differ from the common perspective. The story is meant to go beyond you as the filmmaker, and it’s your responsibility to capture that unique perspective while preserving subjects’ voices.

For example, Betsy Cross, the founder and designer of the amazing Portland brand Betsy & Iya, shared her journey into starting the company and discussed the experience of being a female entrepreneur in Portland. Spending time in Betsy’s workshop while getting to know her, her style and what inspires her was so moving to me. It motivated me to carve a visual story from her narrative, embodying her journey from the start, detailing what she has built and the collaboration she’s experienced in the Portland community.


Show, Don’t Tell

Back in college, one of the most impactful ideas my photography professor shared with us was, “show, don’t tell.” This shaped my perspective of what being a visual artist means. No matter the medium, you must leave room for your work to “speak” for itself. Unsurprisingly, this topic came up at Doc Camp. By incorporating this mantra into your work, you leave room for your audience to feel the message without forcing it upon them. Striking this balance helps to keep your viewers engaged. Trust that the audience is smart, savvy and will feel what you want them to feel.

For example: We shot a short video for Bell’s Foods, utilizing natural sound design, and working with a family as they actually cooked dinner. By capturing the beauty (and a bit of the chaos) of family dinner time, we brought the event to life for viewers.


Go Big, Take Risks

Filmmakers are truth seekers. We know we don’t know everything about everything: A skill set, a specific story or even if our project will leave the ground. We were reminded at Doc Camp to go big and take risks. Always ask your community how you can help. Your position should not be, “how can this serve me,” but rather, “how can this project impact the world?” Be involved and trust your process. As filmmakers, we need to know where our storyteller/protagonist is coming from. Whether it be for commercial work, feature documentaries or any sort of narrative-based creative work, we need to step up to capture and share relevant stories.

For example: We produced a video for iZotope and their mobile music recording product. It’s not often I’m in front of the camera, but as a musician (I wear a lot of hats), it made sense to approach this production with some vulnerability; to show the musician audience an earnest product experience. I took the product and used it to write and record a song, capturing a taste of my creative process as the video’s story.


Use Whatever Moves You

At Matter, our task is to share our clients’ stories in a way that is compelling and authentic. The more we can “go big” and push the envelope in our work, the more impact we can have on our client’s goals. Whether you’re a filmmaker, a writer, a designer whatever space you’re in find the story, balance showing and telling, and trust your process.

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