© 2018 Laboratory X, Inc.

I have made eight feature length documentaries so far using the same method and style. I call them "observational films" not only because they are inspired by the tradition of observational cinema, but also because I believe in the power of observation.

 

When I say "observation" in this context, I do not mean maintaining a distance from my subjects or being a neutral third party. On the contrary, it is about looking and listening attentively. Furthermore, there are two aspects to observation.

 

Firstly, I as a filmmaker closely observe the reality in front of me and make films according to my observations and discoveries, not based on my assumptions or preconceptions I had before I shot the film. Secondly, I encourage viewers to observe the film actively with their own eyes and minds.

 

In order to realize these two aspects, I came up with these "Ten Commandments" for me to follow. They are:

 

1 No research.

2 No meetings with subjects.

3 No scripts.

4 Roll the camera yourself.

5 Shoot for as long as possible.

6 Cover small areas deeply.

7 Do not set up a theme or goal before editing.

8 No narration, super-imposed titles, or music.

9 Use long takes.

10 Pay for the production yourself.

 

These policies were conceived based on my frustrating experiences as a television documentary director before I started making films.

 

As a television director, I was required to do a lot of research and to write detailed scripts before shoots. I felt this process made it harder for me to discover anything beyond my imagination and expectation because I was bound by my own knowledge, preconceived notions, and plans. I was also forced to explain everything to the viewers by including narration, super-imposed titles, and music, all of which seemed to obstruct the viewers from really observing what was on screen.

 

In other words, I found that these practices prevented me from making documentaries with eye-opening discoveries for both the audience and myself. So I decided to do the opposite.

 

Kazuhiro Soda

 

"Ten Commandments" of Observational Filmmaking