After watching a Netflix documentary, you start to notice a similar style that carries through each one.
Documentaries have the power to connect us all to a part of the world that we are unable to interact with. Being able to peek into someone’s perspective of the world is a deeply intimate experience that films are usually unable to accomplish. While not all documentaries are the same, some recurring elements and styles can be traced back to a specific distributor.
When it comes to producing documentaries, Netflix is a force to be reckoned with. It is responsible for some of the most talked-about documentaries today, like the infamous Tiger King and The Social Dilemma. Although Netflix is dedicated to providing quality content, its creators have fallen into a cycle of repeating their style in most of the documentaries on the platform.
How to create a Netflix-style doc
To start, you’ll need two cameras, two nice lenses like the Panasonic 25mm F1.7 or Samyang 85mm T1.5, and a light. Once you’ve got all your tools, it is time to find a location to film your interviews.
There are a few ways to make your interview look cinematic, and one of the key factors is finding a space that is in conversation with the topic of the interview.
Once you’ve found your location, set up your cameras in two different angles and start playing around with the placement of the light. Netflix creates a specific level of depth on their interviewees' faces by angling the light in a way that it creates a triangle pocket of light on one of the interviewee’s cheeks. This is known as Rembrandt lighting.
Then, place a bed sheet just out of frame to eliminate any unwanted shadows, and place your boom mics above the interviewee’s chest, at an angle so you’re recording the interviewee’s sound and not their forehead.
Now that you have a great setup to film your interviewee in, it is time to press record. After filming the interview with both cameras recording, film some B-roll to edit into the scene later. You can use stock footage that is well shot and is a lot less expensive than trying to get that footage yourself.
The final step is the best part. It’s time to edit. This is where the Nextflix style really comes to life. Including drone shots, a single piano key soundtrack to add drama, a visual timeline, dramatic titles, and bass drops when important information is revealed will make the documentary feel exactly like a Netflix-produced project.
When everything is blended together, you have a Netflix-style documentary. This is a fun look at how stylistic elements can immediately elevate your project and make it seem slick and big-budget, even if you didn't spend much money.
Of course, play around with each of these elements to create a pace for the story that keeps the audience engaged but doesn’t make them feel overwhelmed or underwhelmed by the amount of information being given. Playing around with another creator’s style can show you editing techniques that you can incorporate into your own style. Filmmaking is all about finding inspiration from other filmmakers and integrating it into your work in a different way.
What are some other great documentarian styles that we should check out? Let us know in the comments below!