The power of fly-on-the-wall documentaries

In a world where authenticity is king, the genre can really deliver

There have been two BBC fly-on-the-wall observational documentaries recently that have really got us talking in the MerchantCantos office. They are very different, but brilliant in their own ways. Bros: After the Screaming Stops was a masterclass in the genre that was both side splittingly funny and moving at the same time.  It was brilliantly edited and wonderfully produced. With classic lines from Matt and Luke Goss such as ‘I made a conscious decision because of Stevie Wonder not to be superstitious’ and ‘The letters H.O.M.E are so important because they personify the word home’, it started off as a real life version of Spinal Tap. However, by the end of the documentary, the viewer got a real sense of what it was like to become suddenly and unexpectedly massively famous, and how tragic personal events (the death of both their mother and sister) had placed their relationship under huge strain. This was an excellent bit of film making that took viewers on a real journey. On the back of the success of the programme, Bros are going back on tour.

Inside the Foreign Office was an altogether weightier affair. The film-maker, Michael Waldman, made us feel like we could really get to know some of the characters that work for the FO all around the world. There were grand dramas, big meetings and state visits but it was the small stories where the films really came alive. You got the impression that this imposing and rather faceless government department is actually made up of a diverse group of people from all walks of life quietly doing brilliant things. I don’t have any statistics to back that up, but I imagine that the Foreign Office went up in the estimation of almost all who saw the series – and I can’t see it damaging recruitment either.

Fly-on-the-wall documentaries can be powerful, and they are used in corporate communications very successfully. In a world where authenticity is king, the genre really delivers. At MerchantCantos we have had great success with the style. There are pitfalls, and senior management can take some convincing, but I would urge companies to have a think about using the style as part of their communications mix.

For more information, please contact the MerchantCantos film team.

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