The Vérité Documentary Cinematographers Dress Code
Filmmaker Eric Becker – photographer John Keatley
A cool kids uniform is still a uniform.
Documentary shoots usually are small informal teams, each person dictates their own dress code, though some unwritten rules at play. The idea is to be unnoticed by appropriately dressed for anything, you could walk into a church or a sacred ceremony or a jungle or a slum – you never know how the day can pivot, will have to run along side or climb up for vantage point and be able to carry certain equipment on your person.
From day 1 in the industry, I was nurtured/inspired the casual cool of french cinematographers. The objective, Blending in with a giant camera, is already tough; I don’t want to look like a technician. I wanna look like a cool dad; blend in but have small touches of style and flair, that when upon closer inspection pass certain sniff tests by the a range of citizens.
When on shore, never shorts
I’ve been turned away for having shorts on but no other piece of clothing. They can lend you a jacket, but pants? I wore shorts when I was first filming but over time I have realized, especially developing countries, formality matters as a sign of honor and respect. I just want people to feel comfortable and not be talking about how I am breaking another taboo. Unless you are on the ocean; the beach is technically part of the ocean. Note: wearing shorts is a sign you should be wearing sandals – the teva variety, never flip flops
A documentary is a like a good hike, you aren’t gonna wear sneakers or dress shoes, they are comfy but not enough protection. I like a light boot or trail shoe, the dressier the better, waterproof with good traction. You need to be able to climb a mountain then come down and walk into a church. For the hike, you want a good hat, sunscreen, extra layers, better safe than sorry. A good belt, with a Leatherman, a battery bank and tape.
I like a button down shirt, a modicum of formality but more importantly pockets, place to stash quick items. I’ve never gotten into fanny packs. Camouflage is in, so I would wear a military surplus jacket with huge pockets. Cargo pants seem obviously, pocket-wise, but fashion-wise I get triggered like an ex-cult member by Abercrombie catalog flashbacks. Besides having valuable or heavy items near your knees can go wrong for all involved. For pants I want a slim stretch fit in colors that don’t show dirt: dark, khaki navy but I avoid black.