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What Does Organic Filmmaking Actually Mean?

organic filmmaking

What Does Organic Filmmaking Actually Mean?

When you think of the word “organic,” what comes to mind? If you’re like most people, it’s probably something to do with food. But what if I told you that the same word can be used to describe film?

Organic filmmaking is my preferred style. I’ll tell you why:  I’m always trying to create films and videos that are as authentic and real as possible. That, in a nutshell, is organic filmmaking. There are typically no scripts, although some messaging may exist. But mostly it’s a freeflowing narrative.

Now, I should be clear: Not everything I film would be classified as organic filmmaking. For some corporate environmental work, messaging is tightly controlled and that’s just part of dealing with corporate entities.

So what does organic filmmaking actually mean? It means that films and videos aren’t just about a story or characters — they’re also about the world around the characters. This can be weather, wildlife, conflict, etc. As an organic filmmaker I want my video work to feel like it’s unfolding in real life. This means that my conservation films won’t rely on any special effects or editing tricks in the production process. When I’m in the field I prefer to keep the camera recording as much as possible. This is how I capture so many real experiences and behind the scenes of conservation work.

Organic Filmmaker vs Synthetic Filmmakers

In conservation filmmaking, there are two types of filmmakers: organic filmmakers and synthetic filmmakers. Organic filmmakers seek out the truth in the most raw and unedited form; they want to tell stories that show us what’s really happening out there in nature, without any gimmicks or tricks to make it more interesting or exciting. They believe that if we can show people how incredible our planet is and how much we need to protect it, then maybe people will do something about it.

Synthetic filmmakers tend to focus on creating an experience for their audience that feels more like a video game than reality. They use special effects and high definition cameras so that viewers can see everything looking crystal clear and sharp — even though this rarely happens in nature!

The good news is that both types of filmmaking have their place in conservation work; one just doesn’t work without the other. Some stories are best told through using special effects to create an immersive experience for viewers so they can feel like they’re actually there experiencing them with their own eyes (and ears).

Experiencing the Realism Firsthand

Over the past few years, I had the opportunity to work on a conservation documentary project that was a first for me. The work spanned several field seasons and required travel to, and living off the grid, in a very remote location. I didn’t know what to expect. But after spending time with the team at the Long Point Bird Observatory, it became clear that this was going to be an amazing filmmaking experience.

The project itself was about high water, storms and change at an isolated bird research station located at the tip of a 3o-kilometre sandspit located in the middle of Lake Erie. I was lucky enough to have access to the last remaining great wilderness in southern Ontario — and even luckier that I got to film and produce a documentary and share it with the world.

What struck me most about working on this project was how much it was authentic and real. The ever-changing weather and high winds impacted everyday life and research at the station. High waves slammed into buildings. I could feel roaring winds at night shake the cabin where I slept (or at least tried to sleep!). And those same winds and waves even impacted the ability to safely leave the sandspit by boat and return to the mainland. Everywhere I could see the impacts of weather I filmed.

I knew it wasn’t just filmmaking — it was organic filmmaking!

Gregg McLachlan
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