Director R.J. Cutler Applies Documentary Techniques to His First Narrative 'If I Stay'

The documentarian insists "there are many principles that are exactly the same."
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Documentary filmmaker R.J. Cutler (The War Room, The September Issue) marks his first foray into narrative feature films with If I Stay, an adaptation of the bestselling YA novel by Gayle Forman. After twenty years as a documentarian, he reflects on the similarities and differences of directing a documentary vs. a narrative to Indiewire.

Says Cutler, “There are many principles that are exactly the same: your exploration of theme, your construction of narrative. The post production process has many similarities in terms of how you're constructing story and the impact that structure has on narrative and the way you develop and illuminate character. Whether you're working in non-fiction or fiction those are the same. And, of course, there are elements of cinematography that are completely the same: the way you're using the camera to express narrative and character and other elements of your story.”

“But the process is very different since you're starting with a script as opposed to a collection of materials,” Cutler continues. “In making narrative, you're working with a much larger pool of collaborative artists: actors, writers, designers. You're also working with a studio and producing partners when you're making a studio film like we were. Finally, there's the big thing, which impacts far more in narrative than it does in documentary, which is the management of resources. Time and money, budget and schedule, which are the things you're thinking about at every moment in the making of narrative, but you aren't really all that much a slave to in the making of a documentary.”

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