Fun With AI: A Matter of Visual Style, Part 1

I’ve written before about my admiration for the visual style of Terrence Malick and its influence on my non-fiction cinematography. I wondered: Can ChatGPT give me some tips about that? So I asked a “practical” question:

How can I adapt the visual style of Terrence Malick to documentary film?


Terrence Malick is known for his distinct visual style, which involves using natural light, handheld cameras, and a focus on the beauty of nature and the inner lives of his characters. Here are some ways you can adapt his style to a documentary film:

1. Use natural light: Malick is known for his use of natural light in his films, which gives them a warm, organic feel. When shooting your documentary, try to use natural light as much as possible, especially when filming outdoors.
2. Focus on the beauty of nature: Malick’s films often feature breathtaking shots of nature, such as sweeping landscapes, sunsets, and flowing water. Look for opportunities to capture the beauty of the natural world in your documentary, whether it’s through establishing shots of the environment or close-ups of natural elements.
3. Incorporate voiceovers: Malick’s films often feature voiceovers that give insight into the inner lives of his characters. Consider incorporating voiceovers from your subjects into your documentary to give viewers a deeper understanding of their thoughts and feelings.
4. Use handheld cameras: Malick’s use of handheld cameras gives his films a sense of intimacy and spontaneity. Consider using handheld cameras when filming your documentary to give it a similar feel.
5. Experiment with non-linear storytelling: Malick’s films often employ non-linear storytelling, jumping back and forth between different periods in time. Consider experimenting with non-linear storytelling in your documentary to add depth and complexity to the narrative.

It’s important to note, however, that not all of Malick’s stylistic choices may be appropriate for a documentary, and that you should ultimately prioritize the needs of your project over emulating a particular style.



If I needed a hand-out for students to help them begin exploring this topic, the ChatGPT result would be adequate and appropriate.

For my purposes, it fails. I already know all this. So perhaps I needed to ask the question differently. I will give that a try soon. For now, I have a few more of these to publish. Part 2 will ask ChatGTP about Henri-Cartier-Bresson and the application of the decisive moment to documentary cinematography.

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