Heather Elder Represents
Reps Journal

Perfect Timing, Doug Menuez Directs "Grateful Voices" Films

Doug Menuez continues to direct short documentary films for A Network for Grateful Living, this time with stories of positivity from people who continue to remain grateful despite challenges along the way. Now is the time to highlight what is well and good in this world. We couldn’t be happier to hear about “Grateful Voices,” this latest project from Doug.

This recent work is a series of interviews, stories from different people involved with the Grateful Network. What was the objective of the campaign? Did A Network for Grateful Living (ANGL) have a clear picture of what they wanted to see?

The campaign’s objective is to increase ANGL’s audience by reaching a younger and more diverse group. Through these interviews, we needed to represent the experiences of a wide range of people.

This project was a completely collaborative creative effort between ANGL Executive Director Kristi Nelson, our Executive Producer Pear Urushima, and me. They gave me wide latitude to evolve the look and feel. They trusted me. I knew I wanted natural light and had specific lenses in mind, but with COVID safety protocols, we decided to find an exterior location. 

Luckily, there was a beautiful grassy area next to their building with woods behind and minimal sound issues. We then decided to let the sun and clouds do their thing, which produced a varied, gorgeous natural background. We did light the talent, but the background was natural. And rather than try to control the background light in the trees — typically, you’d want to be consistent — I decided to let that variation happen as we filmed through the day. So those variations in light and shadow become part of each person’s story, supporting the emotion, look and feel of the film. 

ANGL writes of Doug and the project, “In the summer of 2020, while all of us around the globe were isolated in some way from those we love, award-winning photographer and filmmaker Doug Menuez found a way for us to gather safely outdoors to listen closely to the stories of seven individuals for whom grateful living is a way of life. For three days, Doug’s team set up an outdoor film set, and our executive director Kristi Nelson settled into long conversations with the participants in this project. The result of Doug’s beautiful work is the launch of our new series: Grateful Voices.” A Network for Grateful Living will release all films on Instagram, click here to view them.

ANGL is looking to grow their audience and create a movement, which is a tall order. In the films, what were you looking to establish with the audience? Did you follow the same story arc in each? 

It’s already a worldwide movement, and one of the most prominent leaders is bestselling author Brother David Steindl-Rast, a 94-year-old Benedictine Monk who had 7 million watch his TED talk. He co-founded ANGL. 

We had some influential, fascinating people sharing their stories, so my first instinct is to connect with the audience on a gut, emotional level. With interviews, in the final edit, you can focus the narrative and shape the arc. In the edit, you can do unexpected things that derive from a particular section of the interview. For example, if someone has something powerful to say with strong emotion, you might open with that as a foreshadowing of the story to come. Kristi and Pear designed the questions, so the arc was similar, but each person told a very personal story of how grateful living has improved their lives. So we mixed things up in terms of narrative and arc depending on the content we had.

You are incredibly gifted in creating imagery with authenticity. How do you ensure you can deliver authenticity every time? Is this more challenging to do when you are filming versus shooting stills?

Thanks for the kind words! The first thing for me is to remember that if I’m going to produce something meaningful and authentic to me and the audience, I have to show up with humility and deep respect for my subjects. A person needs to be completely open and transparent to build trust. If I’m successful, and it’s definitely not easy to do, then people open up and share. Then the work resonates as real and true. It’s the same for stills and motion. I do agree in large part with those cultures who believe the camera is stealing your soul. So to get that precious gift, I have to be prepared to give something as well. It might be respect, or could be a whole lot more, but you have to be all-in. 

Talk to us about ensuring a point of view comes through in these films. The subject matter is about remembering to be grateful, and the challenges are many, ranging from sickness to racism. Did you take part in scriptwriting and the presentation/order of the subject-matter?

This was a huge deal. I was in several discussions and gave input, but the questions were written by our client Kristi Nelson and my Executive Producer, Pear Urushima. We did have core points to hit on in advance, but we also let the subjects take us where they wanted to with their responses and personal stories. In the edits, we were able to cover most if not all of our key points across the spectrum of the different Grateful Voices interviews. 

You’ve been directing films a lot more lately. Do you have a wishlist of the types of films you’d like to direct in the future?

Yeah, EVERYTHING. If there are humans and they are doing stuff, I’m all over that! Stories, stories, and stories inspire me and drive me to understand different people, cultures, and our world. 

Follow Doug on Instagram for more imagery showcasing humanity and what we all have in common.