Lean Team Documentary Filmmaking with Rustin Thompson

Ever noticed just how many barriers there seem to be to this documentary filmmaking thing?  Funding. Equipment. Live pitch presentations. Distribution platforms. You name it, everywhere you turn as a doc filmmaker, there seems to be something keeping you from actually doing the thing that matters most to you. But what if there was a way doc filmmakers could simplify things – strip away the unnecessary fat – and get to what really matters? Making documentary films. And then making more of them.

Well, long time national television news veteran, Rustin Thompson figured out a very viable way to do just that when he came up with what he calls Lean Team Documentary Filmmaking. In the process, he left the tv news industry behind and followed his passions to the land of documentary. And he has been making the kinds of documentary films he’s always wanted to make ever since. And now he’s going to tell you how you can do the same.


Topics Discussed

  • why and how Rustin Thompson left his lucrative, exciting television news career behind for a self-made career in documentary filmmaking
  • how a Lean Team Documentary Filmmaking approach can lead to a liberating way to make your docs and more of them
  • the importance of understanding the essential technical aspects, but also how to inform your documentary on an emotional level as well
  • Lean Team Documentary Filmmaking sound tips
  • Lean Team Documentary Filmmaking editing tips


Additional Resources



After listening to our discussion, you might want to read Rustin’s book. I don’t blame you. After reading it myself, seeing some of Rustin’s films, and of course, having had a great conversation with Rustin, we have put this book right into our Essential Doc Filmmaking Reading List!

You can find it on Amazon or local bookstore or request it from your local library!


Trailer for Rustin Thompson’s latest documentary, My Mother Was Here



If you’re interested in checking out some of Rustin’s many documentary films, please visit his website!


Sponsors & Thank Yous

Thank you to music licensing platform, Music Vine for their fresh and diverse music and for contributing the wonderful music that we’ve used in this week’s episode.

If you need any music for your doc project, we can honestly recommend Music Vine.

Want 20% off of your first music licensing purchase?  No licensing restrictions or number of tracks! Simply use promo code MYDOCLIFE at checkout!



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Host and TDL Founder, Chris G Parkhurst

Chris is a documentary filmmaker and the founder and host of The Documentary Life, a platform which aims to inform and inspire documentary filmmakers from around the globe.


  1. Nikki Rose on 08/23/2019 at 9:13 PM

    Many thanks for this excellent discussion with Rustin Thompson. This info is invaluable.
    As a first-time doc filmmaker, I’ve learned the hard way about crews that know how to become “invisible” and amazingly resourceful, and village sound issues like cicadas, livestock, farm tractors, etc., while interviewing people in the countryside of Crete, Greece.
    Instinctively, I thought about editing while shooting, because I did not want to weed through hours of footage to delete, as it’s daunting, expensive and inefficient, in my case.
    My team has always been just 3 people. Although I delegate editing to a pro editor, I’ve reviewed all footage myself, transcribed the interviews myself, and made many editorial decisions before sending to my editor. That seemed unconventional to my editor and other advisers in doc filmmaking. But in retrospect, I realize that if I just handed the footage over to an editor, I’d lose a lot control of my vision for our doc. We work together to create the vision.
    Many thanks again. All the best on your important work.

    • Chris G Parkhurst on 08/26/2019 at 10:19 AM


      Great to hear from you. And thank you for these comments.

      I actually think that you’re approach to the edit process is a very appropriate and understandable one. I don’t find it all that unconventional, to be honest. And that is coming from someone who has worked as a professional editor on multiple doc features!

      I think three is the perfect number for a lot of docs. Especially ones where one is out working in developing countries or out in the provinces. It’s just enough to get the work properly done, but not so many that it interrupts processes or more potentially the interaction of the filmmaker and his or her subjects. Big crew = impact on environment and subject.

      Nikki, I remember that you were an early enrollee of the formerly known as The Documentary Academy. Im not sure if you’ve had the opportunity to look at what we’ve done with it since then – it is now Independent Documentary Filmmaker 101 – but I think that you’ll approve. It’s definitely a bit more streamlined. And we’ve definitely added some content! Let us know what you think!

      And thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts here. Keep on docin’ in Crete!

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