Riley Hooper is a freelance documentary director. Her award-winning short films have appeared on The New York Times, The New Yorker, Short of the Week, The Atlantic, and more. She’s a member of The Brooklyn Filmmakers’ Collective and Film Fatales.
I am a documentary filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY. I’m originally from Portland, OR. I went to Occidental College where I majored in Religious Studies and minored in Film. My short documentaries have screened at festivals around the country and internationally, and have been featured in The New York Times — as part of their Op Doc and Made with Kickstarter series — as well as The New Yorker, Short of the Week, and The Atlantic.
Kitsplit: How would you describe your style?
I make films that are simple, quirky, and always full of love for my subjects.
What have you been working on lately?
Most recently I’ve been working on a film for The New Yorker. I’ve also been focusing on a few personal and family stories, which I hope to develop into films. One is about my grandparents, their 70 years of marriage, the letters they wrote to one another during WWII, and my grandfather’s dementia.
I think I’m most proud of my film Elvis Loses His Excess & Other Tales From The World’s Longest Yard Sale. It’s 100 percent genuinely me and my style and was so much fun to make. We shot that film over the course of 4 days, traveling 700+ miles, and had no idea who we were going to meet. It’s that element of chance that makes documentary film so exciting and rewarding.
Can you tell us a little about your process?
I do a lot of thinking and planning before production time rolls around. As a documentary filmmaker, I like to capture organic moments—, I don’t like to control too much when we’re actually shooting. I find it’s important to have a strong vision before you go into a shoot, and to let that guide you, but to leave the rest up to chance. For example, with Every Block, I knew that I wanted to structure the film with three separate walks: the two characters taking a walk separately, and then one walk with the two of them together. I knew roughly where we’d go, but I didn’t know what we would see or who we would meet. You can’t control these things, and that’s the beauty of documentary film, but you also shouldn’t go into a shoot with no plan at all.
Can you give us a general overview of the gear you typically use?
My C100 mk ii is great, I often use it on shoots. I also recently bought a Sony a7s ii, which is super small and fun and great in low light. I have an XLR-K2M audio adapter that goes into the hotshoe of that camera and gives you XLR inputs and audio that feeds directly into the camera. It’s great! My Sennheiser wireless lav set is also essential, as well as my Manfrotto monopod.
What is your most-used piece of gear?
My Canon L series 24-70 lens comes in handy a lot!
What’s your favorite piece of gear?
The XLR-K2M audio adapter for the a7s ii. It turns that tiny little camera into a documentary filmmaking machine!
Can you talk a little about what inspires you?
I’m inspired by documentary films that are as nuanced as life itself. It’s easy to simplify something on film. The great challenge is to make something that is relatable on many different levels, and is different every time you watch it. My favorite filmmakers are the Maysles brothers. Salesman is a great example of a film that is nuanced and poetic in its complex simplicity.
“It’s easy to simplify something on film. The great challenge is to make something that is relatable on many different levels, and is different every time you watch it.”
What’s the best piece of advice you got when starting out?
A piece of advice I found helpful for starting out in the freelance world is to only take jobs in the realm of work that you aspire to do. I want to be a freelance director, so I’m currently trying to only take freelance directing jobs. It’s a luxury that I realize one can’t always afford, and sometimes you have to break this rule, but I think it’s a good one to try to follow. If you tell the world you’re a freelance director, after some time you’ll actually be a freelance director.
What advice would you offer to other folks just starting out?
Just start making things!
Check out Riley’s gear on Kitsplit!