The 13 Best Documentaries on the Creative Process (Ranked)

Below are the top documentaries I found on the creative process.

10 of the docs span art forms such as painting, music, architecture, writing, shoes, TV and movies. 3 of the docs cover the creative process overall.

Enjoy!

1) “Turn Every Page – The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb”

This doc was so good I dedicated an entire web page to it: https://dailydoc.com/turn-every-page-the-adventures-of-robert-caro-and-robert-gottlieb/

Dubbed the “Batman and Robin” of the literary world, “Turn Every Page” stars the dynamic duo of Caro and Gottlieb and the creative process of their writing.

Caro, author of titans like “The Power Broker,” is the Batman diving into the political abyss. Gottlieb, the Robin-cum-Alfred, sharpens Caro’s tools, trimming those pesky semicolons.

They’re more than a team; they’re a literary juggernaut.

Their bond? It’s not your Friday night buddy flick. It’s pure business: Caro with his manuscripts, Gottlieb with his razor-sharp editor’s eye. And always, always a pencil.

Caro’s journey began with investigating Robert Moses, morphing a two-foot-tall, million-plus word behemoth into “The Power Broker,” a political science staple and Zoom background favorite. Thanks to Gottlieb’s 300,000-word diet, it’s less Bible-sized, more readable magnum opus.

Behind every great writer is… a great spouse. Ina Caro, the research ace. Maria Tucci, collector of Lucite handbags. Power couples supporting literary legends.

Caro’s research? Think LeBron’s dedication with a typewriter. Over 500 interviews for “Power Broker,” three years in Texas for LBJ. Gottlieb’s editing? Gordon Ramsay in the literary kitchen, flavoring without the fire.

With Ethan Hawke’s narration bringing Caro’s words to life, and Gottlieb’s empathetic chopping block, the doc offers a season-finale-style cliffhanger. You’re left craving the next Caro masterpiece on LBJ.

A must-watch? Absolutely. For literature enthusiasts, for creativity connoisseurs. It’s the Scorsese-De Niro of words, a timeless tribute to an unbreakable bond in literature. Watch it, and watch history being written.

Check out https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/turn-every-page-the-adventures-of-robert-caro-and-robert-gottlieb for streaming options.

2) Abstract: The Art of Design

Director: Scott Dadich (known for “Wired: What’s Inside”).

Length: 45 minutes per episode.

Year: 2017.

“Abstract: The Art of Design” dives deep. It explores creative minds in design. Each episode focuses on a different discipline.

You’ll meet illustrators, photographers, and architects. Their stories are unique and inspiring. The series uncovers their processes, challenges, and triumphs.

“Abstract” is on design overall but it’s got 4 excellent episodes that center on the creative process:

  • Season 1, Episode 1: “Christoph Niemann: Illustration”. Niemann’s illustration work showcases his unique process.
  • Season 1, Episode 2: “Tinker Hatfield: Footwear Design”. Hatfield, a Nike designer, reveals his innovative approach to shoe design.
  • Season 2, Episode 1: “Olafur Eliasson: The Design of Art”. This episode explores Eliasson’s process in creating engaging art installations.
  • Season 2, Episode 5: “Neri Oxman: Bio-Architecture”. Oxman’s work in bio-architecture displays a blend of design, biology, computing, and materials engineering.

Watch it on Netflix at https://www.netflix.com/title/80057883 but there are also free episodes on YouTube such as the Niemann one here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_k8fVNzbGU

3) The Beatles: Get Back

Director: Peter Jackson (known for “They Shall Not Grow Old”).
Length: Approximately 468 minutes.
Year: 2021.

“Get Back” is a treasure trove for Beatles fans. It’s like a time machine to 1969. You witness the Fab Four’s creative process firsthand.

The doc is crafted from over 60 hours of footage. It feels intimate, like you’re in the studio with them. You see John, Paul, George, and Ringo up-close.

They laugh, argue, and, most importantly, create. It’s raw and real. The doc captures the birth of iconic songs. “Let It Be,” “Get Back,” they’re all there.

Jackson’s direction brings this archival footage to life. The visuals are crisp, the sound, immersive.

Watch it on Disney+ at https://www.disneyplus.com/series/the-beatles-get-back/7DcWEeWVqrkE

4) From Nothing, Something: A Documentary on the Creative Process

Director: Tim Cawley.
Length: 79 minutes.
Year: 2012.

“From Nothing, Something” is a journey into creative minds. It uncovers how ideas transform into reality. The doc is an intimate look at creativity.

Interviews with diverse talents like Sara Quin and Tom Perrotta. They share habits, neuroses, and eureka moments. It’s like peeking into a genius’s diary.

The film connects ideas from inception to fruition. It’s inspiring and humorous. You feel the passion and dedication in each story.

Cawley’s direction makes complex concepts accessible. He visually captures the interiority of the creative process. The film is both intelligent and entertaining.

Why watch? It’s an eye-opener on creativity’s universality. The doc inspires and educates. You’ll leave feeling motivated to create.

Watch it for free (with library card or student ID) on Kanopy at https://www.kanopy.com/en/product/nothing-something

5) Creative Process: Norman McLaren

Director: Donald McWilliams.
Length: 58 minutes.
Year: 1990.

“Creative Process: Norman McLaren” is a deep dive into a legend’s mind. It unravels the genius of animator Norman McLaren. The doc is both a biography and a study in creativity.

McWilliams gives us a backstage pass. We see McLaren’s groundbreaking techniques. His work with animation and music is revolutionary.

The doc uses McLaren’s own films for illustration. It’s like watching a master at work. You’ll be fascinated by his process and innovation.

It’s not just for animation fans. It’s a window into artistic dedication. McLaren’s persistence and imagination shine through.

Why watch? It’s an inspiring look at a pioneer’s journey. You’ll appreciate the art of animation on a new level.

Watch it for free in 2 places:

6) Everything is a Remix

Director: Kirby Ferguson.
Length: Varies, series of short films.
Year: 2010-2012.

In “Everything is a Remix”, parts 1 and 2 cover 2 different examples of remixing (music and film):

Part 1 – The Song Remains the Same (0:00)
This part focuses on music, particularly rock and roll. It reveals how many famous songs are reworkings of earlier blues and rock tracks. It’s an intriguing look at how artists like Led Zeppelin borrowed and transformed existing music into something new.

Part 2 – Remix Inc. (6:08)
Here, the series shifts to the world of cinema. It demonstrates how films often recycle themes, scenes, and even shot compositions from earlier works. This segment highlights the pervasive nature of remix culture in Hollywood, offering surprising revelations about some well-known movies.

Then, Part 3 reinforces that just about everything is a remix (an iteration/riff off of something that already exists):

Part 3 – The Elements of Creativity (13:54)
This segment delves into the broader aspects of creativity. It explores the idea that creation is recombinant, meaning new things emerge from existing ideas and elements. It argues that innovation is more about skillfully reassembling known concepts rather than conjuring something from nothing.

Finally, in Part 4, he goes over the legal aspect of remixing:

Part 4 – System Failure (22:49)
The final part critiques the legal and economic systems governing intellectual property. It suggests that current laws hinder the creative process they aim to protect. This segment challenges viewers to reconsider the balance between protecting creators’ rights and fostering an environment where creativity can thrive.

Watch Everything is a Remix for free on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJPERZDfyWc

7) jeen – yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy

Director: Coodie & Chike (also known for “Through the Wire”).
Length: Approximately 270 minutes.
Year: 2022.

“Jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy” is a deep, raw look at Kanye West. It’s a three-part doc, each revealing different facets of his life.

Part 1 shows Kanye’s early years and relentless drive. You see his hustle before fame. It’s like witnessing a star’s birth.

Part 2 explores his rise and personal struggles. It balances his public persona with private battles. You’ll feel his highs and lows.

Part 3 reflects on his influence and controversies. It’s a complex view of his legacy. The doc doesn’t shy away from tough topics.

Coodie & Chike capture Kanye’s journey with honesty. Their lens is intimate, revealing. You understand Kanye, the artist and the person.

Why watch? It’s a unique insight into an icon’s life. The trilogy is a candid, unfiltered portrayal of creativity and fame.

Watch it on Netflix at https://www.netflix.com/title/81426972

8) 6 Days to Air: The Making of South Park

Director: Arthur Bradford (also known for “How’s Your News?”).
Length: 42 minutes.
Year: 2011.

“6 Days to Air” is a sprint through creativity. It showcases the intense process behind South Park. Each episode is crafted in just six days.

You witness brainstorming to animation. Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s genius shines. Their workflow is a blend of chaos and precision.

The main steps in their creative process (storyboarding, scripting, voice acting) all get done in a week. The team’s synergy and humor fuel the process.

Bradford captures this frenetic energy with wit. The doc is a rare peek into animated comedy’s heart. It’s a testament to creativity under time constraints.

Why watch? It’s a unique look at producing a hit show. The doc is insightful, fast-paced, and humorous.

Watch it on HBO Max at https://play.max.com/movie/d58f695d-0c88-4622-81bc-44c33d97bbdc.

It looks like there’s one free place to watch it on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYiNaNzepfg

9) The Mystery of Picasso

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot (also known for “Le Corbeau”).
Length: 78 minutes.
Year: 1956.

“The Mystery of Picasso” captures the essence of artistic creation.

The Direcor Clouzot uses innovative techniques to film this process. He films from behind the easel.

It starts with basic black and white sketches. Gradually, shifts to complex collages, oils.”

You watch Picasso paint and draw in real-time. His strokes are confident, almost magical. It’s like peeking into a master’s mind. The camera captures Picasso’s every move. You witness the birth of art from blank canvas.

The film is more than a documentary. It’s an artwork itself, vibrant and alive. Clouzot and Picasso create a visual symphony.

It’s a rare glimpse into Picasso’s process. The doc is a timeless tribute to creativity and art.

Watch The Mystery of Picasso: for free (with library card or University ID) on Kanopy at https://www.kanopy.com/en/product/mystery-picasso-0.

Other options to stream the doc (Criterion Channel, OVID, Apple TV, etc.) can be found at https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/le-mystere-picasso

I’m so impressred with this Picasso doc that I created a page just for it here: https://dailydoc.com/the-mystery-of-picasso/ that includes some other details including.

10) Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously

Director: Patrick Meaney (also known for “Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods”).
Length: 73 minutes.
Year: 2016.

“Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously” offers an intimate look at Gaiman’s world. It’s a journey through his imagination and creativity. The doc follows him during his final signing tour.

Gaiman shares his thoughts and writing process. His storytelling skills are as captivating as his books. You delve into the mind of a master.

The film includes interviews with collaborators and friends. They shed light on Gaiman’s influence and personality.

Watch Neil Gaiman on Tubi, PlutoTV, Plex, Freevee and ShoutTV. See here for more details; https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/neil-gaiman-dream-dangerously

11) The Creative Brain

Director: Jennifer Beamish and Toby Trackman.
Length: 52 minutes.
Year: 2019.

To understand the creative process, it helps to know the science of the brain and its relationship to creativitiy.

“The Creative Brain” unravels the mysteries of creativity. It’s a fascinating exploration of the human mind. The doc delves into how creativity works and evolves.

Neuroscientist Dr. David Eagleman leads the journey. He interviews various innovators and creators. Their stories illuminate the creative process.

The doc blends science with real-world examples. It’s a mix of interviews, case studies, and research. You discover creativity’s role in progress and problem-solving.

You can rent The Creative Brain on Amazon or buy it on Apple TV. Details are here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/the-creative-brain

12) Ira Glass on Storytelling

The above video is the full part 1 of 4 parts of storytelling

Ira Glass is the creator, producer, and host of the public radio program “This American Life. ”

He’s known for his deep-dive journalism and compelling storytelling.

He was interviewed (video above and links below) on his recommendations for how to tell a story:

He emphasizes the importance of finding a compelling story, which he believes is the key to engaging an audience. According to Glass, a good story should have a strong, clear narrative structure, which he breaks down into two basic building blocks: the anecdote and the moment of reflection.

The anecdote is a sequence of actions, which he suggests should constantly raise questions and drive the story forward. This keeps listeners engaged, as they want to find out what happens next.

The moment of reflection, on the other hand, is where the storyteller steps in to provide insight, asking why the story matters and what can be learned from it.

Glass also encourages creators to speak in their own voice (and not to copy others).

Watch Ira Glass on Storytelling for free on YouTube in these 4 parts:

13) Seth Godin: Quieting the Lizard Brain

In “Quieting the Lizard Brain,” Seth Godin begins with the Wachowski brothers’ success in creating “The Matrix.” He emphasizes finishing projects, not just starting them.

Godin uses the candle’s length to symbolize limited time. He highlights the importance of shipping, or completing work.

He tells Duncan Hines’ story, who turned a simple idea into a significant movement in the restaurant industry. Hines’ dedication led to the Duncan Hines brand, later becoming highly successful under Roy Park.

Godin’s key point: finishing is more critical than starting. Many projects fail due to the “lizard brain,” a primal fear response. This response intensifies near project completion, often sabotaging success.

He proposes discipline and early “thrashing” – hashing out ideas initially, not in the project’s final stages. This approach reduces last-minute changes and stress.

Godin concludes by urging the audience to overcome the lizard brain and ship their creative work. He emphasizes it’s not just an opportunity but an obligation to share one’s genius and insights.

Watch it for free on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtZfTpV4KPE

Thanks for reading!

-Rob Kelly