In his work, Doug Menuez strives to bring us all together. He finds the commonalities and connections among us, using his imagery to tell stories that resonate. Doug’s directing work is no different, giving us the realities of the human condition in the context of culture. Here is our conversation with Doug, and an introduction to his Director’s Reel.
HER: What do you bring, as a director, that you don’t see anyone else providing?
Doug: There are so many talented folks out there, but what I bring that might set me apart a bit is the depth and range of my experiences through my work and life. What I’ve learned is how to gain trust and intimacy quickly. I’ve learned how to listen to my subjects, which gives me unique insights into them. That allows me to tell their stories in unexpected and compelling ways. Ideally, I get viewers to feel empathy. It’s maybe not a huge deal, with stuff blowing up or flying through the air, but for me, it’s what I care about and what is worth doing.
I should say that this reel is my first and not the definitive reel for me; it’s the start of a process. And it’s not a typical, sexy, quick cut compilation of action sequences. This reel is representative of my interest in capturing the intimate, quiet moments of everyday life, as well as the relationships and interactions that encompass being human. I’m fascinated by the journey we all take to create meaning and to accomplish our dreams.
HER: You regularly identify, connect, and blend cultures in your work. What would you say is the unifying theme for your reel? Why did you choose to showcase your work in this way?
Doug: The unifying theme is the human quest to find connection, beauty, and meaning in our lives. From the legendary surfer/skater Jeff Ho and his lifelong pursuit of art at it’s purest, to ten-year-old AIDS patients asking for help, to the poignant quotes of new immigrants in New York City, to the man who made Photoshop possible, to moments of joy in a desperate crack neighborhood in Chicago, to a 93-year-old Benedictine Monk talking about Death and how it makes us more alive – this is all a study in the human experience.
I seek universal, timeless material that everyone, no matter how cool you are, can connect with and recognize. Everyone needs food, shelter, love, a sense of purpose. At the root of our brains is this subconscious question we are asking ourselves all the time: who am I, and why am I here? We learn this by watching and seeing how others live their lives. Some stories we relate to and learn from, and sometimes we also learn from that which we don’t connect. My work is about asking questions that don’t have an easy resolution.
HER: Being a Director isn’t as simple as shooting stills AND capturing motion. When did you start on your journey to becoming a Director? How long did it take for you to feel comfortable giving yourself that title?
Doug: When I was ten years old, my best friend and I took a summer class at the local high school to learn how to shoot and direct stop motion films. I was into directing and telling stories from the get-go. I’ve not pursued it in my career until now. However, I have had requests to direct from time to time. My first commercial shot for Fallon McElligott in 1996 got in the One Show, which was only the second time the agency had done that. I’ve also had the opportunity to shoot on a lot of film sets with great directors like Robert Redford, Francis Coppola, and Ron Howard, to shamelessly name drop a few, and was lucky enough to learn by watching and asking questions. I have always studied directing that way. I always thought that someday I would take the leap but have also been obsessed with mastering still photography.
Whenever I step on a set, I am extremely comfortable being a director. So much of my commercial still photography is produced in the same way we would produce a short film – this is how I create actual moments that I can then capture. From a practical side, I surround myself with a super talented crew, especially my DP. So yeah, I’m comfortable giving myself that title, but I’m also a great believer in the “fake it till you make it” system. This system worked for me pretty well from the start.
HER: You are a documentary photographer shooting stills that highlight what we all have in common. How have you translated this vision through shared humanity into directing? How is it different than your approach to shooting stills?
Doug: My approach is not that different at all. Whether it’s a commercial project or a project of my own, I plan to gain the trust of my subjects to capture intimate, meaningful moments in their lives that reveal their individual truths. From there, we can build a story that can stand up over time.
Follow Doug on Instagram to see stills and motion that fuel empathy, connect cultures & remind us of our shared humanity.