Nicholas Broomfield (born 30 January 1948, in London) is an English documentary filmmaker. He studied Law at Cardiff University, and political science at the University of Essex; subsequently, he studied film at the National Film and Television School. Broomfield films with a minimum of crew, just himself and one or two camera operators, which gives his documentaries a distinctive style. Broomfield himself is often in shot holding the sound boom.
Broomfield’s early style was very conventional Cinéma vérité: the juxtaposition of observed scenes. He would not provide much explanation by way of voice-over or text, rather letting the film talk for itself.
It was not until Driving Me Crazy (1988) that Broomfield, already a known filmmaker, appeared on-screen for the first time. After several arguments regarding the budget and nature of the film, he decided that he would only make the documentary if he was able to conduct a sort of experiment by filming the process of making the film—the arguments, the failed interviews and the dead-ends.
This shift in filmmaking style was also heavily influenced by Broomfield’s experience in attempting to release his earlier film Lily Tomlin, which chronicled the star’s one-woman show The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. Once completed, Tomlin claimed the film was aspoiler for the actual show and she filed suit for $7 million against Broomfield. The documentary was shown on public television but not widely released. Eventually the footage of the stage show shot by Broomfield was used in the video release of the one-woman show.
It is for this reflexive filmmaking style—a film being about the making of itself as much as about its subject—that Broomfield is best known. His influence on documentary is clear: Michael Moore, Louis Theroux and Morgan Spurlock have all adopted a similar style for their recent box-office hits. Filmmakers who use this style have been referred to as Les Nouvelles Egotistes; others have likened his work to the gonzo reporting of Hunter S. Thompson.
His 2006 project on the Haditha killings, Battle For Haditha, was shot in a documentary style although the events and characters were all dramatized. Instead of a detailed script, the actors were only given an outline of each scene and where the story was going. The outline is reportedly based on rumours, as the trial had not even begun when the filming began