'Minding the Gap' Director on Becoming a Character in His Documentary, Utilizing Personal Backstory

"Something happens, and you have to reconfigure the whole story," Bing Liu said of changing his role from observer to participant.

Minding the Gap director Bing Liu didn't expect to become a character in his documentary, but he discovered later on that his role would become rather useful for the overall project. 

"There are moments where you hear me or you feel me off-frame, or the camera is the character. That happens pretty much in every documentary,"  Liu said during the Hollywood Reporter's Documentary Roundtable. "It just happened to become useful in hindsight later when I did decide to be in the film."

"There is one moment that was a catalyst for making that decision," he continued. "It was when one of the characters revealed to me this abuse that was happening in a relationship."

The revelation forced Liu to "have a long conversation" with both himself and his team, asking, "'What gives me the right to go ahead and keep telling this story?' Ultimately, I chose to go back into my own backstory to do that."

Liu's Minding the Gap follows a group of closely bonded skateboarders who use their sport and hobby to escape their troubled family lives. Contrary to his original creative intention, Liu chose to reveal his own journey on camera. "In a lot of documentaries, something happens, and you have to reconfigure the whole story," he said.

His other subjects weren't easy to persuade to be in the film, he said. It required "a four-year conversation."

"At times, it felt like this meta-conversation on camera," Liu said. "I just filmed you abandoning your apartment, [and I'm asking,] 'How do you feel about being in the film now?'"

"They would give their thoughts, but most of the time they felt so included in the process that I think they felt comfortable," he told the roundtable. "When we finally sat them down to show them the finished film, none of them wanted anything changed."