Directing the Documentary
eBook - ePub

Directing the Documentary

Michael Rabiger, Courtney Hermann

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  1. 554 Seiten
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Directing the Documentary

Michael Rabiger, Courtney Hermann

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Über dieses Buch

Directing the Documentary is the definitive book on the documentary form, that will allow you to master the craft of documentary filmmaking. Focusing on the hands-on work needed to make your concept a reality, it covers the documentary filmmaking process from top to bottom, providing in-depth lessons on every aspect of preproduction, production, and postproduction.

The book includes dozens of projects, practical exercises, and thought-provoking questions, and offers best practices for researching and honing your documentary idea, developing a crew, guiding your team, and much more. This fully revised and updated 7 th edition also includes brand new content on the rise of the documentary series, the impact of video on-demand and content aggregators, updated information on prosumer and professional video (including 4K+), coverage of new audio & lighting solutions and trends in post-production, coverage of the immersive documentary, and provides practical sets of solutions for low, medium, and high budget documentary film productions throughout. The companion website has also been fully updated to a variety of new projects and forms.

By combining expert advice on the storytelling process, the technical aspects of filmmaking and commentary on the philosophical underpinnings of the art, this book provides the practical and holistic understanding you need to become a highly regarded, original, and ethical contributor to the genre. Ideal for both aspiring and established documentary filmmakers, this book has it all.

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P A R T 1


No matter what your age or circumstances are, this book can help you become accomplished as a documentary filmmaker. It sees you as an artist-in-making, a colleague attracted to actuality filmmaking. You may be in film school, at college, a student, or a high school teacher, or you may be in mid-life and pursuing dreams deferred. You can read chapters, then do the projects listed in this book’s website (www.routledge/cw/rabiger) or you can do a project, discover what it teaches you, then read the relevant part of the book afterward. Lots of people are project-based learners, including yours truly.
All you need to get started is a smartphone. Turn on its video camera and straightaway you’ve begun collecting mosaic fragments of the real world—voices, faces, behavior, landscapes, symbolic images, people in conversation or raptly pursuing their daily lives. Play back the material you’ve shot and you are revisiting pieces of reality with a critical eye. Now you can ask, what really happened? What meaning lies in these scenes and situations? What unseen forces can I show at work?
Documentary exists so audiences can see, feel, and experience other people’s lives and enter their predicaments, thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Make no mistake, filmmaking is something one learns from doing, and since it’s now fully democratized by digital equipment, you can shoot without restraint. Filmmakers need to shoot, edit, and question their audiences just as dancers need dance space and musicians need to practice their instruments. Meaningful films come not only from equipment but from the hearts and minds using it. The mere fact of turning on a camera gives access to neighbors, friends, and colleagues in a new way. Perhaps you can solve family mysteries or get to know about your parents’ or grandparents’ lives. Perhaps you can show the humanity of soldiers tasked with saving a town from rising waters, or the predicament of a child whose disabled brother takes most of the family’s attention.
Whatever you tackle, you can do it beautifully using nothing more than a smartphone camera and the deeply involving artform of cinema. There is now a great deal of help online, including a website for do-it-yourselfers called No Film School ( For this reason, we won’t hit you with too many technical matters but instead, ask you first to reach into yourself and clarify the marks your life has left in you. Yes, your life has already incised you with convictions about the human condition, and these just happen to be the navigation tools of authorship. To make filmmaking a lifelong pursuit, you’ll need to extract what you can do best, what part you are equipped to play on the public stage. And you’ll need a ferment of ideas and the confidence to eventually go where angels fear to tread.
Directing the Documentary 7th edition is divided into two major phases, Book I and Book II, each predicated on the production order in which films are made—preproduction, production, and postproduction. Book I is visually- and action-oriented and uses short practical work to turn you into a savvy observational filmmaker. Book II concentrates on raising your knowledge, awareness, and experience to professional capacity: it involves sophisticated technology, the art of long-form storytelling, and considerations of form, point of view, and narrative dramaturgy.
While using Book I, you can dip into Book II whenever you’d like further information. When using Book II, you can flip back to Book I and revisit the fundamentals. Both follow the order of filmmaking, and the extensive Table of Contents or the Index will help you navigate quickly. Had we combined the two books into one, the beginner would be deluged with surplus information and probably discouraged. On the contrary, our purpose is to urge that you try everything for yourself, and to use this book as a fund of mentor experience.
As you learn, please teach others treading in your footsteps: documentaries and documentarians may yet save the world!

C H A P T E R 1

You and Film Authorship

Start Making Films Now

Most of us making documentaries have a love affair going with the complicated, illusory reality we all live in. There is so much to find out, to record, so many mysteries to penetrate, so many stories to tell as part of grasping how human life works.
A documentary usually emerges from a central figure whose heart and mind set a project going, and who shapes and shepherds it to completion. This is the director, who may work alone, in partnership with one or two other people, or with a whole team. Working solo using today’s equipment is very fulfilling and practicable; indeed, all my recent films have been made this way. Recently, to prove my belief in the boundless possibilities of simplicity, I shot a 35-minute family-visit film with nothing more than a run-of-the-mill smartphone. Its technological and expressive potential proved boundless.
Making films lets you chronicle, record, protest, exult, share, urge, unravel, compare, develop, extricate, celebrate, cry, shout, explain—and all the while you are digging for truth. Notice how all these words are verbs, doing words. They speak of being active and aware, speaking out, being fully alive, of refusing to wait passively in silence. This is why the screen works that grip us are made by people fascinated with the human condition, whose passion is for using cinema art to explore it.
Is this for you?

Artistic Identity

Documentarians are a generous and welcoming lot: indeed, they may be your new family. They aspire to entertain, move, and persuade, and their films don’t come from them—but through them. The novelist Emile Zola said that a work of art is “a corner of Nature seen through a temperament”.1 Maybe that’s why a gripping documentary seems imbued with special humanity and why we sense it when attractive temperaments are at work behind the camera (Figure 1-1).
FIGURE 1-1 __________________________________________

A joyful record of modern dance in 3D, and a strongly personal exploration of what leadership can mean in an art form (Wim Wenders’ Pina).
What is your temperament? How will it liberate and color the stories you have to tell?
However you start, a pleasant discovery awaits you—that you already have a formed and focused inner drive ready to lead your work. You can prove for yourself that this gift of Nature functions as each person’s artistic identity. Once you learn the nature of yours, you can use it as a resource in all aspects of your life, whether you are making films, writing fiction, painting pictures, taking photographs, or doing anything meaningful.
You may ask, do I really need to know about this artistic identity stuff? The answer is yes, because I directed two dozen films before realizing that my work, and probably my whole life, had a common underlying theme. Since then I’ve discovered that everybody’s does. If only I had known this earlier in life!
It’s now evident that each of us has areas of conflict, and it’s these that motivate us to become contenders and seekers. As feeling and thinking beings, this quest for understanding and expression is fundamental, practical, and life-affirming. Should you decide to work in the arts, you are directly embracing this mission of discovery, and it takes dedication. About this, the respected actor and New York University directing teacher...