ďBarry, I read your book.Then I made a documentary.And I just sold it to HBO.Ē
Let me tell you, thatís about as good as it gets for an
author.The occasion was a reception for
filmmakers at Silverdocs, the documentary festival created by the American Film
Institute and Discovery Channel.The
person talking to me was Victoria Bruce, a journalist and author who had never
made a film until she and Karin Hayes made the award-winning documentary The Kidnapping of Ingrid Betancourt.
Today, a lot of people who donít know anything about video
or film technology, and whose only knowledge of how to create a documentary has
come from watching television, have begun making documentary films and videos.
You may be one of them.
As I write this, Iím working with a producer/director who
went halfway around the world to shoot a film of a unique event, that he hoped
would be the pilot for a TV documentary series. It was only after he returned
home and sat down with the footage he had shot that he realized he didnít quite
know how to turn what he had into a finished program.
I regularly get e-mails from readers who say they are about
to start their first documentary. Some are already working in video or are
experienced as photographers. The others just have a piece of truth they want
to explore and are determined to proceed with their project, learning as they
Two changes in the world of documentary have made this
digital video cameras and truly inexpensive desktop editing systems have
removed all economic barriers to making a documentary. Not long ago making a
documentary required access to about $100,000 worth of film or video equipment.
Today it can be done ó with the same, or better, technical quality ó using a
$4,000 camera and a $200 desktop editing system.
market for documentaries has expanded on television and through DVD
distribution. Cable channels have an insatiable appetite for documentary films,
and DVD distributors welcome independent documentaries.
But even those who have knowledge and experience with video
and film technology ó for example, from producing sales or training videos or
TV commercials ó can find themselves lost when they turn to documentary.
Unfortunately, many people think that because they are making a film about
actual events, the truth will jump
inside their cameras and will automatically reveal itself on the screen to
This never happens.
Making a documentary film is not as difficult as making a
night landing on an aircraft carrier Ė Iíve done both Ė but it does require
thought, knowledge, and planning, as well as talent and luck.This book can help you with the first three.And if you get those under control, youíll
have a good chance of finding success with the other two.
The major change in this edition is a new emphasis on truth
and credibility in making a documentary.The factual style of the documentary form has often been used by
government agencies to make propaganda films.And now some independent filmmakers have appropriated the form to make
single-issue, one-sided, partisan attack films that not only donít tell the
whole truth, but sometimes donít tell the truth at all.
As I was finishing the manuscript for this book, a
journalist doing a story on documentary ethics asked me if I thought there
should be a code of ethics for documentaries.I told him I thought kindergarten rules would do just fine: