I used to
think that the documentary films I was making were real. But as I looked at
what I was doing, I saw I was making analogs — I was making models of the
situation I was filming.
— Bob Young, documentary
filmmaker, 118th Technical Conference of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers
Chapter 1:It Looks
Why making a documentary is more than vacuuming up images to
blow back in the face of an audience.
Chapter 2: What Is a Documentary?
It is an act of communication, based on truth, that makes a
visual argument. Documentary genres.
Chapter 3: And What Is Not?
Docudramas, reality television, docuganda.
Chapter 4: A Little History (or How Things Got This Way)
A brief look backward at how the development of film and
television affected making documentary films.
Part II: Planning Your Documentary
It is not
the will to win that’s important.It’s
the will to prepare to win that really separates those who wish and dream from
those who make it happen.
— Coach Dick
Chapter 5: Steps in Producing a Documentary
All the things that have to be done in making a documentary,
from concept to completion.
Chapter 6: The Documentary Idea
What is the concept for your documentary? Why do you want to
make it? Why should an audience want to watch it?
Chapter 7: Documenting Behavior
Recording human behavior. Introduction of the invisible
wall. The question of a hidden camera.
Chapter 8: Documenting an Event with the Outcome Unknown
Making a documentary of events as they happen requires
pictures, patience, and persistence.
Chapter 9: Remembering People and Events
Considerations in documenting the past.
Part III: What Will You Show?
Film is a visual medium that dramatizes a basic story
line; it deals in pictures, images, bits and pieces of film: We see a clock ticking, a window opening, a
person in the distance leaning over the balcony, smoking; in the background we
hear a phone ringing, a baby crying, a dog barking as we see two people
laughing as their car pulls away from the curb.
— Syd Field, Screenplay
Chapter 10: Visual Evidence
There is no substitute for good footage. What it is and how
to find it.
Chapter 11: B-Roll as Illustration, Metaphor, and Visual Wallpaper
The difference between B-roll and visual evidence. Problems
with the B-roll mentality.
Chapter 12: A Short Sermon about Interviews
Why interviews aren’t evidence. Problems with constructing a
documentary from interviews.
Chapter 13: Well, What about Reality?
Whatever it is that a camera records, it is not reality. Why
this is so. What is recorded.
Chapter 14: The Growing Problem of Credibility
One-sided attack documentaries and a disregard for the whole
truth pose major problems for serious documentary filmmakers.
Chapter 15: Documentary Ethics
Image ethics is about playing fair with the people you film.
Information ethics is about playing fair with your audience.
Part IV: Writing a Documentary
So why a script?Because using a script is usually the most logical and helpful way to
make a film. . . .To put it very
simply, a decent script makes the task of filmmaking a hundred times easier.
— Alan Rosenthal, Writing,
Directing, and Producing Documentary Films and Videos
Chapter 16: Documentary Writing
All about what has to be written and what the writer does.
Chapter 17: Research
Turning a neat idea into a powerful documentary can take a
lot of digging. The central question to be answered by your research.
Chapter 18: Structure
Beginning, middle, and end defined. What goes into each.
Using an existential outline
Chapter 19: Proposal and Treatment
Writing the proposal and treatment – with examples.
Chapter 20: Writing the Script
Script format doesn’t really matter. Scripting before or
after principal photography. Writing the words that are said: narration and
Part V: Making a Documentary
“Let’s make a movie!”
— Producer Kevin Grant (Peter Haskell) in Bracken’s World
Chapter 21: Preproduction Planning
How to avoid going in blind – and getting blind-sided.
Chapter 22: Filming
Zero level technical knowledge. Lighting and camera work.
Who will shoot?
Chapter 23: Recording Sound
Getting the good sound that your audience will hear takes
more than a mike sticking out of the top of a camcorder.
Chapter 24: Directing
What the director does. Directing filming. Temptations to
Chapter 25: Directing People Who Are Not Actors
Most of the people in a documentary are not trained as
actors. Getting what you need without mistreating them or compromising the
Chapter 26: Selecting and Directing Actors
Casting, auditions, and getting the performance you need
from the people you’ve picked.
Chapter 27: Conducting an Interview
If you’re going to do interviews, do them right.
Chapter 28: Verisimilitude
Why you sometimes need the appearance of truth in order to
tell the truth.
Chapter 29: Working on Location
The pleasures and pitfalls of filming out in the world..
Part VI: Postproduction
Postproduction.The time after production, when editing,
looping, scoring . . . mixing, etc., are done.In other words, everything you need to finish the film.
— Ralph S.
Singleton, Filmmaker’s Dictionary
Chapter 30: Preparation for Post
After filming, getting everything organized to put your
Chapter 31: Editing a Documentary
Editing is the heart of the documentary process. How to go
Chapter 32: Finishing the Production
After you have a fine cut that everybody loves, there are
still a few things to do.
Part Seven: Final Thoughts
There are no secrets to success.It is the result of preparation, hard work,
and learning from failure.
— Colin Powell
Chapter 33: Getting There
How to get started in documentary. The importance of working
at what you want to do. What to study.