Writing, Directing, and Producing Documentary Films and Videos

Writing, Directing, and Producing Documentary Films and Videos

Writing, Directing, and Producing Documentary Films and Videos

Writing, Directing, and Producing Documentary Films and Videos

Synopsis

In this revised edition of a universally acclaimed guide, Rosenthal's intellectual impetus remains the same: "For me, working in documentary implies a commitment that one wants to change the world for the better. That says it all."

Even before important revisions, Donald E. Staples, University of North Texas, said of Rosenthal's work: "This book should be called the Documentary Filmmaker's Guide to the Galaxy.' The moral, ethical, aesthetic, and communicative problems of documentary filmmaking are explored through knowledge and experience in the field, studio, editing room, theater, and television. Every new or established documentary filmmaker should read it."

And Henry Breitrose, writing in International Documentary, stated: "The concentration on technique as an end in itself has resulted in altogether too many exquisitely wrought empty vessels. Alan Rosenthal's new book comes as a corrective.... The book is a major contribution to the literature of film teaching and will be immensely useful as a textbook and as a humane, intelligent, and thoughtful refresher course for documentary makers."

An internationally renowned documentary filmmaker with more than sixty films to his credit, including the Peabody Award-winning Out of the Ashes, Rosenthal has written the first book to address the realities involved in the making of a documentary. Rather than dealing with theory or hardware, Rosenthal tackles the day-to-day problems from initial concept through distribution. Simply and clearly, Rosenthal explains how to write, direct, and produce the new documentary, whether film or video. He emphasizes the research and writing of the documentary, from approach and structure through interviewing, narration writing, and the complexities of editing. This emphasis makes his book unique.

The organization of the book follows the process of making a documentary. Part 1 discusses ideas, research, and script structure; parts 2 and 3 go over preproduction and production; part 4 explores editing and narration writing; and part 5 discusses distinctive forms of documentary, including cinema verite and documentary drama. The concluding chapter offers a perspective on the entire process involved in the making of a documentary.

Excerpt

I have always distrusted how-to books, whether they are about sex or about making a million. The authors of such texts seem to me a bit presumptuous in trying to teach you things best learned by experience.

And as in love and business, so in film. Documentary is learned by doing, by trial and error. This is not a how-to book. It is meant to be a companion to you along the way, helping you see some of the pitfalls and problems and helping you find solutions to the difficult but fascinating task of filmmaking.

Except in the last chapter, I have said little about the aims and purposes of documentary. Yet this is probably the most important question, and at some point we all have to answer it. For me, working in documentary implies a commitment that one wants to change the world for the better. That says it all.

First, my thanks to all those people and organizations who let me look at their films and burrow through their scripts. In particular, I would like to thank Will Wyatt of the BBC and Leslie Woodheadof Granada; both gave me immense help and made this book possible. I would also like to thank Jeremy Isaacs, David Elstein, and Jerry Kuehl,who helped me tie up some loose ends.

Thanks are also due to the University of California Press, which allowed me to publish notes and interviews from some of my previous books -- in particular, discussions with Arthur Barron, Ellen Hovde,Sue McConnachy, Jeremy Sandford, George Stoney, PeterWatkins, and Charlotte Zwerin.

P. J. O'Connell's manuscript "Robert Drew and theDevelopment of Cinema Verite in America" was essential to me in understanding the real workings of cinema verite, and I am grateful to P. J. for letting me reprint discussions with Ricky Leacock and Don Pennebaker.

I am, of course, tremendously grateful to the following stations and authors who allowed me to reproduce script extracts: the BBC; Granada Television Limited; the National Film Board of Canada; Thames Television . . .

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