Approach

Inevitably, the questions that come up in the first discussion are What approach are you going to use and How are you going to do it At that point, I try to say as little as possible, especially if the film's topic is a new subject for me as a writer, or if I do not really know the sponsor. I want time to become familiar with the subject before I jump in. In working out an approach, it helps to look for certain elements and qualities in the subject. You can start, for example, by exploring the...

Audio

Over on Clifton Street in Harpendon, a town located just outside of London, it's still saturation point. No use offering anyone here a tow home. This jam started three weeks ago, and it still hasn't moved an inch. Now that abandoned cars are liable to instant destruction, these drivers have decided to stay put. And most of them actually prefer their home on wheels. The women volunteers cope magnificently with morale, and early morning tea is the brightest spot of the day. The jam may not suit...

Before the Shooting Starts

At some point, you will have lined up a list of potential interviewees for the film. It probably doesn't include everybody you want, but it is the best you can come up with given the circumstances. Once you have decided who you want to interview and they have agreed to appear, it's vital that someone meet with the interviewees and go over the nature of the interview and the way the filming will be conducted. And the right person to do all this is usually the director, rather than an assistant....

Choosing the Characters

In docudrama, you have to select your characters from real life, and sometimes your choices are extremely limited. The commonest problem is that you know the story, yet the central characters evade you. Ideally, you want a hero who will carry the story in the direction of your choice. Yet very often that ideal character just doesn't exist. Sometimes you may have to amalgamate characters, as was done with the doctor-hero in And the Band Plays On. Sometimes you have to give a spread of characters...

Clearing The Decks

From time to time, I meet with my partner, Larry, and we toss documentary ideas at each other. Larry sits, taking notes furiously, and I wander around with a cup of coffee. How about, I'll say, a series on cities how we lived yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and how the environment has changed, and what the changes do to the quality of our lives Or we could do the divided cities Beirut and Berlin, Jerusalem and Belfast. Or we could look at abandoned cities like Angkor Wat or Fattipur Sikhri....

Criticism and Passion

At the start of this book, I made my plea for passion, commitment, and concern in general filmmaking. I very much believe these objectives also underpin the best of historical documentaries. But passion doesn't mean that anything goes, nor does commitment justify the making of sloppy history. In short, you should still be guided by Donald Watt's suggestions, however deeply involved you are with your subject. The best of historical films reveal issues in a new way, bring enlightenment, and open...

Demands on the Director

What are the demands made on directors What kind of people should they be, and what skills should they have First, the director must obviously have excellent technical skills. This kind of knowledge is absolutely essential. Most books that purport to give instructions on directing are really talking about the technical problems of shooting and maintaining continuity. I assume that the first thing film students do is read these books, so I don't want to waste much time going over familiar...

Documentaries and Industrials The Difference

Many industrial films masquerade as documentaries or docudramas. They slip into the cinemas or onto television under the billing Young Adventure or Head for the Sky. They purport to be documentaries on nature or flying, but we realize after two minutes that they are really promos for Yosemite or the U.S. Air Force. We enjoy them, and there's not too much harm done. They give the illusion of being documentaries because of the similarity of so many of their techniques location shooting, real...

Drafts and Changes

The scripts we have considered above are final narration scripts and have to be looked at with a certain amount of care. They look good, but they may have gone through enormous changes since the first draft. Another point to bear in mind is that whereas a text such as that of Kee's on Ireland could largely be written before production, the link narration of a film such as Heroes is definitely postproduction. The draft outline of Heroes probably only hinted at how it should begin it may have...

Dramatic Structure

The chief fault of films dealing with family relations is they often wander aimlessly, with little progression, pacing, or conclusion. I've indicated above that you need a good opening to put your film into orbit. But you have to follow up on the promise by delivering the goods. This means a good story, conflict, scenes that touch us and move us, and a conclusion and closure. Again, you will probably not be able to define any of these things when you begin your film. Your job is to disinter...

Drawing Up the Shooting Schedule

When all the preliminaries are over, you are finally ready to draw up the shooting schedule. This is normally the joint work of the director and the production manager. The main responsibility is the director's, but the PM is there to double-check all the ideas, to ensure that the schedule is feasible, and then to put the first scheduling decisions into action. The shooting schedule is a plan of work for the shooting. Theoretically, it should take all the problems involved in the shooting and...

Editing

Many people regard the shooting phase as an end in itself. It isn't it merely provides the raw materials for the film. The real building process takes place during postproduction, which is supervised for the most part by the editor. The director still acts as the captain on the bridge, but the editor now becomes the chief mate who does 90 percent of the work. Sometimes the work will be supervised by the director sometimes it will be independent of the director. The most important thing is for...

Family Films

You're wasting our time I was in the army. Got married. I raised a family, worked hard, had my own business, that's all. That's nothing to make a picture about It's ridiculous Oscar Berliner to Alan Berliner, Nobody's Business Personal memoirs are always difficult. After all, if there is honest revelation someone always gets hurt. Lilly Rivlin, commenting on Gimme a Kiss In 1996, an unknown middle-aged school teacher named Frank McCourt published his autobiography. The book told of Frank's...

Film History Versus Academic History

Many academic historians argue that filmmakers should leave history alone. Their arguments go beyond the individual case to an overall critique of the genre. Real historians, they say, are interested in accuracy, filmmakers in entertainment. Television producers, they add, are concerned only with gimmicks and show business personalities to introduce the programs. In the end, they conclude, documentaries like Alistair Cooke's America and The British Empire are myopic garbage put out by...

Filming the Interview

There are three basic set up possibilities for the interview 1. The interviewee looks, or appears to look, directly into the camera. 2. The camera catches the interviewee obliquely so that he or she seems to be having a conversation with an unseen person off-camera left or right. 3. The interviewer is seen on-camera with the interviewee so that we are quite clear who is the second person involved in the conversation. Each of these setups has its own rationale. Position 1, in which the...

Foundations and Corporations

So how do you stay alive if you don't want to do another search for sunken submarines, if you don't want to hunt for Nazi war criminals, and if you don't want to do a docusoap on circus performers or ship stewards In other words, where do you go for the money if your subject is not sensational, does not make Discovery's heart beat faster, but instead makes a quiet appeal to the human mind and intelligence and assumes that most people have an IQ higher than 50 The answer for you is to beat a...

Function

Naturally, you want the best people for the crew, with scope and responsibilities for each job clearly defined. I try to work again and again with the same people, whose work I know and trust, but this can't always be done. When you are taking on unknown personnel, try to check them out with people who have worked with them. Try to find out both the professional factors and the human factors. Can they do their jobs not just competently but creatively What are they like under stress What are...

Function and Universality

Do family films have a function My personal feeling is that they very often act as therapy, as a cathartic experience for the filmmaker. Often, they seem to enable one to come to grips with a relationship, as in Joe and Maxie, or settle questions of identity, as in First Person Plural. Sometimes, they enable one to deal with the loss of a mother, as Minda Martin does in Mother's Heritage, or the tragic loss of a child, as Robert Frank does in Life Dances On and in Home Improvements. But this...

General Criticisms

Over the years, cinema verite technique has run into a barrage of criticism, and it's useful to be aware of the main negative arguments before you embark on a cinema verite film. 1. Cinema verite films are simplistic and nonintellectual This argument has been used mostly against Fred Wiseman by critics who maintain that his films merely portray the surface of institutions. Without greater sociological or economic explanations (which he avoids), the films are of limited interest. 2. Casting is...

Getting To Work

The writer producer's first work on a project can be broken down into two stages (1) from birth of the idea to completion and acceptance of the proposal, and (2) from the research stage to acceptance of the shooting script. A great deal of writing will be done at both stages but to different ends. The final objective of the first stage is to sell potential backers such as a TV commissioning editor on the idea of a film. The objective of the second stage is to prepare a working document that...

Ground Rules

Cinema verite often makes more strenuous demands on the filmmakers and the film subjects than do typical documentaries. There is usually a much greater demand for intimacy and openness. The filming is frequently done in homes rather than in public places, and the filmmaking itself can take months rather than weeks. In those circumstances, you need to establish a set of ground rules from the start. These help define and smooth the working relationship between you, the filmmaker, and your...

Group Interviews and Vox Pop

There may be times when you may want to conduct a group interview. Or a situation may arise when you see that there may be specific advantages in interviewing four or five people at the same time. For example, you may be shooting in a school, or at an army base, or in a factory and have realized that the presence of two or three people discussing the same question may stimulate a variety of interesting and possibly contrasting answers. Your function here is fairly loose, and you have to roll...

History and Challenges

Documentary drama has a long history, studded with some of the most famous names and films in the documentary pantheon. You could start anywhere, but you would have to include Harry Watt's North Sea, Humphrey Jennings's Fires Were Started, the work of Willard Van Dyke and Leo Hurwitz, and, more recently, Peter Watkins's Culloden and The War Game, Ken Loach's Cathy Come Home, and Chris Rallings's films for the BBC. This body of work has, however, raised certain theoretical problems. Where is the...

Indicate Direction

When you start your film, the odds are you don't know where you are going. You've decided to talk to members of your family about the past, about roots, about a few family secrets. You are intrigued by the problems your grandfather faced on coming to America. You wonder whether the family was happier before Joe died in Vietnam. You are curious about the branch of the family no one ever mentions. Intrigued, but without much direction, you plunge in without much direction. If you are Lilly...

Industrial And Public Relations Films

Probably more people are employed in making industrial and public relations films than in making documentaries. This was certainly the case in the 1990s, when small-format video equipment revolutionized the subject. Today, industrial films and videos are in. They are seen as relatively cheap but effective publicity materials, with the word publicity being used in its broadest sense. Corporate and public relations filmmaking is a popular and lucrative field that uses many staff and independent...

Interviews

Your objective in research interviews is to talk to as many participants and experts in the field as possible. Again, as in print research, you have to make some shrewd guesses. Because time is limited, you try to assess which people are the best, the most important for you, the most knowledgeable, and the most open and then allocate your time accordingly. You should look for people seriously involved in the subject. But exactly who are they They can range from technical experts and authorities...

Introduction

In the last twenty years, tremendous changes have taken place in documentary and nonfiction filmmaking, including changes in subject matter, form, and the very way in which documentaries and industrial films are made. However, despite the rise in the number of university film and video courses, very few books explain how to consider, create, write, and direct the new film. One object of this book is to fill that gap to provide you with a thorough, down-to-earth grasp of documentary filmmaking,...

Is a Script Necessary

If somebody asked you to name nine or ten outstanding documentaries or documentary series, it is highly possible that your list might include Nanook of the North, Hoop Dreams, Best Boy, The Good Woman of Bangkok, Harlan County, One Day in September, The Nazis A Lesson from History, Soldiers in the Army of God, The War Game, Letters from Vietnam, Diary for Timothy, A Walk Through the Twentieth Century, Soldier Girls, and Tongues Untied. What strikes us about the list First, the sheer variety of...

Location Checks

So far, we have talked about handling the interview and working with people in different situations. In doing so, we have begun to suggest certain rules or approaches for location shooting, but a few things have been omitted. This section summarizes what you should be doing and thinking about on location. Schedule. You made up an overall schedule at the preproduction stage, but changes may have been made since then. Before you go out, make sure everyone on the shoot has an up-to-date schedule...

Location Research

Finally, you should experience the subject in situ, or on location. You could, say, go to see the factory at work, spend two weeks getting the feel of the university, take the plane trip, ride with the police in their patrol cars, watch daily life in a small Vermont village, accompany the theater director to rehearsal, visit the beaches of Normandy, where the Allied invasion took place, or watch the new tourists stream through Saigon. All the time you are trying to soak up the subject and get...

Making the Print

In film, the final work on the titles and the sound mix should more or less coincide. You can then move on to actually making the print. When you and the editor are satisfied, you can give instructions for the mix to go to the lab, where an optical negative will be made from the magnetic recording. The only thing you should do before that is to make sure that you have a duplicate copy of the mix so that if anything goes wrong or if the mix gets lost, you won't have to go through the whole...

Picture Idea or Commentary Line

A reporter is obviously preparing for a broadcast. We sense activity behind him. An assistant comes up with a film clapboard, calls Take one, and marks it. The reporter now addresses his audience, as if in a live broadcast. Reporter (rough commentary outline) Today we celebrate ten years of peace between Israel and its neighbors. It's fitting that this simple ceremony is here, because the original treaty was signed at this spot 10 years ago. Audiences will remember that that...

Preface To The Revised Edition

In 1988, I took a summer off to review some ideas on nonfiction filmmaking. There seemed to be a dearth of good material on the subject, and I thought there might be room for a short book that would assist both students and professionals in making great documentaries. I wanted to write a book that would guide filmmakers from the initial idea through to the finished film, while exploring in detail all the processes and problems, pitfalls and challenges along the way. But I also wanted it to be a...

Preface To The Third Edition

Some learned sage is once reputed to have said The only constant is change. Those were indeed words spoken in wisdom. About five years ago, I pushed away my pen (actually word processor) after completing the second edition of this book. I was happy. I could take a holiday. Now I could lie low for at least ten years before it would be necessary to update the text. Well, I was wrong once again. New equipment, new broadcast systems, new approaches, and new filming methods, not to mention the Web...

Preparation

In most shoots, it's worthwhile to sit down with the participants and tell them clearly what they're getting into. That sounds easy in theory, but it can be tricky in practice. Craig Gilbert, director of the verite series An American Family, on the Loud family of California, claims he explained everything in detail to the family before any cameras came in. However, in her own book on the filming, Pat Loud claims she didn't have a clue what he was talking about but went along out of goodwill. At...

Printed Material

Within the limits of time, budget, sanity, and common sense, you should try to read as much as possible about the subject. Your aim is simple within a very short time, you want to become, if not an expert in the field, at least a person with a superior knowledge of the subject. Print research can involve scanning databases, checking bibliographies and print sources, and reading books, papers, magazines, trade journals, articles, diaries, letters, and even congressional records and...

Problems and Solutions

The underlying problem of docudrama is that your hands are tied. You can't just invent. You can't neatly sort everything out in the way a fiction writer can because you are dealing with true events and real people. So how do you start My own method is to list the following on a few sheets of paper The factual progression of the story, with all the key dates and times and main characters included A few notes on structure and form, and possible approaches All the elements that have caught my eye...

Relations with Sponsors

The problems inherent in working with sponsors are entirely different from those of working with television stations. In the latter context, someone usually has some idea of what film and filming is all about. That is not necessarily the case with sponsors. What are you really up against Well, first there's the question of knowing your client. Ray DiZazzo, a well-known writer on corporate filmmaking, is of the opinion that you'll face everyone from would-be writers, busybodies, and yessirees to...

Selecting Equipment

Although this is not a book about equipment, it is a subject with which every director must deal, so a few short notes are appropriate. Equipment choice should be a matter for crew discussion rather than the sole decision of the director. The function of the director is to tell the crew all he or she can about the film's style, shape, difficulties, and objectives and then to make decisions about equipment with them. The goal should be to use the simplest but most effective equipment compatible...

Shooting Difficulties

When you make a cinema verite film, you are entering uncharted regions. Very often you don't know what you will shoot, how much you will have to shoot, and what makes sense to shoot. You just plunge straight in and spend your time waiting to cover the critical moments. But because you cannot immediately identify the critical moments, the tendency is to shoot and shoot, and that becomes tremendously expensive. Many cinema verite films are shot on a ratio of forty or fifty to one because...

Staying Alive

It's no use being the world's greatest filmmaker if you can't get your film funded. In an expensive medium, you have to be a businessperson as well as an artist. You have to find a sponsor or you're dead. By sponsor, I mean anyone with money who will support your film. This can be a university department, a television station, an industrial corporation, a government agency, a church, a film distributor, or even friends. You can interest people by telling them your idea, sending letters, sending...

Style and Main Topics

The best rule is to aim for simplicity, clarity, and brevity in your proposal. Brevity may not always be possible, but it is a worthy ideal. Proposals for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) or the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) are often hundreds of pages long, but they are special cases. Few commissioning editors or sponsors have the patience to read long proposals in detail a concise proposal contained in two or three pages is much more likely to get their attention. Aim...

Subject Matter and Purpose

No matter what the film, and no matter who is supporting it, it is essential that the boundaries of the topic and the purpose of the film be clarified from the start. As I've already mentioned, you must aim for a target definition or basic assertion that states clearly what the film is about, what it is trying to say and to whom, and what it hopes to achieve. You must be absolutely clear on these matters before participating in any meetings. This target definition isn't just for the sponsor it...

The Basic Idea or Suggestion

The basic suggestion is the written definition of the idea that gets the film moving. It is the power and driving force behind the whole production. Ideas come from everywhere. They can come from childhood experiences, from something you saw on TV, from your newspaper reading, or from something a friend told you. And that idea, wherever it comes from, stirs something within you. Your intellectual or emotional curiosity has been aroused, and you feel ready to commit time and an immense amount of...

The Call to Action

Many industrial films ask you to do something, and the call to action can take many forms. Join the navy. Visit this country. Support this museum. Make yourself into a superwoman this way. Learn automobile repair that way. Your first job is to discuss corporation policy, objectives, and what the management really wants the film to do. After that, your task as a writer is to search out the arguments that will support the film's message and then find the best way of putting them over in the...

The Director Editor Relationship

Most directors of any worth are also apt to be competent editors. Many, like Fred Wiseman and Mike Rubbo, edit their own films. So, given that the director (who is in most cases also the writer) knows the most about the film, why not let him or her go ahead and edit it as well One answer is sheer fatigue. The shooting process tends to be such a debilitating and demanding period that often there is no energy left to supervise the equally arduous task of editing. A second answer, perhaps more...

The Directors

Many books list qualities required by a director. By the time you have tallied off wisdom, intelligence, patience, an IQ of two hundred, and a summa cum laude from Harvard, you realize that you are looking at the requirements for God and not for a mere humble documentary director. The one serious asset I would list besides basic intelligence, patience, and a capacity for hard work is a good visual eye. Film is a visual medium, and the good director is one who knows how to use all its potential....

The Discussion and the Agenda

The response to your initial suggestion has been favorable. The doctor, the sponsor, the station, or the agency is intrigued. They are willing to explore further, though they have told you they are far from committed. They want to meet and, depending on the discussion, will decide whether they want to pursue the matter. The following topics are likely to be on the meeting's agenda the subject matter and purpose of the film its intended audience its approach and its limitations, such as budget...

The Future

The question for the future is, Where do we go from here Old solutions and ideas for documentary writers and directors may not work in tomorrow's world, and the sooner we realize that the better. How do we face the twenty-first century What do we want to do, and how are we going to do it What do we want to say Should we be putting out the old messages or saying something new Who will our audience be Will our films be framed according to past styles, or will they be totally innovative And will...

The Golden Rules or How to Survive Your Sponsor

Over the years, filmmakers have developed certain golden rules for dealing with sponsors, rules that enable you to survive and make good films. 1. You must find out, right at the beginning, the main message that the sponsor wants to convey. If possible, have the sponsor give you a single sentence that expresses the one central idea that the film should leave with the viewer. If the sponsor can't tell you, then you're in trouble. But if he or she does, then make sure that you focus on that...

The History Documentary

In 1990, the outstanding hit of the season for PBS was Ken Bums's seven-part recounting of the American Civil War. In 1992, under the guidance of executive producer Zvi Dor-Ner, WGBH launched its own commemorative series called Columbus and the Age of Discovery. And at the beginning of June 1994, one could scarcely turn on a television set without stumbling upon yet another recounting or reinterpretation of the events of D-day and the Normandy landings. Later, we had a twenty-four-part series...

The Opening

The opening of the film has to do two things very fast. First, it has to catch or hook the viewer's interest. Second, it has to define very quickly what the film is about and where it is going. These are good artistic rules and also good practical rules in a world where documentaries are seen primarily on television and have to compete for viewers with many other programs. The only real exception to both these rules occurs when you are dealing with well-known, presold subjects. If I were doing...

The Outline Treatment

We touched briefly on the concept of the treatment in chapter 8. In docu-drama, you don't have to do a treatment, but this tool can be a great help in fact-based films. The ideal time to write a treatment is after you've settled your questions of focus and character choice. The treatment is your first attempt to outline the drama. It is normally written as a series of loosely sketched sequences. They can be numbered or not, according to your fancy, and each sequence should indicate a location...

The Overall Film Stages

In order to understand the problems involved in the script, it helps to visualize the entire production process, which is outlined below. In a prescripted documentary, the film will probably go through the following stages Discussion with commissioning editors, sponsors, or funding agencies Writing the proposal (often the second item) Acceptance and modification of script (At this point, the writer can relax slightly, but only slightly, as he or she will probably be highly involved throughout...

The Television Market

One way into filmmaking is to submit your idea to television. Knowing where to turn and to whom to submit your proposal then becomes crucial. In the United States, this entry route is not an easy path, but it can be done, particularly in public television. Occasionally, PBS decides to sponsor a documentary series with a marvelous-sounding name like Great Americans or The Living World or The Spirit of the Future. This means three thousand people apply for grants to make ten films. The odds...

The Verite Soap Opera

When I wrote the above last sentence for the first edition of this book, neither the series The Real World nor Sylvania Waters had yet been born. Both are amusing diversions from the honorable path. Whether they are worth emulating is another matter, but both works try to pull verite in new directions. The Real World hit American TV in 1992 as MTV's idea of a documen tary entertainment experiment. The music video network rented a New York loft, which it then offered as a home to seven young...

Titles and Credits

Concurrent with all the preparations for the sound mix are your decisions about titles, credits, and optical effects. The usual practice in film is to mark in opticals, dissolves, and supers during editing. If not, they must be marked in before the film goes to the lab for the negative cut. Title and credits are another matter. You may well have left your decisions on these what they are, where they appear, and how they appear until the fine cut is completed. But now the time has come for a...

Treatments

A treatment is a simple narrative outline of your film, written when you've completed the research phase. It presents much more information than your sketched-out proposal but is not yet as detailed as your shooting script. You are not required to do a treatment, and most of the time you won't bother with them, but they are useful exercises for sorting out your ideas when dealing with long, complex, political or historical films. You should also note that very often sponsors will demand to see...

Visual

A student lies on the grass and reads a book beside a river. Student riots in Berkeley, 1965. Student anti-Vietnam riots in 1969. Students battle with the police. Here, the whole argument is made visually, with the commentary providing the lightest of frameworks. This point needs stressing because it is one of the most important things in script writing You can write with words, and you can write with pictures, but very often the pictures will make your point much more powerfully. I wrote...

Writing The Final Narration

As the film has been progressing through its various stages, you have probably been drafting a narration line, and perhaps even the tentative narration itself. Certain films, such as a historical documentary, required that you think about the narration very early on. Other films, heavily dependent on interviews and verite techniques, may have allowed you to proceed much further without thinking about the commentary. However, the moment comes when you have to write the definitive narration. That...

Writing The Proposal

It is clear enough that everything starts with the idea, but what comes next Proposal or research Are we back to the conundrum of the chicken and the egg vying for seniority Or maybe the example of Siamese twins offers a better guide for us because, in practice, proposal and research are totally intertwined and march forward together. Therefore, if this chapter comes before research, it is only for convenience, as both proceed in tandem. The two questions regarding proposals are what to write,...

Marketing Overview

It is difficult to assess trends when you are living through them, but looking back, it is clear that the 1990s marked a clear revolution in the marketing of documentaries. became hot. Film festivals started paying attention to them. New specialized documentary channels were created. And new terms like factual programming and factual entertainment started hitting the headlines. In practice, the market is now split into what writer Jan Rofekamp calls the first market and the second market. The...

Your Choice of Topic

The above may sound a bit arbitrary, but it hides a deeper process With all the banter and the joking, Larry and I are moving toward a commitment to spend anywhere from a few months to a few years on making a film. And we have to answer one vital question before we do anything Why do we really want to make this film This question, above anything else, is what you really have to ask yourself before you start. Often the answer is that you have no choice. The subject obsesses you. It has been...

Style and Imagination

Four men see a beautiful woman on a hill and instantly fall in love. All want to court and marry her. One writes her a letter, plods up the hill, and lays it at her feet. The second rushes toward her and garlands her with flowers. The third stands on his head, then dances for her. And the fourth hires a plane that trails the message I'll love you forever Each is exhibiting his own particular style in accomplishing his objective. The first is thorough and plodding, the second is dynamic, the...

The Purpose of the Script

If verite filmmakers can dispense with a script, perhaps filmmakers in other genres can as well. Think of the savings in hours, coffee, cigarettes, and frayed nerves if we could just make do with a few rough notes. What a beautiful dream So why a script Because using a script is usually the most logical and helpful way to make a film. I think of the script as something akin to the architect's plan. Buildings can be erected without master designs and working drawings, and in the same way, all...

The Editing Process

The editing process is usually split into three stages the assembly cut, the rough cut, and the fine cut. In practice, the stages blend into one another, so we are really using these terms as a quick assessment of where you are in the editing rather than absolute divisions of work. The assembly cut is the first assembly of your rushes. You take your best material, your best shots, and attempt to put them roughly in order according to your script. At this stage, you are trying to get a very...

Style and Language

A story is told of a broadcaster, in the first days of radio, who had a beautiful voice but kept stammering every time he confronted the cold, bleak metal of the microphone. His wife knew he loved his horse, and solved the problem by putting a picture of his horse around the microphone. Henceforth, he was talking to his horse, rather than to the anonymous masses. When I work, I assume that I am writing for a good friend. He is sitting beside me watching the film, and in a simple but effective...

Visual Audio

Still of group of forty-eight Narrator None was more young RAF men. than twenty-two years old. Still as above, showing only ten remaining. Of the forty-eight men photographed at Bob's initial training wing, it seems likely that less than a quarter survived. I have emphasized the need for accuracy and detailed research if one wants to raise the level of the film above romanticized biography or fictitious history. To emphasize the point, I have set out below the comments of Leslie Woodhead...

The Directors Burden

We looked at some of the director's day-to-day problems in chapters 11 and 12, but there are also wider problems that you must confront sooner or later, the most serious of which concern ethics. I am presenting ethical concerns here as a director's problem, but it goes without saying that it is also a matter of serious consideration for the writer. The relationship of ethical considerations to film practice is one of the most important topics in the documentary field. The problem can be simply...

The Sound

Once you have finished picture editing, you have to prepare and mix your various sound tracks. You may be dealing with five or more tracks, the most common ones being the narration and sync tracks, two music tracks, and at least one effects track. Ultimately, you mix them down into one master track for 16mm films, or two for stereo or video. In film, this is done in a dubbing studio in video, most of the preparations are completed in the off-line stage. The art of preparing for a mix is the...

Rhythm Pace and Climax

A good beginning takes you into a film with a bang, with a sense of expectation. The problem then is how to sustain that interest for the next half hour or hour. A lot of the problem is solved if you have provided yourself with a solid structure for the film. Even so, there will be pitfalls that can be avoided if you have thought a little about rhythm, pace, and climax. These are obviously not just elements of documentary films but elements that every writer whether novelist, playwright, or...

Editing Videotape

Most of the points I have made about film editing also apply to videotape editing. You use slightly different technical methods, but your mind-set is the same. This being so, I merely want to comment on a few points worthy of attention. Your initial cut will probably be done off-line in a small, low-cost studio. The purpose of your off-line edit is to create an edited work print and an edit-decision list EDL . When that stage is complete, you move to an on-line studio, where you do your...

Reviewing People and Location

During preproduction, try to revisit all the filming locations and talk once more to the main people who will appear in the film. The location review on which I often take the cameraperson helps first of all to refamiliarize you with the subject matter. A few months may have passed since you did the scouting and research, and things may have changed. The review also helps you sort out practical questions regarding parking and security. You are also now looking at locations from a slightly...

Voice and Style

Before you actually begin writing the narration, you must consider what voice and style are most appropriate for the film. You probably thought about all these things very early on if that's not the case, you must think them through before committing yourself to the word processor. Is your style to be somber and serious, or are you aiming at a lighter and more folksy effect If you are doing a historical film, you will probably adopt the former. If you are doing a film on tourism or animals, you...

Shooting Abroad

When you shoot abroad, a tremendous number of extra problems arise, from different weather to extricating yourself from a revolution, and you must try to consider all the difficulties in the preproduction stage. Your aims are to shoot all you need, stay healthy, and come back with all your footage and all your crew. In most cases, you won't have a chance to retake, so your planning has to be especially good. The first thing to do is to hire a special production manager who is familiar with all...

The Budget

In budgeting, we are often faced with the eternal conundrum Do you budget according to script, or do you script according to budget There is no absolute answer, as the conditions under which you make each film will be different. Only one thing is important Your budget must be as complete and as accurate as possible. This point is more than important it is vital. If you make a mistake in budgeting, committing yourself to making a film for what turns out to be an unrealistic sum, you're likely to...

The Production Contract

Once you have done a realistic budget breakdown, you are in a good position to negotiate or finalize your contract with the sponsor. You may have made an informal agreement with them, but it's better to have a short memorandum in writing that records the basic terms of the agreement. This is much safer in the long run. It's also wise to exchange contracts before you begin shooting, though a surprisingly large number of people plunge into the film on the assurance of a mere handshake. I wouldn't...