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 book that would appeal to the mind and the imagination, one that would not simply lay out rules but would stimulate the filmmaker to reach further, aim higher, and let his or her imagination soar in the process of creation.

And, after two years, Writing, Directing, and Producing Documentary Films was born.

I had thought the book would be a useful tool but was amazed at how warm and positive a reception it was given. Since its publication, it has been used in courses from Australia to California, and from London to Hong Kong. Students have discussed it with me. Colleagues have shared their opinions with me, and a surprisingly large number of people have written to me about it, mostly in very supportive tones.

At the same time that I was trying to assess all these reactions, the documentary world itself was going through many changes. MTV was influencing the style and pace of cutting. The words CD-ROM were beginning to circulate. Video was being used more and more in place of film. Equipment was becoming increasingly miniaturized. Computerized nonlinear editing was becoming more common. And stylistic experiments were taking place everywhere, from the verse documentaries of Peter Symes and Tony Harrison and the Hi-8 efforts of Ellen Bruno to the cinema verite playgrounds of the BBC's and Australia's Sylvania Waters.

Gradually, it seemed to me the time had come for a second edition that would both bring the book up to date and also bring it even more in line with the needs of students and experienced professionals.

While still guided by my first principles, that this should be a book about ideas rather than equipment, I have nevertheless made a great number of changes. The most important of these is that the book now talks to the video documentarist as much as the pure filmmaker. Thus, it discusses at length the creative possibilities of lightweight equipment, the nature of on- and off-line editing, the advent of the Avid, and the revolution in nonlinear editing.

The second change, directly influenced by my students' comments, is that I have increased the number of examples, from proposal writing to the preparation of treatments and narration. I've also added a few more comments from assorted filmmakers showing how they have dealt with different problems, such as Stephen Most's intervention in the making of Berkeley in the Sixties. Most chapters have been considerably enlarged, and a few have been quite drastically rewritten. Thus, chapter 18, on documentary drama, has had to take into account the tremendous activity and expansion of the form in the last few years and now discusses more deeply the various directions in which the genre is heading.

Finally, besides including a bibliography and index, I have added a totally new chapter called "Staying Alive." As the title suggests, the section is mainly about funding, getting grants, and finding your way around cable and television commissioning editors.

Working on the revisions has been fun. Once again, it necessitated a total immersion in documentary. And, once again, I've emerged from the experience surprised and delighted in the strength and fascination of the genre and the courage and backbone of most of its practitioners. As I've said in the general introduction, unless you feel passionate about documentary, you might as well forget it. There are easier ways to make a living (though maybe few as satisfying).

As usual, many of the improvements in this book are due to my friends and colleagues at Stanford University, namely, Henry Breitrose, Jan Krawitz, and Kristine Samuelson. Their support and their coffee have been wonderful at all times. Also extremely helpful were other friends and filmmakers such as Ellen Bruno, Michael Eaton, Tony Harrison, Anne Peterson, and Peter Symes.

Extra special thanks must go to Jon Else, Steve Most, Nenad Puhovsky, and Nina Rosenblum. All four allowed me to use lengthy excerpts from their work and—especially Jon—also took time off to discuss the book with me at length. Along with thanks I would also like to acknowledge that all the script or document extracts used herein retain the copyright of the original owners.

Finally, I want to express my gratitude to my copy editor, Tracey Moore, and to Jim Simmons for once more being such a great editor. It has been a joy to work with him.


Film Making

Film Making

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