Tuesday, December 29, 2009

So You Want to Work in Documentary - IDA

An article on starting out in documentary, written for the fall issue of Documentary, published by the International Documentary Association.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Chinese edition 2010!

Elsevier Science & Technology China has confirmed that Documentary Storytelling, 2nd edition is being translated into Chinese for publication in China December 2010! I will be writing a preface.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A response to "Taking History Back from the 'Storytellers'"

As expected, Rick Prelinger's thought-provoking post about storytelling has gotten a number of responses, including a rather lengthy one from me. Check out the conversation!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Taking history back from the "storytellers"

From archivist and filmmaker Rick Prelinger, a thought-provoking rant (his word, not mine), on storytelling, history, and archival materials: http://blackoystercatcher.blogspot.com/2009/06/taking-history-back-from-storytellers.html

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Women in the Industry (NYWIFT)

From NY Women in Film and Television, a compilation of resources on the (not good) status of women in the film and television industries. Two highlights from the work of Dr. Martha M. Lauzen:
  • "Men write the overwhelming majority of film reviews in the nation's top newspapers."
  • "In 2007, women comprised 15% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents a decline of 2 percentage points from 1998 and represents no change from 2006."

From the Directors Guild of America: "[O]n the 'top forty' prime time drama and comedy series in 2003-2004 ... 86 percent of the episodes were directed by Caucasian males..."

Go to NYWIFT's website for links and details.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

3rd edition - let me know what you think

If you use Documentary Storytelling -- whether the first or second edition -- in your own work or in teaching others, I'd love to hear from you as I work on the third edition. I'm planning to update the case studies, add some new interviews, look at new issues (the impact of budgets and schedules on storytelling, for example) and branch out to be more explicit about storytelling in a range of documentary media (and range of lengths), for a range of purposes (not only theatrical and broadcast release, but also museum and classroom use and perhaps the use of documentary storytelling to inform policy makers, advocate for change, etc.) As much as possible, I'll be referring to projects easily available for review.

Any thoughts on this, or on what else might be useful in a third edition (to be published in the fall of 2010)? Please leave a note here (understanding that all comments and suggestions become my sole property without exception) -- and thanks!

Vérité BS

I'm so tired of reading about "pure" vérité and how real filmmakers just go out and shoot. Inefficient, inexperienced filmmakers just go out and shoot. Talk to long-term, award-winning vérité champs and you'll learn that they actually plan for the basics of story -- a narrative baseline, characters, the promise of relevant action -- thereby laying the foundation for powerful, important vérité films. In other words, before they shoot, they choose carefully what, how, who, and where to shoot. AND then the vérité magic happens. The outline may be a page long -- or a paragraph -- but some basic story issues have been considered right from the start. And as circumstances suggest change -- characters or situations take the film in new and better directions, for example -- they are prepared to adapt and take advantage of this change.

The filmmaker who just goes out to shoot a subject (not a story), is likely to wind up with a lot (a lot!) of weak footage, lots of hair pulling, and ridiculous amounts of time in the editing room trying to then pull a story out of marginally-relevant material . Furthermore, filmmakers who "find" a story after the fact risk crossing ethical boundaries, as they ask documentary footage to represent events, ideas, and emotions that it does not, in fact, represent.

Even films that are not vérité (or that combine vérité with other forms), are never, with extremely rare exceptions, scripted. (That's an old, news-based model that went out around the time Sputnik was launched.) As with vérité, but to a greater extent, these films are planned in advance through outlines and/or shooting treatments -- whether one page or 20 -- that suggest what the story is (not the subject, the story), who the specific characters are (if not by name, at least by type), and some baseline narrative -- beginning, middle, and end -- that will focus the shooting and infuse shots, scenes, and sequences with story information. And these filmmakers, too, usually encounter the unexpected, and their films are better for it because of, and not despite, their preparation.

In other words, documentary storytelling is NOT about scripting and is as relevant to the vérité folks as it is to anyone else. It's about applying time-tested strategies for good storytelling -- structure, character, conflict, stakes, resolution -- to the modern-day world of documentary media. And that's true even if you'd rather scratch your own eyes out than write or use narration in your film.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

April 19 - "The Audition" nationwide!

http://www.fathomevents.com/upcoming/details/The_Audition.html -- On Sunday, April 19, in movie theaters nationwide: ,the Metropolitan Opera’s acclaimed Live in HD series presents vérité filmmaker Susan Froemke's The Audition (3 pm ET / 12 pm PT).

The feature-length film, hosted by star soprano Renée Fleming, is a backstage look at the intense pressures young opera singers face as they struggle to succeed in one of the most difficult professions in the performing arts. The presentation then includes coverage of a live panel discussion moderated by Fleming, with fellow National Council winners Susan Graham and Thomas Hampson, filmed on location at the Met. Click here for a list of participating theatres.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

GM and Ken Burns

The New York Times and Detroit News have reported that because of its financial woes, General Motors will not be renewing its 22-year relationship with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and his company, Florentine Films. The most recent contract ends this year, making The National Parks: America's Best Idea (a 12-hour history airing on PBS this fall) the last collaboration.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Anything for a buck? Two views of advertising in the entertainment industry

Click here to read a 2005 white paper from the WGA east and west, "Are You SELLING To Me?": Stealth Advertising in the Entertainment Industry. "...[T]ens of millions of viewers are sometimes being sold products without their knowledge, sold in opaque, subliminal ways, and sold in violation of governmental regulations. Professional writers are now required to be complicit in these practices, and it is for these reasons that the Writers Guild of America, west and East have published this white paper. We seek to explain just what product integration is, why it has recently become so prevalent, and what we think can and should be done about it."

And here's a link to a discussion (lament?) about a far more overt form of cashing in, "Songs from the Heart of Marketing Plan," a 2008 The New York Times piece by Jon Parele. "Musicians have to eat and want to be heard, and if that means accompanying someone else’s sales pitch or videogame, well, it’s a living," Pareles writes. "Why wait for album royalties to trickle in, if they ever do, when licensing fees arrive upfront as a lump sum? It’s one part of the system of copyright regulations that hasn’t been ravaged by digital distribution, and there’s little resistance from any quarters."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Promo for "The Audition"

Just discovered a fabulous promo for Susan Froemke's new vérité film, "The Audition" -- http://www.metoperafamily.org/metupload/video/2008-09/Audition/index.html.
The feature-length film offers a behind-the-scenes look at the career-launching competition hosted by the New York's Metropolitan Opera and features extraordinary talent. Coming soon!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The myth of "unscripted" TV

Check out the December 2008 issue of the Writers Guild of America's Written By (non-members can subscribe for $40/year -- well worth it!) -- for an excellent article, Does Reality Still Bite?, by Jim Milio & Melissa Jo Peltier, writers of Dog Whisperer. These industry veterans look at ongoing problems that writers face when they seek recognition -- and compensation -- for the scripting that goes on behind the scenes of so-called "unscripted" shows. (The Dog Whisperer is considered scripted, and is covered by the WGA.) Also check out Joel Stein's 2004 Los Angeles Times piece, The New Quiz Show Scandal, referred to in the article. "Through sources I cannot reveal but would definitely not go to jail to protect, I got hold of a 19-page, single-spaced outline of an upcoming episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," Stein wrote. "Every moment is planned in advance, including a few specific lines for the straight guy to deliver, which Bravo says is not unusual for any reality show. It’s something that people in Hollywood know and think is no big deal." (Partipants in reality shows generally sign very broad releases; see for example the casting applications for a new CBS series, Block Party and ABC's Supernanny.)