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.