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Review: - Directing the Documentary

June 2009

Directing the Documentary
Written by Michael Rabiger $49.95

Review by Steve Douglas

Skim and scan this one? Nope! Read it cover to cover? Absolutely! Not since I read Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code' has a book been the cause of forcing me to rethink things as much as this one. For those either making documentaries or thinking about it, this is the book to get. With over 600 pages to read, you won't do it in a week, nor should you. For documentary filmmakers, you will find that the writing of Michael Rabiger grabs you right away and holds on. Having focused more on the documentary than any other genre over the last 20 years, this book made me question my purposes, methods of achievement and approaches to fulfilling my documentary goals.

While much time is devoted to the roles and responsibilities of individual crewmembers, camera equipment, the use of various locations and directing the documentary, you will find equal attention paid to the development of your story ideas and creating an artistic identity through approach and purpose.

The book is divided into two sections, Fundamentals and Advanced Issues, covering 8 chapters focusing on You and Your ideas, Documentaries and Film Language, Pre Production, Post Production, Documentary Aesthetics, Advanced Pre Production, Production, Post Production and Education & Careers.

The equipment section covering Lighting is a must read not only for its coverage on the different lights for different purposes but also for the many additional sidebars loaded with very specific ways to deal with many lighting issues. Actually, these sidebars permeate throughout the book within each chapter. All of them can be very useful, and while you may not have it within your budget to afford the many pieces of equipment covered in this book, you will find even more ways to navigate the documentary waters.

Another aspect of the documentary Mr. Rabiger focuses on is the development of the your own story idea through a clear, clean and thorough examination of your own perspective. It is easy to cloud things if your own strongly held views get in the way. A pre- production journal is suggested to help you thoroughly examine your own past experiences, which led you to your story idea. As a former counselor, I also often recommended the keeping of a journal as part of the therapeutic process. Here you can examine your documentary idea and its significance to you as well as your intended audience. Through both observation and interpretation you can then narrow and intensify the scope of your documentary. He also drives home the point that without personal experience and relevancy, the subject should probably be avoided. This is similar to what a creative writing professor once told the class I was in, "Write what you know about, and if you don't know about it, either learn it or write about something else." The same certainly applies to the documentary film maker.

Bottom line, I would be hard pressed to find a more up to date and comprehensive book regarding the creative, technical and artistic approach to the documentary genre. I'm not completely through it yet; I'm taking my time and so should you.

Steve Douglas is a certified Apple Pro for Final Cut Pro 6 and underwater videographer. A winner of the 1999 Pacific Coast Underwater Film Competition, 2003 IVIE competition, 2004 Los Angeles Underwater Photographic competition, and the prestigious 2005 International Beneath the Sea Film Competition, where he also won the Stan Waterman Award for Excellence in Underwater Videography and 'Diver of the Year', Steve was a safety diver on the feature film "The Deep Blue Sea", contributed footage to the Seaworld Park's Atlantis production, and productions for National Geographic and the History channels. Steve is also feature writer for Asian Diver Magazine and is one of the founding organizers of the San Diego UnderSea Film Exhibition. He is available for both private and group seminars for Final Cut Pro and leads underwater filming expeditions and African safaris with upcoming excursions to the Red Sea and Egypt for Nov.2009, Feel free to contact him if you are interested in joining Steve on any of these exciting trips.

copyright © Steve Douglas 2009

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