Pub. Date:
Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated
The Art of Nonfiction Movie Making

The Art of Nonfiction Movie Making

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The past few years have featured such blockbusters as Super-Size Me, Fahrenheit 9/11, Sicko, March of the Penguins, and An Inconvenient Truth. And as news articles proclaim a new era in the history of documentary films, more and more new directors are making their first film a nonfiction one. But in addition to posing all of the usual challenges inherent to more standard filmmaking, documentaries also present unique problems that need to be understood from the outset. Where does the idea come from? How do you raise the money? How much money do you need? What visual style is best suited to the story? What are the legal issues involved? And how can a film reach that all-important milestone and find a willing distributor? Epstein, Friedman, and Wood tackle all of these important questions with examples and anecdotes from their own careers. The result is an informative and entertaining guide for those just starting out, and an enlightening read for anyone interested in a behind-the-scenes look at this newly reinvigorated field of film.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780275992255
Publisher: Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated
Publication date: 08/31/2012
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 239
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Jeffrey Friedman and Robert Epstein are filmmakers and cofounders of Telling Pictures Inc.

Sharon Wood has served as writer on three Oscar-nominated documentaries and written and produced many others.

Table of Contents

Foreword Michael Fox xiii

Acknowledgments xvii

Introduction xix

Part 1 Development 1

1 The Idea 3

Where Do Documentary Ideas Come From? 3

What Makes a Good Idea for a Documentary? 4

Is the Idea Fundable? 4

What are Funders Looking For? 5

Is it a Worthy Subject? 7

Is the Subject Important? 9

Has it been Done Before? 10

Is it a Good Story? 10

Are There Strong, Interesting Characters? 12

Is There Conflict? 13

How Good is Your Access? 15

Are There Strong Visual Elements to Tell the Story? 17

Case Study: The Times of Harvey Milk 18

Conclusion 19

2 Research and Evaluate Your Subject 21

Read Everything, Talk to Everyone (within Reason) 21

Rights and Licenses 23

Case Studies 24

Researching a Historical Film: Paragraph 175 24

Researching an Archival Film: The Celluloid Closet 25

Researching Storytellers 26

Archival Research 26

Researching an Observational Film: Crime & Punishment 27

Researching an Essay Film: Where are We? 28

Using Research to Determine the Form: Common Threads 29

Conclusion 32

3 Make Your Case: From Story to Proposal 33

Define the Story 33

Find the Story Arc 33

Write Your Film 36

Define the Storytelling Elements 36

Storytelling Tools 37

"Objective" Elements 37

"Subjective" Elements 38

"Directorial" Elements 40

Narration 41

On-Screen Text 41

Reenactments 41

Music 42

The Proposal 43

Case Study: Paragraph 175 45

Case Study: Where are We? 48

Outreach/Distribution Plan 50

Conclusion 52

4 The Treatment 53

Case Study: Common Threads 54

Case Study: The Celluloid Closet 59

Case Study: Paragraph 175 61

Case Study: Taking HOWL from Documentary Treatment to Nonfiction Feature Screenplay 66

Conclusion 67

5 Development Materials: The Budget and Sample Reel 69

Production Schedule 69

Case Study: Filming Common Threads 71

Budget 73

Budget Notes 73

Create a Sample Reel 86

Work with What You Have, Play to Your Strengths 87

Case Study: The Sample Reel as a Creative Tool for The Celluloid Closet 87

Conclusion 90

Part 2 Preproduction 91

6 Financing 93

Development Funding versus Production Funding 93

Foundations 94

Broadcast Partners 96

Sales 97

Presales 97

Coproductions 98

International Opportunities 98

Pitch Markets 99

Individual Donors 101

Targeted Fundraising Campaigns 101

Fundraising Events 102

Cocktail Parties 103

Individual Supporters 104

Individual Contributions 104

Investors 105

Conclusion 105

7 Casting the Nonfiction Film 107

Casting Criteria 108

How Do They Fit In? 108

Can They Tell a Good Story? 108

Casting Historians and Other Experts 109

Screen Presence 110

Preinterviews 110

Case Studies 111

Casting an Interview-Driven Documentary: Common Threads 111

Casting a Vérité Documentary: Crime & Punishment 113

Pitfalls and Obstacles 114

Reluctant Storytellers: Paragraph 175 114

Celebrity Storytellers: The Celluloid Closet 116

Casting Actors for a Nonfiction Movie: HOWL 117

Casting Tools 118

Conclusion 120

8 Legal Headaches: Releases, Rights, and Licenses 121

Personal Releases 122

Story Rights 123

Book and Magazine Rights 124

Music Rights 125

Footage and Photo Rights 126

Fair Use 127

Errors and Omissions Insurance 128

Case Study: Licensing Clips for The Celluloid Closet 128

Conclusion 130

Part 3 Production 131

9 Assemble a Team 133

The Chain of Command 134

Producers 135

The Creative Team 138

Camera 139

Individual Supporters 141

Sound 142

Editor 145

Additional Crew 148

Making Deals 148

The Business Team 149

Get a Lawyer! 150

Accounting: The Bookkeeper 151

Accounting: The Accountant 152

Do-It- Yourself Filmmaking 152

Conclusion 154

10 Directing Documentaries 155

Directing Observational Scenes 157

Case Study: Unexpected Observational Scenes in Paragraph 175 159

The Art of Film Interviewing 160

The Setup and Stylistic Choices 160

Preparation and Spontaneity 162

Knowing When to Call "Cut" 167

Conclusion 167

Part 4 Postproduction 169

11 Editing 171

The Editing Process 172

Screening Dailies, Making Selects 172

The Outline or "Paper Cut" 174

First Assembly 174

Rough Cut 175

Defining the Style 176

The Art of Narration 177

Narration Case Study: Paragraph 175 181

Early Version 182

Second Version 182

Final Version 183

Narration Case Study: The Celluloid Closet 183

Screening the Rough Cut 184

Fine Cut 186

Final Music and Narration 187

Locking Picture and Final Touches 189

Editing Case Study: Common Threads 190

First Assembly 190

Rough Cut 192

Fine Cut 193

Conclusion 197

12 Launch Your Film 199

Film Festivals 200

Case Study: What Worked and What Didn't with The Times of Harvery Milk 201

Sundance and Beyond 202

Educational Distribution 204

The Small-and Smaller-Screen 204

Conclusion 205

Appendix 1 Sample On-Camera Release 207

Appendix 2 Sample Deal Memo 209

Appendix 3 The Pink Triangle 211

Appendix 4 HOWL Treatment and Script Excerpts 217

Filmography 223

Notes 225

Index 235

What People are Saying About This

James Franco

"Rob and Jeffrey's documentaries have been inspirations for me since I first became aware of them as a teenager watching The Celluloid Closet at my neighborhood movie theater. Their work reflects a deep commitment to craft and to authenticity—qualities I experienced first-hand when we worked together on HOWL. This book—a guide-book, a how-to manual, and a filmmaking memoir—is a gift to anyone interested in making nonfiction films."

Kris Samuelson

"The Art of Nonfiction Movie Making is an indispensable resource for documentary filmmakers—as well as directors of nonfiction dramatic narrative—whether just starting out or experienced. Full of detailed case studies, it provides insight into all corners of the production process from world-renowned filmmakers with over 30 years of experience."

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