TOP 5 BOOKS: ESSENTIAL READING FOR DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKERS /STUDENTS

The following list features five of the best books I have encountered during my studies. They are the books I would recommend any film student to acquire as they make valuable additions to any film buff’s library. As well as offering a comprehensive history of non-fiction film making, the codes and conventions of documentaries many of the books also provide insight into the mind of documentary directors.

Documentary Superstars: Marsha McCreadie

Documentary Superstars takes an in depth look at how documentary trends have evolved over the years, from cinema vérité to on-screen auteurs. The book features exclusive interviews from  Michael Moore, Albert Maysles, Lauren Greenfield, Henry Corra and Errol Morris.

Directing the Documentary: Michael Rabiger

This book was on the top of my MA course reading list, some say it is the best book ever written about film making. In this extensive guide,  it’s nearly 600 pages, Rabiger provides an in-depth analysis of the both the creative and practical implications of production. The book is filled with advice and resources for documentary filmmakers, including guidance on grant writing and fundraising, proposals and pitching. It also has a companion site that has a wide variety of resources including online film examples and production checklists.

Introduction to Documentary: Bill Nichols

If you have done any academic study on documentary it is highly likely Bill Nichols is a name you will recognise. His writing is very accessible, he breaks down several traits and conventions of documentary styles into a conceptual scheme he calls ‘modes’: the observational mode, reflexive mode, participatory mode, reflective mode and expository mode.  Whilst it would be impossible to fit every film perfectly into one of the six categories, these categories help scholars and makers alike understand different approaches filmmakers take to share their stories.   I believe this is the perfect book for someone looking to broaden their understanding of documentary form.

This Much is True : James Quinn 

Each chapter in this book is centered around a different part of the film making process and features an essay from some of, arguably, the best documentary filmmakers of all time. Nick Broomfield, Albert Maysles, Kim Longinotto and Asaf Kapadia are just some of the contributors to the book.

The book is more personal than the others on the list and features a more conversational style. I would recommend this book to somebody looking to gain insight into how well established documentarians think.

John Grierson: Life, Contributions – by Jack C Ellis 

John Grierson is thought of as the father of the non-fiction genre. ‘Documentary’ was actually a term he coined when talking about ‘Moana‘ a 1926 film directed by Robert Flaherty, not the Disney animation. This book is the only biography included on the list. It includes information about Grierson’s career and offers insight into the true contributions he made to documentaries.

 

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Short Sighted: Recognition – new Emmy awards.

“Our industry is aggressively, quickly, and creatively evolving the various ways episodic stories are told, Our Board of Governors felt that this expansion of short-form categories begins the process of ensuring that Emmy-worthy creativity will be rewarded, irrespective of format or platform.”  Bruce Rosenblum, Television Academy Chairman and CEO

Short form content on the web has never been recognised by the Television Academy but this year, things are set to change. The Primetime Emmy Awards have expanded their short form categories to further acknowledge the dramatic growth of the work by people in the creation of short form content.  They categorise short-form programmes to have episodes that are 15 minutes or less and the new categories cover a variety of genres including comedy/drama, animation, variety and nonfiction/reality. There is also a new award for Outstanding Actor/Actress in a short form series. 

“These category changes reflect the broader opportunities that emerging networks and distribution platforms … are seizing in choosing innovative formats that enable our television community to share stories in novel and entertaining ways,” Rosenblum said.

Although the award will not be presented during the telecast in September (it will be given a week earlier at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards) it is still a major coup for the short form.  They will be peer-voted awards which allow Youtubers and Internet shows to be seen as professional, legitimate forms of entertainment for all. There are already awards recognising the work in this area such as the Webbys and the Streamys (both open to public voting) but the Emmys inclusion of this category is a real signifier of the changing landscape of media. Youtube stars such as Tyler Oakley are already expanding into television and Netflix original series. Youtubers are becoming as important, arguably more important, than traditional stars and this recognition has a big impact because it means the Academy is actively interested in representing changes in the media landscape. Creator driven short form content is a major force because of its accessibility for young audiences.  

“While we like to say awards don’t matter or that we think our fans are the real award, this kind of external, institutionalized recognition always makes you proud and a little more ambitious. I think this will help people start to understand what makes a good short form series and what excellent talent looks like.”Kathleen Grace, Chief Creative Officer at New Form Digital



References: 

http://www.emmys.com/news/press-releases/television-academy-expands-short-form-categories-and-increases-directing-and

http://www.wetheunicorns.com/news/youtube-emmys-awards-pewdiepie/

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/new-emmy-rules-open-categories-872055