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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Build your own film night:

Last week Flatpack: Assemble hosted an evening masterclass in Birmingham’s Impact Hub to inspire a new generation of cinephiles to create their own film nights.

After Cocks & Docs I am more interested than ever to continue organising film nights in the West Midlands. I want to do this because I love the idea of bringing people together in a cinematic space to share exciting content and to build a community of creative, like minded people in my home town. Film nights also give people an excuse to actually leave the comfort of their own house and socialise with new people.

byofnm3 They explained that at their core, film nights consist of three elements. Films, Places and People. You can control the films, you can control the place but you cannot control the people. You need to make the event special in some way to encourage audience members to attend. This can be done by showing content that can’t be seen anywhere else, holding the screening in an unusual venue or having an interesting mix of people/entertainment (such as dancers/musicians etc.)

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Here are some of Flatpack co-founder Ian Francis’s top tips on hosting your own film night:

  • Keep distractions to a minimum eg. natural light/noises from the venue
  • Don’t over programme, make sure you schedule intervals.
  • Make sure the audience are relatively comfortable
  • Think about the trajectory of the evening and the mood and tone of the films you screen.
  • Clear all the rights and licenses for both the venue and the films
  • Seamless presentation is important. In a later post I will break down some of the advice the Flatpack team had to offer about screening conditions.

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I’m so pleased to see Flatpack Festival organising more events across the year and reach out to people in the West Midlands, encouraging them to engage with film. If you don’t follow them already, you should…@flatpack

Flatpack Film Festival 2014 Trailer from 7inch cinema on Vimeo.

King Doc UK

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Our latest production is in full swing and we will be filming in the last week of this month (January).

We asked drag kings and academics from around the world to tell us more about what drag performance means to them…

The documentary will explore the resilient spirit of the people who perform masculinity on stage. If you don’t already know, Drag Kings are male impersonators, often women, who embody the mannerisms of men. Our film will follow myself and a young performing drag king, Benjamin Butch, as we uncover the core reasons that performers choose gender impersonation as a form of artistic expression. Other contributors will include drag kings Sammy Silver and Wolfy .

We have 9 days left to raise the rest of our budget and we are offering a variety of fabulous reward in return for donations. If you would like to support us please visit: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1300988717/king-doc-uk-a-short-film-about-the-uks-drag-kings?ref=discovery .

We are also hosting a drag night in my university town of York, in a wonderful LGBTQ+ friendly venue Thomas’s of York . If you are in the area and would like to attend your name can be added to the guest list as a ‘reward’ for donating.

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While the film project is still dragging on…. You can follow our progress (and see pictures from the event) on our social media pages.

Find us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook using the hash tag #kingdocuk for updates on the project!

TV Diary: Delusional Downtown Divas ‘Desperate Decadence: S1, Ep 1’

Premiered 9th January 2009.

Screen Shot 2013-12-14 at 23.20.26Delusional Downtown Divas(DDD) is Lena Dunham doing what she does best. Its a wry satirical web-series produced and directed by Dunham, starring herself and some of her closest friends. It provides a commentary of a group of young adults in New York yearning for stardom and to be a part of the art world’s inner circle, addressing topical issues and exploring the psyche of privileged children as they try to make a name for themselves.

Each 7 and a half minute episode is driven by its the quirky characters. The series has a relatively low production value, relying on long takes and the shots which at times are very shaky, with a handheld feel to them. This style is almost reminiscent of a fly on the wall documentary, the audience feels as if they are voyeurs watching intimate moments between friends. The likeness to a documentary is furthered by reverse shots that are held for longer than feels natural. Delusional Downtown Divas is reliant on dialogue rather than fancy camera shots and special effects.

Direct address is used frequently. The characters speak candidly to the camera as if they were recording a Vlog, utilising its online medium perfectly and allowing audiences to relate to the characters in the short space of time available.

The webisodes showcased Lena Dunham’s ability to effectively develop characters and story lines and caught the attention of financiers and ironically the art world. The web series is engaging and a pleasure to watch. It’s unsurprising that HBO picked up her current show ‘Girls’ as it isn’t dissimilar to Delusional Downtown Divas with its clear mumblecore influences and character driven narratives.

Since my last post, I have been tremendously busy working on content for BOA Broadcast’s first magazine show, ‘Friday @ Two’.

After finishing off ‘Sack Sales on New Street’, I filmed a cooking show with Jake. We tried to steer away from the usual presenter led programmes and concentrate more on the visuals. I am really proud of the finished product so please, check it out!

The final VT I worked on was a feature on the Clothes show. With our press passes we were able to get into restricted areas and get interviews with designers, organisers and models. For me, the highlight of the experience was having to fight our way to the front of the press pit at the end of the fashion theatre catwalk.

Here’s the final product…

The filming of ‘Friday @ Two’ went smoothly. It was a very collaborative effort, we chose two students from the acting pathway to present after the auditions and they were absolutely fabulous. The rest of the crew worked well together and despite a few hiccups along the way, I think we pulled through it.

I am looking forward to working on the next episode of ‘Friday @ Two’ and using everything we learnt to make February’s show even better than our Christmas special.

Sack Sales on New Street: Vintage Fashion

Here it is, the finished VT for our Christmas Magazine Show, ‘Friday @ 2’. It will be used to accompany a live fashion piece, creating an outfit from  the vintage items purchased on the day.

Check it out: 

Director – Elizabeth-Valentina Sutton
Producer – Elizabeth-Valentina Sutton
Featuring – Lucy Jane, George Bartlett and Gary Poole
Camera Operator – Jake Barrett
Editor – Elizabeth-Valentina Sutton

Music – ‘Six Sticks’ by Halloween

With Thanks to Sack Sales on New Street and Gary Poole