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Directing the Documentary [Paperback]

Michael Rabiger
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

13 Mar 2009 0240810899 978-0240810898 5

Directing the Documentary is a comprehensive manual that has inspired over 100,000 readers worldwide. If you are interested in making documentary films, everything you need technically and conceptually is here. Filled with practical advice on every stage of production, this is the book you will return to throughout your career.

Directing the Documentary covers the methods, technologies, thought processes, and judgments that a director must use throughout the fascinating process of making a film. It emphasizes low-cost digital technology, which allows cutting-edge creativity and professionalism on shoestring budgets. And, recognizing that you learn best by doing, the book includes dozens of practical hands-on projects and activities to help you master technical and conceptual skills.

Just as important as surmounting technological hurdles is the conceptual and authorial side of filmmaking. This book offers eminently practical tools and exercises to help you develop credible and compelling stories. It shows you how to surpass mere technical proficiency and become a storyteller with a distinctive voice and style.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Focal Press; 5 edition (13 Mar 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0240810899
  • ISBN-13: 978-0240810898
  • Product Dimensions: 26.1 x 18.4 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 226,825 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"While there are many books about the technical basics of documentary film production, none of them integrate so thoroughly the artistic intention at the heart of great direction with the means of realization in pre-production, the field and the editing room...Great directing is equally a matter of heart and soul as much as technical knowledge. This idea is prevalent throughout Rabiger's book." - Ray Zone, International Documentary Magazine

"What makes this book so valuable is that the author consistently searches for the philosophical underpinnings of his art and never gets lost in the technical processes of filmmaking." - Jonathan Luskin, Flying Moose Pictures, San Francisco

"The book's greatest strength is the emphasis on documentary filmmaking as a creative, storytelling process....It supplies more in the way of an ethical foundation for the young filmmaker than any other title on the market." - Phil Hopper, Director, Theatre and Media Arts Program, Marymount College of Fordham University

"Intelligent and artfully written, Directing the Documentary should enjoy a place of prominence in the library of every documentary videomaker." - Videomaker magazine

"...what really makes this book so valuable is that the author is just so inspiring. Rabiger writes with such enthusiasm that even the most nervous would-be documentary maker is encouraged. But this is not the extent of his audience as this text is also highly relevant and impassioning to the seasoned pro...This text is inspirational, accessible, filled with useful filmic references and snippets of advice...This updated 4th edition really is a must for anyone with an interest in documentary filmmaking." - POV2 Journal

"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." - Steve Douglas, underwater videographer and writer for

"I read Michael Rabiger's Directing the Documentary which contains a list of not-to-miss American documentaries and Thin Blue Line is among them, as well as other films that depict wrongful incarcerations, such as Murder on a Sunday Morning."'s blog "Doc Soup"

About the Author

Michael Rabiger has directed or edited over 35 films, founded the Documentary Center at Columbia College, Chicago, and was Chair of its Film/Video Department. Now Professor Emeritus, Rabiger has also been presented with the Preservation and Scholarship Award by the International Documentary Association. He has given workshops in many countries, led a multinational European documentary workshop for CILECT, the international association of film schools. As Visiting Professor at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, he taught idea development, directing, and advanced production. When he retired 2001 to write full-time, Columbia renamed its documentary center "The Michael Rabiger Center for Documentary.” In 2002 he was made Honorary Professor at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina; in 2003 awarded the 2003 Preservation and Scholarship Award by the International Documentary Association in Los Angeles; in 2005 the Genius Career Achievement Award by the Chicago International Documentary Festival, and also in 2005 was made Professor Emeritus by Columbia College Chicago. He is the author of the enormously successful, Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics (Focal Press), now in its fourth edition, and Directing the Documentary (Focal Press), now in its fifth edition. He is also the author of Developing Story Ideas (Focal Press), currently in its second edition. He is currently writing a biography of Thomas Hardy.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By Andre Lawrence TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Focal Press puts out a number of books related to fine- and digital art, Feature, Independent and Documentary films as well as Animation Techniques. However, one of their best titles that touch upon all of the above-mentioned categories is a recently released book called Directing The Documentary, The Fifth Edition by Michael Rabiger.

There are many "how to" books, Rabiger reminds us, but there are philosophical and structural differences in making a Feature (fictitious) film and a Documentary film.

For instance, the Feature is a work that is constantly striving to be consistent with a pre-existent script. And, the goal of the director, crew and actors is to be faithful to the written word. A Documentary, on the other hand, starts off with a question and the director, crew and guests attempt to capture future, undetermined events in a relentless pursuit of The Truth. The Documentary, therefore, is essentially the process by which an answer is obtained.

These distinctions are important because it influences how the film would be made, the costs incurred, the manner in which footage is used, types of video, audio and perhaps, digital editing and processing time. There's also issues dealing with "rights" that cannot be known until footage is shot.

The book, Directing The Documentary, lays out in the most minutest of detail the basics and some advanced theories on creating a marketable documentary feature. The text is broken down into two (2) "books." One, "The Fundamentals" is an overview of creating a documentary by examining theories behind pursuing the project, the use of audio and video tools, working with cast and crew, budgetary issues, post-production tools and festivals.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Good Book 17 May 2013
By Petko
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very good book. If you are looking to do documentaries you need to have that in your library. Very well written
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By M. Peet
Mike Rabiger's book is very detailed and gives you a tremendous grounding in the things you need to consider when approaching a docmunetary. The book was sold at a discount by Amazon but it would have easily been worth the full price
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Practical and inspirational 6 April 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you want to make documentaries with substance this is the book for you.
I like the how the author encourages the reader to look outside of themselves for inspiration both for content of the film and motivation for making a film. This book as well as encouraging the reader to develop a voice and awareness of the world around them, while also going into the business aspects and craft of documentary filmmaking. The book is also full of practical exercises to get you started in applying what you learn. This is one of the best books I've read about documentary filmmaking, and I've read many.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Best Bible on Documentaries 24 Feb 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Apart from the excellent technical guidance and well laid out structure....this book has soul!! Thoroughly recommended as essential reading for all levels of experience.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Kindle edition a BIG disapointm 8 Jan 2013
By Dan P
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Just purchased the kindle edition of this book expecting great things & am very disappointed indeed. No contents page making it practically impossible to navigate, the links to the workshop features don't work, no page numbers which makes access to online content impossible, terrible layout like a mid 90's web page. I'm requesting a refund as it is just dreadful. Massively disappointed as was a huge fan of the paperback versions of this book :-(
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