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Directing the Documentary [Paperback]

Michael Rabiger
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 13, 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.

Please visit:

 for the book's companion website.

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Directing the Documentary + Documentary Storytelling: Creative Nonfiction on Screen + The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide: A Down & Dirty DV Production
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Editorial Reviews


"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"

From the Back Cover

Directing the Documentary is the definitive and comprehensive book on the form, offering timeless principles that will improve your work. Ideal for documentary courses as well as aspiring and current directors,Directing the Documentary covers all phases of preproduction and production. The emphasis is on the hands-on work needed to make your concept a reality, and to that end dozens of projects, exercises, and idea-provoking questionnaires are included. Covering both the fundamental basics and advanced issues in documentary production, the book includes researching and honing a documentary idea, developing a crew, directing the team, and maininting control throughout shooting.

* Comprehensive manual on the creative, technical, and artistic aspects of directing--become an inspired director!

* Includes dozens of practical exercises that demystify the complex process of making a documentary and make it achievable

* Realistic advice and encouragement from a highly regarded filmmaker, mentor, and teacher to help you on your path

* Companion website features handy production checklists and forms, videos for some of the films discussed in the book, and a master bibliography:

[Please refer to the access code inside the back cover of the book to obtain access to the companion site

Product Details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Focal Press; 5 edition (February 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0240810899
  • ISBN-13: 978-0240810898
  • Product Dimensions: 10.3 x 7.2 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,348 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More 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), and Directing the Documentary (Focal Press). He is also the author of Developing Story Ideas (Focal Press).

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
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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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Keep it within arm's reach! May 7, 2010
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I've owned the third edition of "Directing the Documentary" for years, so I was elated to receive the new edition. I taught video editing at a major university for many years and received a lot of production books to review. After reading through them once, most of them went on the bookshelf perhaps to be cracked open now and again as a reference book. But from the time I first opened it, "Directing the Documentary" has been on my desk with the two or three other production "bibles" I can't live without.

I sometimes take it with me to lunch and flip through it for inspiration, of which it contains plenty. Let me stress that this is not a technical manual. Yes, it does include a great deal of "nuts & bolts" information, but it's strength lies in the fundamental concept upon which Mr. Rabiger builds the book: making documentaries is an artform. Yes, it can be very technical and there's a lot to know and understand, but that technical knowledge is a foundation upon which you can, and should, create art. It's that core, of which Mr. Rabiger never loses sight, that makes "Directing the Documentary" so very different from most production books.

I have recommended this book to complete novices (I just recommended it the other day to a friend who is going to Mongolia for a year and wants to take a video camera to document her experiences) and to people who already have some experience in documentary production. Every single person to whom I've recommended this book, who has purchased it, has thanked me for turning them onto it.

Some books are essential. "Directing the Documentary" is definitely at the top of that category.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exhaustive, must-have tool for any film buff December 11, 2009
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
To give a full and detailed review of this book would be an impossible task. It is one of the most detailed books dedicated to the process of a craft that I have ever seen. For those people who have a great idea in their minds and are convinced that their documentary vision will just have to be made, you HAVE to read this book first.
I have a minor in film studies, and this book covers more details than all of the text books I've ever read about film making. Everything from the cameras, to the sound, to the locations, to the language. And that's just the beginning. This is one of those books that, as a film maker, I could see carrying around and using on a daily basis to the point where it become so dog-eared and overused that you'd have to buy another one because of its importance. Reading this book has made me more interested in the process of film making, not just as an art, but as a quest! You really begin to appreciate all of those great documentaries you've seen over the years once you really delve into what makes them successful in the first place.
Another great thing about this book is that author Michael Rabinger makes it a very readable experience. While most text books, and that's what this is for the most part, ramble on and on in a very stale style, Rabinger doesn't talk down to you or accommodate his readers. He suspects that the reader knows something about film already, and guides you along necessary paths in order to understand the realities of documentary film making.
I would unabashedly recommend this book to anyone who considers themselves a film buff, whether you're a film maker or not. EVERY possible angle is covered here, and it's very accessible as well.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best and The Best
everything that we learn in film school in one side, but other side is kind of different and this referrers about ourself because we need to research and read a lot to catch... Read more
Published 23 days ago by OMID; TheOmid
5.0 out of 5 stars needed for class
i loved that it was available for kindle and the price was less than buying the actual book. beats waiting for the book to come in when i need to read for class today
Published 5 months ago by Sam
3.0 out of 5 stars I have read better
This was a mandatory book for a mandatory class that i hated in the end anyway. Yet my emotional grievances aside, it was unnecessarily repetitive, wordy, and just plain annoying... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Denise D.
4.0 out of 5 stars Indispensable
It tells me very clearly all I need to know and expected to get. Recommended for anyone just entering the field and oldtimes too.
Published 8 months ago by Eve Zaremba
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for the amateur documentarian
Ordered through Amazon Prime and the book arrived in excellent condition, fast. This book sometimes reads like a self help book but is really great with advice on documentary film... Read more
Published 8 months ago by April
5.0 out of 5 stars Have Camera Will Travel
I can't imagine a more comprehensive book on documentary directing. This textbook like book will take the absolute beginner and teach her everything she needs to know to direct a... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Dani Lane
3.0 out of 5 stars Good for those serious about directing documentary films
I find this to be a slow read but this is mainly due to the great abundance of information provided. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Erin King
1.0 out of 5 stars Poor Quality For kindle!!
There's no table of content in kindle!!!.
So it's Very Difficult to read with kindle.
The book also refer the contents by pages but the kindle didn't show pages it shows... Read more
Published 21 months ago by Chalitah Everingham
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book for students
This book is perfect as a teaching vehicle. The detail is wonderful, but it never gets bogged down. The focus on practical tasks is excellent, but there's there's also plenty of... Read more
Published on July 5, 2011 by Tracy Sorensen
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Read
I just started this book, but already I love it! It is the only textbook that I have ever been able to sit with and read straight through. Read more
Published on October 2, 2010 by Scoogy
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