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The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide

The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide by Anthony Artis (Focal Press, ist edition 2007; revised 2011), 296 pages, ISBN: 978-0240809359, £19.99

About the reviewer: Nik Powell co-founded Palace Pictures and produced such films as Scandal (1989), The Crying Game (1992), Little Voice (1998) and Ladies in Lavender (2004). He is the Director of the National Film and Television School in London:

Shut up and shoot! This is the ironic advice of Anthony Artis and it is very appealing. It is ironic because if you took it too literally, you would shut up and shoot and not read his book! I would therefore like to modify it to, ‘Shut up, read this book and then shoot’ or ‘Shut Up and read this book while you shoot’ or ‘Shut up and Shoot and have this book to hand while you shoot’.

The first thing to say right off is that is an excellent book. The second thing to say is that this is a book about the ‘How to’ of documentary making, not the ‘art’ of documentary. However, if you are involved in the art of documentary filmmaking, you could do a lot worse than have this book to hand at every moment while you prepare, shoot and postproduce your film. It has three principle outstanding qualities that you seldom find individually let alone together in the same book. The first is how comprehensive it is; the second is how intensely practical it is; and the third is how clear it is.

The book is comprehensive and detailed. Indeed the most comprehensive practical (I do hate the word ‘guerrilla’, a filmmaker is surely at the end of the day just a filmmaker!) guide to documentary filmmaking I have ever come across!

Here’s just a tiny sampling of what’s inside the book:

  • Putting together a crew
  • Choosing a camera
  • New HDV and 24P cameras
  • Shooting in rough neighbourhoods
  • Interview skills and techniques
  • 10 ways to lower your budget
  • Common production forms

The accompanying DVD includes video and audio tutorials, useful forms, and interviews with leading documentary filmmakers like Albert Maysles (Grey Gardens), Sam Pollard (4 Litle Girls), and others.

There is not the space in this review to do anything like justice to its comprehensiveness and you will need to check out the book yourself to be convinced. And it is intensely practical. It is about everything from plain old budgeting, the difficulties of interviewing, the necessity of clearances to the practicalities of lighting on a micro budget.

This book mercifully lacks the often-unexplained mumbo jumbo or incomprehensible ‘cool’ filmspeak that you find in so many filmmaking books. It also makes a gargantuan effort to explain technical terms clearly and it largely succeeds. It uses illustrations a great deal and very effectively. The pages are crammed with 500 full-colour pictures, tips from the pros, resources, checklists and charts, making it easy to find what you need fast.

And while I believe a book or a DVD (or a book and a DVD) can never be a substitute for a course that includes personal teaching or teaching that mixes up the personal teaching, hands on filmmaking theory and the challenges of the documentary art, this book should undoubtedly be on every reading list and form a part of that mix. And if you are not able to (or indeed do not wish to be!) on one or other of the great documentary courses run around the world, then this book is an absolute must.

But remember that this book will not tell you how to make a great film or indeed a good film. Or indeed even pretend to. But it will give you clear and practical guidance on how to make your film.

And without such guidance it is hard to even get started. This book will help you do so much more than that!

Nik Powell

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