The documentary diaries

Working experiences of a non-fiction filmmaker

Author: Alan Rosenthal

This book shows what happens from the birth of the idea until a film is completed. This means covering all the hurdles, and the bumps, and other obstacles along the way, including inspiration, proposal writing, finance and marketing. The book shows how the author developed, produced, and worked on seven films. Four are major documentaries, the fifth a feature-length docudrama, and two are works in progress. All have and had multiple problems. None of the completed films were easy to make. The book discusses the pros and cons of working with partners, and shows what happens when there is harmony, or where things break down through disagreements. The problem of raising a budget comes up in all the films, and is discussed most thoroughly in the book. The book also addresses the difficulties of working internationally, and shows how infinite patience and stubbornness can be required when working with a broadcast station. At the end of several of the chapters the author has also added a short section called 'Production notes.' These notes usually amplify and explain further some central problem raised in the chapter. One of the chapters in the book deals with the specifics of making one particular family film. The notes which follow, however, tell people about making family film in general.

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‘'Why hadn't I understood that you don't choose documentary subjects, they choose you?' Alan Rosenthal states, unequivocally, in his recent book The Documentary Diaries (p. 23). It is a nugget of advice typical of the book as a whole and delivered in the easy going, rhetorical way that will be familiar to those who have followed Rosenthal's written work on documentary to date, in particularly his previous practical guides referenced below. For the pearl of wisdom is not found just in the idea, but in Rosenthal's articulation of it, and the characterisation of the documentary subject as a 'sly bastard of an idea' that 'comes up from behind and bashes you behind the ear' as you are 'sneaking along in your usual doze' (p. 23) tells us something about both creativity and the person doing the creating.'
Richard Wallace, University of Warwick
Critical Studies in Television: The International Journal of Television Studies

‘Alan Rosenthal doesn't make personal documentaries. Instead he writes autobiographical accounts of creating them; and he does so unashamedly in the guise of teacher, guide and practical theoretician. The documentary diaries is the latest in a unique series of memoirs-come-handbooks: a 'how-to' guide grounded in the realities of documentary production from the moment of personal inspiration to the aftermath of audience reception. Rosenthal is one of the few practitioners able to reflect on his filmmaking experience to such good effect.'
Brian Winston, University of Lincoln

‘Rosenthal's often wry reflections on a life in documentary filmmaking mix well-grounded insights into the challenges of the genre with sharp practical advice for those keen to try their hand.'
John Corner, University of Leeds

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