The Documentary Handbook

Documentary films have enjoyed a huge resurgence over the last few years, and there’s a new generation of filmmakers wanting to get involved. In addition, the digital revolution has made documentaries even more accessible to the general filmmaker. 

This brand new, fully-updated edition of The Documentary Film Makers Handbook features incisive and helpful interviews with dozens of industry professionals, on subjects as diverse as interview techniques, the NBC News Archive, music rights, setting up your own company, the Film Arts Foundation, pitching your proposal, the Sundance Documentary Fund, the Documentary Channel, the British Film Council, camera hire, filmmaking ethics, and online marketing and distribution. 

The book also includes in-depth case studies of some of the most successful and acclaimed documentary films of recent years, including The Cove, Babies, At the Edge of the World, Last Train Home and many more. 

The Documentary Film Makers Handbook 2nd Edition is an essential resource for anyone who wants to know more about breaking into this exciting field.

The guerrilla filmmakers handbook.
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The Documentary Film Makers Handbook is a continuation of the best selling series on narrative film, The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook. Written by Genevieve Jolliffe and Andrew Zinnes, The Documentary Film Makers Handbook pulls no punches and is THE ultimate guide to making your doc!
ISBN: 9781441183675, 528 Pages

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Documentary Handbook Contents and inspirational quotes
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American University – Pat Aufderhiede

Berkeley School of Journalism & documentary – Jon Else

Documentary Center – Nina Seavey

Sundance Labs – Cara Mertes



Setting Up A Company – Stephen Sheppard

Fair Use – Michael Donaldson

Music Rights – Brooke Wentz

The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers – Thomas A. Crowell

The ultimate guide to the guerilla filmmakers handbook.

Research & Development

The Documentary Doctor – Fernanda Rossi

Finding Your Subject – Mark Harris, Kees Bakker

Ethics Researcher – Rosemary Rotondi

Archives – Nancy Cole; Proposals – Morrie Warshawski

Open Pitching – Michellea McClean
Fundraising – Carol Dean


IDA – Michael Lumpkin
IFP-NY – Milton Tabbot
Docuclub – Susan Kaplan & Mary Kerr
San Francisco Film Society
Women Make Movies – Debbie Zimmerman


Doc Writing

Storytelling – Andrew Zinnes
Documentary Storytelling – Sheila Curran Bernard
Writing a treatment
Writing narration


Funding Bodies

Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund
Paul Robeson Fund – Ron Hanfd
ITVS – Claire Aguilar

NY State Council for the Arts – Karen Helmerson

California Documentary Project – Susana Loza

NEH – Michael Shirley

NEA – Ted Libbey

Niche Funding bodies – Hartley Film Foundation
Bell Broadcast and New Media Fund

Chicken and Egg Productions



WGBH – Denise Diianni

HBO – Nancy Abraham

Discovery Networks – Kevin Bennett

PBS – Paula Kerger

The Documentary Channel
National Geographic Channel – Heather Moran/Juliet Blake

MTV – Lisa Hackett

Sundance Channel – Christian Vesper;
CBC Documentary Unit/TransCanada Development Fund- Jerry McIntosh

The Documentary Channel – Michael Burns


Production Companies

National Geographic Feature Films – David Beal

POV – Simon Kilmurry

Independent Lens – Lois Vossen

Cactus 3 – Julie Goldman, Krysanne Katsoolis, Caroline Stevens

NFL Films/ NFL network – Steve Sabol

Areitis/ Reality TV – Paco Aguilar


Global Perspective

EDN – Cecilia Lidin

Channel 4 – Simon Dickson

The Channel Four BritDoc Foundation

Maxyne Franklin

Shooting People – Jess Search

BBC Storyville – Jo Lapping

ARTE; TV-2 – Mette Hoffmann Meyer

Finnish Film Foundation – Miia Haavisto

Israel & Palestine – Philippa Kowarsky

Thailand – Thunska Pansittivorakul

Mexico – Elena Fuentes

South America – Amir Lubacki

Australia – Wendy Halloway

Egypt – Tahani Rached

Saudi Arabia – Danya Alhamiani, Dania Nassiet

Eggdancer Productions; Nordic – Tobia Janson, Hanna Bjork Valsdotter

Italy – Raffaele Brunetti/ Italian Doc Screenings


Production & Post

Producer – Agi Orsi

Insurance – Kent Hamilton

Animation/CGI documentary

Producing the Non Profit Doc – Becky Rolnick

HD Camera Equipment – Cortney Webb/ Image Craft

DSLRS – Vincent Lafloret

DP – Joan Churchill

IMAX DP – Greg MacGillvray

Production Sound – Alan Barker

The Travel Doc Host – Ian Wright

The Lab – Russ Suniewyk

The Digital Lab – Larry Schmitt

The Editor – Paul Crowder

The Composer – Miriam Cutler

The Sound Mixer – Mark Rozett


Film Festivals & Marketing

Full Frame Film Festival

Silverdocs – Patricia Finnernan

Sundance – Caroline Libresco

HotDocs – Stephanie McArthur

Sheffield Documentary Film Festival – Charlie Philips

Film Festival World/documentary

IDFA – David Tiegler

The Producer’s Rep – Josh Braun

The Publicist – David Magdael

Marketing – Sheri Candler

Designing Your Website


Sales & Distribution

The Sales Rep – Jan Rofekamp/Film Transit

The Distributor – Zeitgeist Films

DVD Distribution – Ellen Capon

Education Distribution – Cynthia Close, DER

Boutique Distribution – BuzzTaxi Communications Natalie Vinet

Indie Theater – John Vanco

Museum Distribution – Bo Smith
Brave New Films – Robert Greenwald

DIY Distribution – Peter Broderick – Katy Chevigny

Distribution Models – Jon Reiss

Blogging – Around The Block (Doug Block)

IndieFlix, FilmBuff, Alive Mind, KinoSmith, SnagFilms


The Long View

The Detective – Nick Broomfield

Listen Up! – Michael Apted

Queen Of The Doc – Barbara Kopple

Seek The Truth – St. Clair Bourne

Actual Reality – R.J. Culter


Case Studies

Monica and David

The Cove

Paper Promises

Bad Writing


At the Edge of the World

BBC Earth

Hard Knocks


For Once in My Life

Last Train Home

12th & Delaware

Diary of a Times Square Thief

The Kids Grow Up

Short Documentary – Bout;

Short Documentaries – Eva Webber


Sean McAllister – Japan; A story of Love and Hate

Review Creative Screenwriting -Documentary Handbook

Review By George Lawrence
Whether you’re an utter novice or a seasoned veteran of the nonfiction film genre, this massive compendium on the nuts and bolts of documentary filmmaking offers a wealth of information and insights. What’s more, it’s a lively and engaging read, owing to the dozens of interviews with documentary filmmakers—including more than a few giants in the field—who provide real-world war stories and inside dope.

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For the longest time, it seemed documentary filmmakers took more risks and received less notoriety than their peers in any other film genre. They put their lives, careers, and personal finances on the line to bring stories to the screen that inform, challenge, and entertain the masses, but other than a few minutes on the Oscars telecast each year, documentaries went mostly unnoticed by the unwashed masses. The Werner Herzogs and D.A. Pennebakers and Errol Morrises of the world were doing amazing work, yet reaching only a select and selective audience.


But with the mega-success at the mainstream multiplexes of recent docs like An Inconvenient Truth, March of the Penguins, Super Size Me, and Michael Moore’s works, suddenly nonfiction film looks like not only a vital calling, but perhaps also a viable one. Still, making documentaries is not something anyone should jump into without thorough preparation and planning, but where can an aspiring filmmaker turn for sage advice? Fortunately, Genevieve Jolliffe and Andrew Zinnes’ The Documentary Film Makers Handbook has arrived at precisely the right moment, when the genre is growing in recognition and interest in the field is growing fast.


This 560-page volume, which is really more of a bible than a handbook (it barely fits in your hand anyway, and it’s damned heavy), is jam-packed with information and real-world stories that illuminate the long, hard-fought process of getting a film made. Every step is covered, from finding a topic and choosing a documentary sub-genre, to raising money, creating a budget, pitching to broadcasters, assembling a crew, interviewing techniques, docu-drama versus straight documentary, film festivals and distribution, music rights, stock footage, the IMAX format, shooting overseas, and the ethics of documentary filmmaking. There’s even information on what to do if you’re arrested while shooting in a foreign country (as happened to co-writer Jolliffe when she was directing the feature film Urban Ghost Story). No stone is apparently left unturned, and for producers, directors, writers, directors of photography, and on down the line, this is a definitive compendium that will benefit novices and experienced pros alike.


“Long gone is the notion that docs can only be stuffy and boring,” Jolliffe and Zinnes proclaim in their introduction. That theme permeates the entire book, the bulk of which is composed of more than 100 interviews with filmmakers and others in all facets of documentary filmmaking. Some of the genre’s heaviest hitters are here, including Nick Broomfield (Kurt & Courtney), Michael Apted (14 Up, etc.) and Barbara Kopple (Harlan County, U.S.A.). The interviews are presented in the question-and-answer format, and are deceptively informative; many begin with a simple question such as, “What does documentary filmmaking mean to you?” and quickly segue into the nuts and bolts of filmmaking, instructive anecdotes, practical how-to information, and big-picture discussions about the role of the documentary filmmaker in the media and society. Many of the hurdles faced by documentarians, who often must shoot at a moment’s notice, are world’s away from the bloated-budget world of their mainstream Hollywood counterparts; and some are quite similar, such as the struggle between art and commerce—or, in this case, between the filmmaker’s passion for the material and the marketplace’s willingness to fund certain projects but not others.


“The reality is you choose the subject that you think you can get done next,” says Eugene Jarecki, director of Why We Fight. “And that’s a tragic thing to say. There are other things that I was dying to do, but this was the one in an increasingly complicated world of national security and international relations, that was a natural to pitch to the world community. It’s also something that I really cared about.”
It’s been 30 years since movies like Hearts and Minds, the unflinching examination of the Vietnam War, raised expectations about what documentaries can accomplish. A book like The Documentary Film Makers Handbook is long overdue, and an essential tool to help new and future generations of filmmakers continue to raise expectations and challenge audiences to reconsider the world around them.