The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide

August 31, 2009 by Samantha Halfon · 4 Comments
Filed under: Filming 


Desiring to move up from short videos to the documentary format we have been searching for a book that would layout the basics of documentary making. We found the Shut up and Shoot Documentary Guide on Amazon. It turned out to be the very book we were looking for. We both read it, from cover to cover and feel a lot more knowledgeable already. Our next steps will be to shop for a few more tools (basically we’re still out of a light kit) and practice setting up in the most usual situations (day light, interior light, low light, etc) while we work on getting one of our documentaries ideas going.

The author, Anthony Artis, has 15 years of experience in video making. He knows what he is talking about. But what makes the book stand out is his obvious love for teaching and passing on knowledge. He obviously enjoys sharing what he so hardly learnt himself, often by trial and error. By doing so, he spares the rest of us a lot of failures and wasted time. The book is also as exhaustive as can be covering all the steps from the pre production to the promotion and distrubition. If you feel these pages will not be of interest to you, we found out that there were as important and as rich in information as the ones about more technical phases of the project. The post-production is the only area the book doesn’t cover in such details. It is assumed that the documentary maker will either already be a competent editor himself or hire someoen to handle the technical aspect of it.

I must also add that the book is well presented and enjoyable to read. The illustrations are well picked and very explantaory. A lot of effort was also put into the preparation of sum up pages, almost cheat sheets, ready to turn into a quick reference book when in a tight spot. A double page for example details all the steps in getting your sound mixer up and running or the do’s and don’t's in low light situation. I’m currently working on an electronic document gathering some of these quick tips and cheat sheets for us to carry around at all times as well as a clear and explanatory shopping list since we try to pick up the geatest tools when the need arises. Our latest acquisition was a shotgun mic that I think we picked well. We will soon be looking for a light kit.

What you will find in the book:

  • how to research your documentary subject
  • how to apply for funds either from private people or from orgaisations
  • where to look for a crew and how to pick it
  • select locations (private or public)
  • select an equipment package and draw up a budget
  • image control and camera work
  • video lighting
  • sound recording and mixing
  • how to conduct a crew on set
  • conduct an interview
  • prepare a subject (wardrobe/makeup)
  • finding the right combination for your post production
  • promoting the movie (both online and through festivals)

and a lot more valuable knowledge and tips like how to deal with archive footage centers, interviewee walking out on you, insuring a location for shooting, and so much more. Actually, Anthony himself sum up his book and his intentions on his website, see for yourself what this is all about.

Down and Dirty DV

Anthony Artis, the author, is also the webmaster  of, a website, blog and newsletter about guerilla filmmaking I recommend you to visit. The book comes with a DVD full of extra resources for the young filmmaker (release forms, budget templates, cheat sheets and other practical documents). The extra alone are invaluable to young filmmakers who have no idea where to start looking for information like “how to draw up a release form?”.

One last thing

The book is also very well written which makes the read even more enjoyable. The tone is straight forward, and makes you feel like Anthony is speaking directly to you, sharing his errors and the solutions he found to them. And to add even more fun to it, the man also has a good sense of humor. The way he explains not to use dryer sheets as diffusion, from obvious first hand experience, ensures none of his readers will reproduce that mistake. Though i guess that’s the basic of guerilla filmmaking, try to make do with what’s at hand.

If you have a documentary project in mind, you won’t regret reading that book. Good luck to you.

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