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AFI research collection
Reference Type book
Title Directing the Documentary
Author(s)Michael Rabiger
State Unknown
Country United States
Publication Date 00-00-1992
Citation Date
Comments On pages 77-78 Rabiger describes Visual Rhythm. Visual rhythm is significant in an effective movie because its all about how the story is told. In order for a movie to have a good visual rhythm a director should plan out his scenes with a lot of details. A movie should be able to flow without having any awkward cuts.

Excerpts from pages 77-78 “I have stressed the idea of an immediate, instinctual response to the organization of an image because, unless shots are held to an usual length, this is how an audience must deal with each new shit in a film. Unlike the response to a photograph or painting, which can be leisurely and thoughtful, the filmgoer must interpret within an unremitting and preordained forward movement in time. “

“There is an optimum duration for each shot to stay on the screen according to its content (or “message” and the complexity of its form (how much work the viewer must do to interpret the message from the presentation). For the audience will either work fast at interpreting each new image or slowly, depending on how much time they were given for immediately previous shots.

“The principle in which a shot’s duration is determined by content, form, and inherited expectation is called visual rhythm.”

Lighting 115-120

“The key light not only provides highlights but also throws a shadow, and it is mainly by a scene’s shadow pattern that the observer infers time of day, lighting, mood and so on. This means that your base or fill light must be a soft, diffuse light that creates minimal shadows.”

“This is why one sees huge lights being used on feature shoots during daylight shots; available light it too soft to produce adequate shadow patterns so it must be augmented with a local hard source.”

“Some of the most interesting light effects are created when the angle of throw of the key is to the side of the subject or even relatively behind it.”

“Backlighting creates a rim of light that helps to separate the subject from the background.”


Synopsis Rabiger’s piece describes how to execute certain movie techniques. The book describes two different processes. One part of the book describes the preparation before actually starting to film. The second is the director who learns by doing. Rabiger stresses that in order to film a documentary it is important to go through a project proposal process. In order for a documentary to break new ground it must have strong language and voice. This book strives to present the importance of the craft of directing. In documentaries people usually write about their history or the film and video technology. Documentary filmmaking is about the common man making their story something special and sophisticated. Overall, Rabiger stresses the importance of preparing yourself before making a documentary. Rabiger really describes what a documentary is. He uses the definition, that it is the sum of relationships during a period of shared action and living, a composition made from the sparks generated during a meeting of hearts and minds. (E.J.H)
tags: documentary film technique  lighting  visual rhythm 
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