"Hoop Dreams" director Steve James tells Nancy Ramsey at the New York Times: "When I was starting out, documentaries were under the umbrella of journalism…Now, the more commercially successful documentaries have become and the more they’re in the public eye, the more they’re perceived as entertainment." Fair use no longer, not when docs are more audience friendly and profitable than ever â€” Ramsey’s piece on the rising and nearly unavoidable cost of rights-clearances for docs is a slap in the face of anyone who would cheerfully gurgle on about the freedom that comes with digital video and DIY post-production. After all, as Ramsey reminds us, the well-publicized $218 it cost Jonathan Caouette to make "Tarnation" doesn’t include the approximately $230,000 Wellspring had to pay to clear the music rights, and other worthy docs like miniseries "Eyes on the Prize" are lost in legal limbo now that some of the rights to materials used in the film have expired.
Of course, the same paper reminds us that hiring writers and actors doesn’t make things any safer â€” Lewis Beale‘s listing of the various production undone by the fact that the real world would insist on going on is equal parts depressing and a schadenfreude delight. We imagine people were likely kicking themselves while simultaneously trying to convince themselves it would be all for the better with this one:
Storm on the Bayou
Opens in June.
A documentary shot in the Imax format about the disappearance of the Mississippi Delta wetlands and what would happen to New Orleans if a major hurricane hit the city.
PROBLEM Filming ended May 30. Two months later, Hurricane Katrina devastated the area.
RESPONSE Revise – big-time.
The production company hired a crew to film the destruction and did a complete rewrite of the script, with more emphasis on the hurricane part of the story. "The film is about three people, an alligator family and what happens before and after the hurricane hits," said Greg MacGillivray, whose company, MacGillivray Freeman Films, made the movie. "The film is changing to be more about the hurricane and its impact on the wetlands," he added. "Everything was hypothetical in the script, but now we know, and it makes the film more compelling and real."
On that note, Spike Lee is planning on making a documentary on the Katrina aftermath using "factual journalism, not creative narrative," though Richard Satran at Reuters (who, it seems safe to say, is no fan of the filmmaker) still manages to make it sound like he’s got a flamethrower on one shoulder and a boombox blasting "Fight the Power" on the other.
And, also in the New York Times, Sharon Waxman details James Mangold‘s slow teasing out of the life stories of his friends Johnny and June Carter Cash, while the couple’s son, John Carter Cash, writes in the London Times about his father and about Joaquin Phoenix‘s playing his father in "Walk the Line."
+ The Hidden Cost of Documentaries (NY Times)
+ Based On and Bested By a True Story (NY Times)
+ Spike Lee, filmmaking "provocateur," targets Katrina (Reuters)
+ The Secrets That Lie Beyond the Ring of Fire (NY Times)
+ The line behind Dad (London Times)