I lead a somewhat bifurcated creative life. As a writer of novels and short stories, I practice an art. As a writer of magazine articles and maker of documentary films, I practice a craft.
By way of definition and assignment: To me, an art is something in which its only value is aesthetic. A craft has artistic impulses, but it also has some level of utility. Sculpture and painting are arts; architecture and furniture-making are crafts. Dramatic films are an art. Documentary film is a craft. It can serve an informative, political or social purpose.
But that doesn’t mean documentaries don’t have tremendous artfulness, and some do far more than others. Michael Moore, for example, is not an artist but rather an investigator, and Ken Burns is not an artist but is a wonderful historian. Banksy is an artist when it comes to art, but when it comes to documentary film he’s not — he’s a showman, he’s a teller of tall tales, he’s a shameless self-promoter of his own work, but not an artist.
It is occurring to me more and more that James Marsh is as close to being an artist as anyone currently in the documentary form. There are others — Frederick Wiseman is, at least in my book; Barbara Kopple is; surprisingly, Errol Morris may not be (I see him more as a public intellectual).
It has to do with filmmakers imbuing stories with depth that rivals literature or serious dramatic film, and become by that depth artistic. Documentarians have a choice to go deep or go useful; happily, at this particular fork in the road, both ways can lead to wonderful films.
Call the art of documentary film “finding the bottom.” That, to me, means finding some depth that, while never overtly expressed and perhaps not always recognized consciously by the viewer, creates an emotional response that’s unexpected. Ever leave a theater feeling more moved by fact than fiction? There it is.
The very nature of documentary filmmaking is oppositional to that of fictional filmmakers, despite being the same form. Think of sculpting. In one approach — with clay — you add on until the shape is found. In the other, you chip away to the same result. Think of Michelangelo’s famous quote: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” That’s you, documentary filmmaker. You have all of these facts and realities and you have to pare and pare until the essence of the story is found — and not the obvious one.
Marsh may be the most artistic of documentary filmmakers today, setting free the angels of human existence from the most extraordinary choices he makes.
Again, the notion of “bottom.” I’m reading the new biography of the writer Joseph Heller, which posits that his monumental Catch-22 was less about World War II, its purported subject, and more about the suffocating bureaucracy of 1950s corporate America, which that war’s veterans returned to. One of my favorite novels, Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (a Japanese-born man transplanted to Britain at a young age) is not only about its starched butler, Mr. Stevens, but about something unstated but embedded in the author’s psyche: The samurai notion of selfless service to a master. It is the duality that creates the depth.
I’m hardly a lone voice praising Man on Wire, but I still think, despite its Academy Award, it wasn’t a fully appreciated film. The work was more than once referred to as a “caper film,” but that’s not where you find the bottom. I watched Man On Wire three times, trying to touch why I had such an emotional reaction. I came to realize that the film was a stark counterpoint, and nearly a psychic redeeming of, an all-time “caper” — the 9/11 attacks. The acrobat Philippe Petit’s quest to conquer the Twin Towers could not help but suggest, however subtly, the same planning, execution and finality of the terrorist attacks. Petit’s greatest day was intent completely without malice, and of an innocence that made the film speak of the endless process of seeking to repair the past. Every step of Petit’s wire walk casts a long, evocative shadow, yet 9/11 is never mentioned. We see in the scenes of Petit’s wire walks the crowds on the street, looking upwards, an image matched to those of 2001, where they would not be of wonder but of horror. The insight of the film is heartbreaking, even as we adore Petit.
If you just want a caper, look elsewhere. I did see another wonderful film, The Cove, as the ultimate caper film — no real art here, just action. It was an Ocean’s Eleven, except at the ocean. Like Eleven, it has a definable heist, and it assembles an “A-Team” kind of crew — instead of Eleven’s acrobat/bomb expert/card sharp, Louis Psihoyos’s The Cove has the divers/techno geeks/environmentalists, all pulling off the deal against irredeemable bad guys and their clumsy henchmen. The ending, and no spoiler here, has the pat, confident last word you simply don’t find in real art.
To leave the theater Sunday night with as complicated feelings as I had watching Marsh’s latest, Project Nim, speaks to the effects of real art. The film, on its face, chronicles the life and times of a chimpanzee taught to use sign language. But I don’t think it’s what it’s really about. You could have made a lot of weak documentaries while telling the same factual story.
When critics tried to parse Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea as being a clever tale of Hemingway’s own struggles trying to land the big novel that evaded him later in life, he responded to the negative, saying, “The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish.” It’s possible, if Hemingway were taken to be truthful, that all the symbolism was there, but the author himself never saw it and never intentionally created it — just felt it somehow.
Maybe Marsh sees a story in which a chimp is a chimp, but I could not help thinking, in the film’s midst, of it being an allegory for the collapse of the American family structure in the late 20th century, of the differentials of power in human relationships, and of the disappointments of expectations. I thought as well of Pinnochio (Collodi’s fable, not Disney’s cartoon sanitization), and the way the experiment of an “invented boy” collapses both of his own limitations and the deep expectations put on him.
There are, of course, some deeply practical reasons Marsh chooses his topics — including the abundance of saved footage that can be used to tell a story from decades before. But as a documentarian, Marsh seems far more interested in the many layers his stories trigger, rather than having the last authoritative word so many filmmakers seek.
The most artful of documentary filmmakers will always seek out the bottom — the true resonance comes from there. In an era when reality programming uses documentary techniques to tell stories lacking human depth, it will continue to be, evermore, what distinguishes the documentary form.
Philip Bloom is telling of a snap-in filter for the EOS 5D Mk II that is touted as being able to reduce moire and aliasing, a couple of the problems that have plagued HDSLRs.
The VAF 5D2 filter consists of multiple layers of birefringent optical material including lithium niobate and crystalline quartz. How it exactly works and what it exactly does, well you will have to ask the inventor about that! But roughly the interference with details that is caused by the line skipping is removed changing the pattern of the incoming image so whole lines are not whole lines any more…or something like that!
The filter, from Dave Cubanski at Mosaic Engineering, creates an eight of a stop of light loss and throws off the focal measurements on the lens, but snaps in easily. Mosaic is also working on a filter for the EOS 7D.
Apple has put in for patents for pocket-sized projectors that could be dangerous – “Hey, you wanna come up and see my documentary?”
The idea would be projection capability for iPads, iPods and the like. One source, Simonblog, says this:
Though Apple refrains from commenting on such speculations, it’s well known that Apple has been working on this feature since 2009. The idea of integrating such projector-like features into iOS devices is to create a shared workspace in presentations. Apple says devices such as smartphones, tablets and even computers have small screens so it’s difficult to share work or presentations among workmates, and this patent would help them solve that problem.
The most likely outcome would be more alng the lines of “Hey, let me project this cat video on the wall,” something akin to the torture Woody Allen compared to being put in an underground cell with an insurance salseman. Where this would work nicely for a filmmaker is for rough-cut screening to small groups, quick run-throughs and possibly pitches. We’ll see.
I got an email from a new filmmaker named Geoff Arbourne, who wrote this:
“For the last four years I’ve been living and working in Southern Africa (working in International Development), when I came across the story that thousands of people were being evicted because of the football World Cup in South Africa. This led me to quitting my job for six months and trying to tell the story as I saw it first hand. I made it self-funded, and finished it at the beginning of the year.
“I now have an idea for my first feature length documentary. But to do this I need to buy the equipment for myself. So far I only have the body of the D7000 (no lens). Therefore, what do you recommend I buy first? Do you have such a thing as a Kit List? As a two-man team what do I really need?”
Geoff said his budget is about 3,500 Euros, so maybe $5,000. That’s a number that would have been impossible a decade ago, but now is an amount with which documentary film is eminently doable. It’s spending it well, and understanding what you can do with it, that matters.
Is the best $5K kit a given?
First, a bit of philosophy.
The whole pursuit these days, which manufacturers have been happy to oblige with a stream of products instantly making obsolete the ones just before, is about this: “Look like you belong.”
It used to be that filmmaking was an exclusive club. Like most exclusive clubs, exclusion was determined by money. The insiders could afford to do things the outsiders could not. In filmmaking, the more you could afford to do that stuff, the more you separated yourself out from the wanna-be’s. Super-8 cameras, and later videocams, were the mark of the great unwashed. Even television news’ expensive Betacams just didn’t match up with shooting film. I remember attending the old New England Film Festival in the 1990s and seeing 7-minute student films shot on 35mm that cost $20,000 and upwards.
The question was how to get into the club. So the Holy Grail of digital filmmaking, for a decade now, has been that of “looking like film.”
Then technology hit its tipping point in the last five years. The gap between film and video got remarkably smaller. Actual picture sharpness and color became much closer to film; suddenly, staying in the exclusive club had to nibble around the things film still could do but video could not. That, bout three or four years ago became shallow depth-of-field. “Cinema adapters” such as those from RedRock Micro, Cinevate and Letus were the rage.
Then, almost unexpectedly, came a round of HDSLRs that closed that gap, and brings us to the current state of affairs. There is almost no one who can’t afford a camera that can get them in the game.
But if everybody can be in the game now, should we still play by the old game’s rules?
So, in essence, the first thing in selecting equipment is to decide which rules you want to play by.
The obvious way to go, given a $5,000 budget, a is a set-up that has become as ubiquitous in indie filmmaking as skinny jeans, a flannel shirt and black-framed glasses – the EOS 5D Mark II, with a lens in the 28-70 2.8 range and a Zoom H4N audio recorder that can be used on the camera or as a hand-held mike. It’s a tried-and-true setup, and you’d still have a thousand dollars left to spend on other stuff.
I touched base with some filmmakers I’ve profiled on my site, where my interest is largely about doing the best work for the least money. Several were happy to respond. Many are using some variation or another of the above. Here is the kit list for Canadian filmmakers James Swirsky and Lisaane Pajot’s, whose film is “Indie Game: The Movie.”
Geoff has a Nikon D7000 body. It shoots 1080p but uses a smaller sensor than the full-frame 5D, so the first question there becomes, “Does it matter?” The 5D has set up a look for film that has been largely unrivaled at its price point because of its “full-frame” sensor, which is actually twice the size of a 35mm movie frame. All the other HDSLRs are using sensors smaller than that, but the D7000, and Canon’s EOS 7D, T2i and 60D (and the GH1 and GH2 from Panasonic) are all finding followers.
James Colquhoun, an Australian documentarian who with Laurentine ten Bosch made the widely-sold doc “Food Matters.” James says that on their latest project, the kit has been something that has been basic, light and reliable (I’ve added the prices in USDs):
We’ve just recently arrived home and are in post for a new film due out in the next few months so have shot with the following kit:
- Canon 7D $1,600
- 24-105 l series f4 (best interview lens) $1,000
- 35mm l series f1.4 (really nice for those shallow depth of field overlay shots) $1,400
- Tokina 11-16 f2.8 (great for wide shots and steady when hand held) – works well on a glidecam also… $650
- Manfrotto legs with video head (190XPROB) $200
- Lowell Tota/Omni Core 44 kit (3 lights) $1,100
The total is about $5,950, above Geoff’s budget, but he already as the camera body. James and Laurentine have done damned well on this easily obtainable kit. “Food Matters” sold more than 100,000 DVDs. But some purists complain that the HDSLRs have created a bit of a genre we might call “film moiré.” The cameras do bust lines and make a checked shirt take on a life of its own – HDSLR documentarians are wise to ask interview subjects to wear solid colors – a concession to the limitations.
So another route to go with money in hand is what documentary filmmaker Robert Greene, director of “Owning The Weather,” “Kati With An I” and “Fake It So Real” does, and seems not to have hurt his success. He often picks up second-generation equipment that works perfectly but has been cast aside in the arms-race mentality of newer and better. Remember HDV? While some people have relegated that, and the tapes it records on, to cave-painting status, the stuff still works well. Robert’s philosophy on equipment has taken him to Full Frame, True/False and DocNYC, among others. And it didn’t hurt filmmakers such as Sebastian Junger and the late Tim Hetherington, who made the acclaimed and Oscar-nominated “Restrepo” on HDV.
The advantage of buying “real” camcorders that might be a tick behind the times is because they use three-chip technology, integral lenses with long zoom capabilities, have clean audio, have built-in neutral density filters and don’t need add-on viewfinders or monitors. A look this morning at eBay and Amazon show a lot of Sony, Canon and Panasonic HDV cameras selling for $2,000 or so. What some lack is 24p, but the question is whether 1080i will really exclude you from the club. Lots of people are using it, and broadcast still premises on interlaced. Progressive was the rage when everyone wanted to convert their video to film stock; who does that anymore? While it’s easier to convert 1080p to 1080i than the inverse, progressive may be overplayed.
A few years back I used a JVC HD100u to do a film – it shoots 720p (the so-called “poor man’s HD”), and you know what? It was great. Not one person at the film festivals I screened at ever said, “Hey, was that only 720p?” These JVCs, oddities in a way, are currently selling used on eBay for down around the $1,500 range (from $6,000 new four years ago). And remember, three-chip camcorders are soaking up more color information than the one-chip HDSLRs, some old film-camera people will think of as the difference between shooting negatives or transparencies. The latter requires perfect exposure.
All this goes toward a blunt question: Where is your film really going to be seen by most people? Robert’s first film, “Owning The Weather,” was on iTunes, and it didn’t hurt him that the film was shot not even in HDV but in standard definition. Same with a more recent film, the highly regarded “45365” by the brothers Bill and Turner Ross was shot on a pair of SD Panasonic DVX100Bs, which are selling used for about $800 used. Those cameras took them to SXSW in 2009.
I think of Stefan Sargent’s “Four Times Better” rule – to wit, never upgrade technology until the new stuff is four times better than what you have on hand. For Robert, that also means editing his films on used, cheaply gotten iMacs; for others it might be used lighting kits, microphones and the like.And by the way, those cinema adapters everyone was killing for three years ago are widely, cheaply available. I have a Letus Elite that still works wonderfully with my EX1 and Nikon still lenses; you can get one on eBay for about $800.
What interested me with the filmmakers I queried on the technology question was also the stuff you didn’t expect. For example, while I use a Sony EX1 as a workhorse camera, I’ve found that I use my Canon T2i ($800) much more than my 7D ($1,600). The reason is the Magic Lantern hack for the T2i which allows more camcorder-like function such as focus peaking, more-selectable ISO and sound monitor bars. That software is free.
More filmmakers are combining – a DSLR makes a great sit-down interview camera, and a run-and-gun tool might be that used HDV model. Viewers are much more forgiving of some grainy action footage, and that’s where such camcorders’ deep depth of field is actually to great advantage, especially combined with autofocus. And this may be sacrilege, but some really small consumer camcorders, such as the Canon HF-S21, shoot very sharp 1080p video that plays surprisingly well next to much more expensive units. At about $1,000, it’s maybe something to put in that extra pocket of your gear bag. Even cheaper than that is the HV40, which shoots wonderful “true” 1080p and costs about $400 used.
So what major choices, beyond cameras? Lights, of course. My workhorse light is a $500 Flolight LED – runs cool, bright enough, easily portable, doesn’t break. There are amazingly cheap lights out there, and lightstands and the like. One-point lighting is still a staple of doc filmmaking (see Ken Burns’s films) and it seems that it’s network TV that is obsessed with three-point lighting, scrimmed background and the like. But look at a documentaries and you’ll see a lot of outdoor shooting with what seems just a bit of fill with one light or even just a $30 reflector. Simplify, simplify.
People find out what works when they’re out there. One is Nathaniel Hansen, Boston-based director of “The Elders.” His gear list is on his site, but here’s how he replied to the question of Geoff’s kit he thought audio is often underlooked and underthought: He says to get “a $30 boom-mic stand (from any music store, make sure it has a boom arm and is at least two stages.
Nathaniel adds that “a good shotgun mic kit (check DVinfo.net for good used gear in their classifieds), and some precise positioning just out of frame, can get you crystal clear audio even in a noisy room. You’ll want a cheap 5lb sandbag as well to keep the rig from tipping on accident. Practice the set up. You’ll be shocked how close you can get a mic and still have it be miles out of frame. When I’m rolling two-person two-camera set-ups (80% of my work), it’s the only way I capture audio and everyone’s always impressed with the results.”
James Swirsky of “Indie Game:The Movie” had these thoughts:
1) Monopods – by far the most useful form of support on “Indie Game: The Movie.” When I first got into HDSLR, I immediately tried to replicate the shoulder-rig form factor that I was used to. This led me to buying a rather expensive piece of kit that made my rig heavier, more cumbersome and immediately erased all of the form-factor advantages of an HDSLR. In general, the more I build up my rig, the more I want to tear it down. Don’t be pressured into thinking that you need to build up your rig in order to achieve professional results or appearances.
Eighty percent of non-interview shots in our past project was shot with a monopod. It provides just enough stability, while still retaining the camera’s inherently small footprint and flexibility.
In specific, I love love LOVE the combination of a Manfrotto 562b Monopod and a 701 fluid head.
2) A general gear tip: Make sure you’ve used your specific equipment before you begin your shoot. And I don’t mean the obvious pieces of gear, like cameras, lenses, audio recorders, etc. But the smaller, less obvious pieces. I’ve bought pieces of gear during shoots that I thought would slip perfectly into my workflow as soon as I received it. But, in reality, I found that, often, it takes time to warm up to a new piece of gear, in order to become comfortable with it and confidently include it in your workflow. A lot of DSLR gear is positioned a bit like a plug n’ play solution. Rarely, is it ever that simple. Make sure you have the time to familiarize yourself.
3) If you can’t afford fast glass and find yourself upping the ISO to noisier levels in certain situations, the noise-reduction plugins on the market do a really good clean-up job. Obviously do not rely on them to perform miracles, but do know that they’re there and do work quite well. Of the two bigger names: Magic Bullet and Neat Video, I’ve found both create great results, but Neat Video is the more stable of the two by far (at least in my setup).
4) There are a lot of people online advocating the faithful use of primes over zooms, and rigs over Image Stabilization. lenses. The points they make are extremely valid, but many times come from a narrative filmmaking perspective and do not take into consideration common documentary filmmaking conditions. I often think, to a beginning filmmaker getting most of their info from forum and blog posts, this can create an unnecessary self-imposed dogma. Let me state for the record: There is nothing wrong with shooting with zooms, and I.S. will make your picture better 99.99% of the time. And if HDSLRs had a reliable auto focus, I’d be telling you not to be afraid of that, either.
So, a body or two, some lenses, some lights. A mic with stand, maybe a solid lavalier mic in the $200 range. (I have a Sony ECM-88B to go with some Rode and Audio-Technica shotguns). A good tripod; for a light camera that’s under $300. A monopod. A light or two. Light stands. Some wide gaffer tape ($20). I advise these little reading glasses with built-in lights for shooting at night and packing equipment in the dark. For $15, they’ve saved my butt more than once.
And a last list from Biagio Messina and Joke Fincioen, the husband-and-wife makers of “Dying To Do Letterman”:
1. Story trumps everything. A raging fire or riot breaking out on the streets only requires whatever camera you can get to quickest. We’ve aired iPhone footage, flip cam footage…you name it. The cheapest camera you can instantly pull out of your pocket tends to get the most priceless footage.
2. Audio is important–and usually overpriced. For most interviews in Dying to do Letterman we used a $15 clip on radio shack microphone with a $5 extension cable. $20 versus hundreds on a wireless system. We even shot a few scenes in confined spaces like this. Further, in a pinch, just get within 3 feet of your subject and use the on camera mic.
3. Another audio tip: Have one wireless mic and two people to shoot? Wire up your main character and send that to channel one. Use your on-camera mic for channel 2, and shoot over the shoulder of your secondary character. We’ve made that work in a pinch.
4. Sometimes you’re better off spending $200 on a fancy dinner for someone who owns or has access to expensive equipment. Feed them well, pitch your project passionately, and you may find you now have $100,000 worth of equipment for the cost of a dinner you enjoyed as well.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask people for stuff. You can’t get your dream package for $5000, but if you’re passionate about your project you can get thousands of dollars in favors. Make others a part of your cause, and you may find you have more help and gear than you ever dreamed.
In closing, I believe that $5,000 will get a new filmmaker to a point at which he or she is not at all outside the club, and from there on, what matters the tale you tell. And for one- and two-person projects, it goes toward a basic business notion: That solid revenue and low costs mean a bigger profit. Find ways of telling a good story cheaply, and you’re more likely to have a chance to tell another some day.
Thanks to the filmmakers who contributed to the discussion!
Longtime documentary filmmaker Kevin Knoblock has a set of tips in Script, the online magazine of Final Draft, and says this about funding:
Yes, you can make a documentary for $20,000, but unless it’s a labor of love, I would strongly recommend a realistic feature-length budget where you and your co-workers get paid industry standard rates. Most of my feature documentaries range from $300,000 on the low end to slightly over a million dollars.
You can write an entire book on funding sources. It always comes down to someone sharing your vision, whether they are individuals, networks, or nonprofit organizations. Remember to ask yourself this when you pitch: What’s in it for them?
On the day after the stock market dropped 634 points, it’s worth considering how much value this advice has. Not to say it wasn’t valid at some point, and that Knoblock hasn’t earned the right to say it through his significant experience in the business. But like the world economy, the documentary-film economy is changing rapidly. Some thoughts:
1) Scarcity is gone. In the beginning of Knoblock’s 30-year career, you needed serious up-front funding to even make a film, because it was being shot on film. 1981 video quality was OK for TV news, but was still what separated “film” from “video.” Without big up-front money, you simply weren’t in business, and therefore few documentary features got made. The competition was generally at the funding level and not at the exhibition level. Now, legions of young filmmakers with DSLRs are just out making “films.” The competition is now at that level, and ones who earn money are more likely going to do so after the fact (an exception that interests me greatly is crowdfunding, in which investors buy in at the idea stage, but more of the flmmakers we’ve spoken who’ve had successful crowdfunding efforts say you still need to present finished work that shows where you’re headed).
2) Abundance diminishes investment certainty. Imagine yourself an investor in documentary films 30 years ago. You’re most likely a television network. Or you’re a production company that works with networks. You need material, and filmmakers need money to get their projects going. You know if you put money into better projects, the relative competition is slim. Even film festivals in 1981 generally took submissions in the form of reels; the number of films submitted to Sundance in 1987 was 60 (yes, 60) as opposed to 6,092 last year. If you are an investor these days, the opportunity for return is not as narrow as it once was. There are still certainly networks that fund documentaries up front, but that’s diminishing. The model may well be toward HBO Docs, which tends to acquire completed works at a high price. And if you look at what they’re buying, there’s not always a direct correlation between money being put into the film by investors and money returned at the end.
3) The market has broadened. In 1980, there were a very limited number of markets for documentaries. Television was only entering the cable-TV age, and PBS was a prime spot for documentary work. Theaters, particularly art houses, were more individualized and willing to do short runs in large cities. But videocassettes were still dawning and digital projection was as distant as hovercrafts. That meant that a documentary filmmaker had to play for a very specific type of market, and if the funding and support could be secured, there was a clear target. Now, filmmakers are able to create their own market anywhere there’s projection capability, and there’s projection capability everywhere. That, however, creates more abundance. Money can be made, but it’s against more people with the same opportunity to make money.
4) The economies of scale are diminishing. On this site in the last month, we’ve profiled two two-person filmmaking teams, the makers of “Dying To Do Letterman” and “Indie Game: The Movie.” Two-person collaboratives seem more and more common in documentary filmmaking; anything more than that is increasingly a luxury (although the Maysles brothers did fine as a two-man venture four decades ago). Documentaries no longer need to have rolling credits at the end that rival feature films. It doesn’t take a village of specialists any more; technology has made it possible to do more.
5) The math is changing. OK, imagine a budget circa 1980. Film and processing for a feature doc, even in 16mm, is hundreds of thousands of dollars. Cameras and lenses worthy of shooting that, and lighting to do it justice, tens of thousands. Editing facilities, thousands if not more. Separate sound equipment, thousands and thousands. Transporting this raft of equipment and the many people needed to set it up and run it, thousands. Printing and color timing, thousands and thousands. Then the personnel: An editor who will take hundreds of hours cutting and splicing. A lab to run the negatives, answer prints, color timing and final printing. Add it all up…. Now look at 2011. Cheap cameras. Cheap hard drives. Little need for external editing facilities. Digital output. Time-saving technology such as Avid and Final Cut. It comes down to this: Other than paying yourself a salary up-front, this stuff just isn’t that expensive anymore.
6) It will always be a labor of love. I suppose if George Clooney were giving advice on acting, he might say “never take less than $10 million a picture, up front,” because he is one of those fortunate anamolies who has reached such a point. But the majority of people who enter acting do so aware of the financial folly. Most support their acting ambitions doing other work. So it seems to us that documentary filmmaking is what you do when you’re not focused on financial security, and Clooney’s hypothetical advice does not apply to 99.999 percent of actors. Same with documentary film. Kevin Knoblock isn’t George Clooney, but he’s clearly someone who’s had success in documentary filmmaking under the old economics. These days, with competition that simply did not exist 30 years ago, filmmaking has to be the labor of love that makes you want to do it despite the financial headaches. The trash truck is coming down the street as I write, and those guys are not, I suspect, engaged in a labor of love. But most of us, in whatever profession or pursuit we choose, should be if we can.