The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide is one of the best books for beginning filmmakers that I’ve seen in a long while.

Its main advantage is the high readability. Any specialized vocabulary is carefully introduced and never over-used. Author Anthony Artis has a fun, conversational style (peppered with hiphop-isms) that some readers may find cheesy but definitely keeps the guide from being a dry textbook read. The book is probably over-designed in terms of color and layout, but the design isn’t trying to make up for lack of substance.

What is the substance? Shut Up & Shoot hits the main points of filmmaking in general, and goes into detail on topics that aspiring documentary filmmakers will like, such as lighting and sound recording for sit-down interviews. There are even whole chapters on interview prep and interviewing techniques.

The meat of the book covers the three filmmaking food groups: pre-production, production and post-production. Individual chapters on location scouting, sound, camera technique and lighting are all highly informative. Artis offers great advice, charts and anecdotes for all of them. The section on lighting, in particular, is the best I’ve seen in terms of breaking down a complex topic in a really visual and useful way.

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What’s missing? The explanation of video formats too short. In trying not to be confusingly technical, it doesn’t amount to a useful explanation. Unfortunately, a certain amount of technical wonkiness is required to break down the flavors of high def. As someone who deals with them on a daily basis, I can say that they are confusing even for pros. I recommend a filmmaker get the d.p., the post-production supervisor and a possible distributor on the phone together to hammer out what format the film ultimately needs to be mastered in. If the filmmaker happens to be one or all of these positions, a great deal technical knowhow is unavoidable.

Most young filmmakers will probably find the section on distribution too short. There are whole books that deal with the process of getting the film seen, and the book could’ve easily been twice as long with this info. This blog will be reviewing a book called The Insider’s Guide to Independent Film Distribution soon that will hopefully provide a more comprehensive look at this domain of movie making.

The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide isn’t over when you’re done reading it. The DVD that comes with it has a lot of bonus .pdf documents, including:

– Live Event Checklist
– Documentary Shoot Supply Checklist
– Talent/Interview Legal Release Form
– Video Edit Log
– Storyboard Form
– Craft Service Checklist
– Documentary Budget Forms
– Cheat sheets for camera, sound and lighting (study aids for his NYU classes?)
– Features Chart for the Panasonic DVX100A
– Features Chart for the Panasonic HVX-200
– Features Chart for the Shure FP-23 mixer
– Quick Start Guide for Final Cut Pro HD
– Blue and Green warm cards for white balancing
– Resources list for documentary grants

Some of the items could have been included in the book proper, but I see why many are in this format: they might be handy for single-page printing. I do wish that forms like the budget were provided in an editable format (if not Excel, a free format like Google Spreadsheet) instead of the clumsy PDF.

The DVD also has some short video features that amount to an advertisement for related ‘Down and Dirty’ branded content. A sample segment on sound recording tips is good on its own; a piece with clips from the filmmakers interviewed for the book lacks focus and doesn’t contain any earth-shattering filmmaking advice. There is also a trailer for the series, and two 20+ minute podcasts which are already available free at I would’ve liked to see a documentary that is referenced many times in the book, like Paper Chasers, included.

In summation, The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide is well worth the asking price because it is jam packed with useful information spelled out in a useful way. You can’t ask for much more. This book gets a big recommend for aspiring documentarians and a solid recommend for other filmmakers, including aspiring narrative filmmakers, who will find plenty of the advice applies beyond documentaries.

Anthony Q. Artis’s blog

Shut Up & Shoot hits #1 in its Amazon category