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Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Marketing Test for Your Book? --- You KNOW You Need One, Right?

A lot of talk about book marketing has been going around lately --- Actually, talk about marketing books has been going around since the beginning of ‘book time’ --- It has just taken a 
more center stage in this new era
where more writers are acting as their own publishers.

We all come to realize sooner or later that writing the book is just phase one of the book project. Getting the damn book in front of readers, phase two, is also of paramount importance to its success and, by extension, the writers sense of achievement (not to mention financial reward).

‘If you’re writing for a major publishing house, you will probably pass the marketing test before your book gets accepted. Books are chosen based on marketing appeal as well as the author’s writing skill and timeliness of topic.’ --- Cathy Goodwin, Phd.

When do you start your book marketing strategy? When you first start laying out and diagramming your new book storyline; even before you write the first word!

You do this by designing a marketing checklist that you apply as you build your new storyline. An example is defining or fine tuning your story so it fits into a particular genre; this lends your book to easier marketing trends/strategies and placement in bookstores. This singular built-in marketing concept will also invite more professional reviews and reviewers.

Nonfictional books already have a built-in marketing checklist, of sorts, in the form of their ‘Book Proposals’, which must be submitted before approval by major houses. Book proposals address such things as: Market for your story and demographics of proposed readership, why your book is different from others of similar subject matter, table of contents of your proposed book, proposed summary of the chapters of your nonfiction work, etc.

Now, this by Cathy Goodwin, PhD, published author, copywriter, writing coach, top reviewer and speaker.

Does Your Book Pass the Marketing Test? A Reviewer’s 7 Point Checklist

Authors frequently think of “book marketing” when the book is printed and ready to hit the shelves. In fact, nonfiction book marketing begins before you write the first line. After your book has been written and published, you and your marketing team will have to look for marketing copy, reviewers and more.
If you’re writing for a major publishing house, you will probably pass the marketing test before your book gets accepted. Books are chosen based on marketing appeal as well as the author’s writing skill and timeliness of topic. When you write for yourself or for a smaller house, of if you don’t have a promotion budget, you are on your own.
Before you come to the final moment when you say, “This book is finished!” here are 7 points to check off.
1. Your book belongs to ONE genre and you know ONE place where it belongs on a bookstore shelf. Mixed genres (such as self-help plus memoir) rarely succeed in the marketplace.
If you’re not sure what genre is, or what genre best characterizes your book, you’ll need to visit a bookstore, talk to some people and get some professional advice. Without understanding “genre,” you can’t market you book or get reviewers.
2. Your book has a simple theme that you can state in a sentence or two. When someone asks, “What’s your book about?” you can’t go on for ten minutes. You need a concept statement that lets the reader know exactly what the book is about. You’ll need this statement when you look for book reviews.
For instance, my relocation book’s theme was “the psychological aspects of moving.” Sometimes I would add, “Lots of books tell you how to pack a box; this one tells you how to pack your life.”
3. Your book fits together with a simple unifying premise that can be explained easily. For instance, my relocation book was premised on, “Relocation changes your identity in three ways.”

4. Your chapter titles expand the theme and also read like copywriting headlines. Readers will pick up your book and skim the table of contents. You’re selling them on the importance of digging in.

5. Each chapter has hooks that grab the reader’s attention. When you hook the reader in the first paragraph, you’ve probably got a reader who will finish the chapter and continue to the next one, until the book is done.

6. You know what the book adds to the existing possibilities. If asked, “How is your book different?” you have a clear, accurate response.

7. Your book is written concisely. Recently I was asked to review a memoir with a fascinating premise. But when I saw the book was 500 pages of tiny type, I gave up. A few books can get away with monumental size, usually if the author is famous to the point of notoriety. Most will end up as doorstops.

When your book passes this checklist, you’re likely to get awesome reviews, and you won’t have to struggle to get them.

The Writers Welcome Blog is available on your Kindle here :)))

Article resource: http://wordpreneur.com/16532/does-your-book-pass-the-marketing-test-a-reviewers-7-point-checklist/

Friday, June 20, 2014

What 'Realistically' Makes a Successful Writer?

What makes a successful
Writer? I'll tell you.
An interesting question. One thing for sure is that you first must be alive in order to enjoy new experiences to interpret and write about.

And this leads me into a short explanation of my longer than usual absence. I wrote about my latest experience very briefly on Facebook a few days ago only as a means to notify my family and others of my impromptu hospital adventure --- after the fact.

My 6/12/14 Facebook entry:

"Got proactive about my health; suspected something was not quite right from my interest and research of related things on the Net and insisted on getting a stress test. Test showed a little irregularity on left side so Doc set up an Angiogram on 5/29/14. He went in with camera, saw, withdrew, piled me in ambulance and transported me to Colorado Springs for double bypass heart surgery 

All went well :)) 

AND, because I was proactive I had no heart attack or stroke. I was in and out in a few days.

The Doc had found I had a 92% blockage at a crucial point (called a widow-maker) and a couple other lesser blockages!!

Somebody up there loves me :))))"

I have been navigating some rather thick forestry of late!

My first major surgery of ANY kind; and after the surgery, I felt like I had been run over by a Mack truck  :(

So, I haven't felt like writing, but, I feel much better now with a lot more energy pouring into my body (new oxygenated blood, I guess). 

Perhaps this is the next step in my personal journey to being a successful writer --- By the way, the journey never ends.

Pertinent excerpt from tonights research source: "You have to learn to understand before ever attempting to cause others to understand. When do you reach your goals? It isn't over until it’s over. Never stop reaching for higher goals."

Now for more unique insights into what makes a successful writer:

Jerry Slauter writes this for Wordpreneur - A different angular insight:

"What Makes a Successful Writer"

Writing, like life, is a self-determining status. You are successful when you reach your goals.
I have known many people in various professions who have dreamed about writing their personal memoirs, professional insights, a self-help book, an adventure novel or a love story. I have not known of any writers who have dreamed of being anything other than a better writer.
What are your goals? Do you want to entertain others through your writing? In this age of Internet marketing for fun and profit, do you want to sell products or optimize search engines? Do you want to convey news, challenge perspectives, write the American novel, or win the Pulitzer Prize for literature?
These goals might or might not be realistic, but you will never know until you put the pen to paper and perfect your abilities to observe, feel, imagine and communicate. You have to learn to understand before ever attempting to cause others to understand. When do you reach your goals? It isn’t over until it’s over. Never stop reaching for higher goals.
Although not exhaustive or all-inclusive, some writing goals to consider are: Finding your voice; Establishing your genre; Publishing your work; Reaching your audience; and, Considering the type of life style you hope to achieve.
Finding your voice. What interests you? What do you spend your spare time reading, observing or following? Although writers, in the short term, must often write about topics that are of little to no interest to them personally, they find ways to make the topic interesting to the reader. For the long term, begin keeping files of your interests. Take an inventory of the books you read. What is your passion?
Establishing your genre. Ideally, you will begin to find the topics that are interesting to you. You will have already been collecting research notes, articles, books and other information about these topics. Write articles, papers, essays or books about these topics.
Publishing your work. The pessimists would say, “There is already a flood of information out there. There is no way to have your voice heard.”
Realistically, there are more opportunities to publish your work than there ever has been. On the Internet, you can write an article this morning and see it in print this afternoon. It is easy to find a plethora of article submission directories in every genre and interest. There are still trade journals, newspapers, letters to the editor, publications for local, state, national and international organizations. If people were not reading this information, there would not be so much effort for the publishers to get it out there.
Get The Writers Welcome Blog on your Kindle :)


Resource article: http://wordpreneur.com/16425/what-is-a-successful-writer/

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Content, Even When its Meaning is Twisted Out of Context, is Still King!

Content Marketing must be
mastered to sell your

I read Greg Satell, a contributor to Forbes magazine, often enough - due mainly to his often less-than-mainstream approach to his subject matter. He is an interesting writer I enjoy. 

I agree with his outlook sometimes and disagree sometimes.

Tonight's post deals with the subject of 'content' and why I believe it's the main ingredient in successful writing and publishing no matter what the genre, niche, format or mission of the particular written word (print or digital) actually is. 

Whether the purpose of your writing is to advertise (to sell), to entertain, to teach, to research, to inform or to inspire --- the creative writing you use to accomplish your desired mission (the creative content) is the only determining factor in its success or failure.

Is content king? You bet it is. Always has been. Always will be.

Now, in my research source article tonight, written by Greg Satell in Forbes, I disagree with his disparaging and definition of the term 'content'. In my opinion, he is simply splitting semantic hairs and blurring words that are more commonly used by some present day publishers from different business fields/backgrounds than he is used to in the traditional publishing industry  --- Terms/phrases such as 'content strategy'.

Key excerpts:

His title "Why Content Marketing Fails" is inaccurate. If done right, the opposite is true.

"The reason is that content isn’t really king.  Content is crap.  Nobody walks out of a great movie and says, “Wow!  What great content.” 
  - Here he is confusing a niche type word that could mean the same thing as 'story' or 'storyline' in common speak. 

"In a famous essay written in 1996, Bill Gates declared that content is king.  He presciently foresaw that faster connection speeds would make content the “killer app” of the Internet, creating a “marketplace of experiences, ideas and products.” - Yet unfortunately, Gates mistook the transaction for the product.  While his vision of the future was correct and he moved quickly to create and acquire valuable content assets, he largely failed.  Today, almost 20 years later, Microsoft MSFT -1.54% has no significant content business."   - Bill Gates was not in the content business, per se, but in the content delivery and discovery business through software and other technologies. 
Now, here is Greg Satell from Forbes magazine:

Why Content Marketing Fails

In a famous essay written in 1996, Bill Gates declared that content is king.  He presciently foresaw that faster connection speeds would make content the “killer app” of the Internet, creating a “marketplace of experiences, ideas and products.”
Yet unfortunately, Gates mistook the transaction for the product.  While his vision of the future was correct and he moved quickly to create and acquire valuable content assets, he largely failed.  Today, almost 20 years later, Microsoft MSFT -1.54% has no significant content business.
The reason is that content isn’t really king.  Content is crap.  Nobody walks out of a great movie and says, “Wow!  What great content.”  Nobody who produces meaningful artistic expression thinks of themselves as content producers either.  So the first step to becoming a successful publisher is to start treating creative work with the respect it deserves.
A Mission Is Not A Transaction
Henry Luce was not a fan of mainstream media.  He saw it as made up of dry and dull daily newspapers on the one hand and sensational tabloids on the other.  He wanted to create a new breed of product—informal and concise—which would prepare people to discuss the issues of the day.  Time magazine succeeded beyond his dreams.
Later, much like Gates, he presciently saw that photography would change publishing forever.  In his prospectus for Life magazine he wrote:
To see life; to see the world; to eyewitness great events; to watch the faces of the poor and the gestures of the proud; to see strange things—machines, armies, multitudes, shadows in the jungle and on the moon; to see man’s work—his paintings, towers and discoveries; to see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to; the women that men love and many children; to see and take pleasure in seeing; to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed;
Thus to see, and to be shown, is now the will and new expectancy of half mankind
To see, and to show, is the mission now undertaken by a new kind of publication, THE SHOW-BOOK OF THE WORLD
Luce is arguably the most successful publisher the world has ever seen.  TimeLife andFortune became not just magazines, but icons.  Later, People and Sports Illustratedcreated—and dominated—new categories as well.  Even today, Time Inc. is the largest publisher on the planet.
The contrast between Gates and Luce is stark.  Gates, while he insightfully described the forces that would shape the new “marketplace of ideas,” expressed no special opinion about it, except that he thought people should pay for content.  Luce, on the other hand, saw not just an opportunity or a task, but a mission.



Friday, May 2, 2014

Publishing Today is Multidimensional --- AND The Rise of the Shadow Publishing Industry

John R. Austin
Today, successful publishers are no longer one-dimensional, anchored in print and where the main challenge was finding (or creating for books) the information - they must curate that information and present it to the reader/s in the most desired and useful format/s; AND publishers are expected to know about print, digital, mobile, tablet and social media.

Multidimensional? Indeed. And the new publishers' backgrounds are not necessarily in the traditional journalism and publishing areas, but, rather, in the fine arts and drama fields - Can you believe that? Actually, I can - many in the visual and performing arts have great writing skills; coming from articulation talents in one form or the other.

Tonight I am addressing two different but related subjects because they do crossover in areas.

The shadow publishing industry that is popping up is simply the tech, mobile and device companies that are now publishing their own content to entertain and better brand utilizing technology that is better understood, at this point, by 'techies' and others outside the normal writing and publishing channels. Some are hiring experienced writers and editors to produce their content, but these writers/editors must be retrained to a degree --- and some writers/editors do not accept that degree --- depending on how much independence is lost.

It is a very interesting and intriguing (but more demanding) time to be in the publishing industry - as the following two resources will attest.

This by Cassidy Liz in The Daily Pennsylvanian:

In an increasingly digital publishing industry, alums innovate and compete

In 2012, some 600,000 digital subscriptions raised the New York Times' circulation by 40 percent

Key excerpts:

“The challenge before was finding the information. The value [in publishing] now is in curating that information and presenting it in a format that is useful and usable,” Luh said.

"Rachel Gogel, a 2009 College graduate who recently participated in a Penn Traditions’ panel on careers for liberal arts graduates, now serves as the creative director at The New York Times. Gogel, who has previously worked with Travel + Leisure and GQ, believes that the print industry is benefiting from the digital age, rather than dying."

"It is also harder than ever to find work in the publishing industry, she added. “I am where I am today as a result of freelancing, working hard and being open-minded about taking on all sorts of projects in order to build my portfolio,” she said. “Being in the publishing industry doesn’t mean what it used to — you’re expected to know about print, digital, mobile, tablet, social media. It’s no longer one-dimensional. Having a diverse range of experiences will set you apart.”" - Rachel Gogel

“I think people going into publishing hopefully have a very different idea than I did 10 years ago or someone else did 20 years ago,” Palmer said. “If you’re going to work at a traditional magazine now, you have to think about writing for a different media — how are you writing for the web, how are you thinking about the brand and social media?”

“You really do need to kind of brand yourself ... which is really one of the things that drove me away from publishing.” - Lindsey Palmer

Note from John: Yes, today all (successful) authors must 'brand' themselves on the Net and social media to become known and acquire fans who are loyal and want to buy and promote their works to others.

Continue reading here 

And this by D. B. Hebbard in Talking New Media: 

The intersection of publishing and consumer electronics

Key excerpts:

"The first earnings reports of the new year from the big tech companies came out this week (Google was last week) and despite some concern that sales growth would slow they showed that the sector is still strong. Apple, Amazon and Google all came in with solid revenue growth, while Microsoft came in soft, but promised better performance going forward --- In contrast, the publishing world continues, for the most part, to see falling sales. The NYT report was a bright spot, though even the Gray Lady provided guidance that seemed to caution investors – though hopefully they are pulling an Apple and setting themselves up for a “beat” next quarter".

"It is, of course, silly to compare tech with publishing, gadget makers with news makers. But today there is an intersection between the two thanks to mobile, tablets and digital advertising. The devices makers need to continue to broaden the market for their devices to provide publishers with a bigger market for eBooks and digital publications. At the same time, the two sectors compete for digital advertising. It is an odd dance that occurs."

"Unfortunately, while publishing is reliant on the device makers, the same is not as true for the device makers**. Sure, they sell subscriptions and merchandise that are produced by publishers; but more and more they are publishers themselves. Additionally, they are creating a whole new shadow publishing industry, one that I have watched grow up here at TNM these past three years." - D. B. Hebbard

"This new, shadow publishing industry produces digital magazines and eBooks, yet doesn’t see themselves as part of the traditional publishing industry – they don’t belong to the MPA and don’t even know it exists. Many of these digital publishers see the print guys and their new digital products as their competitors. Many digital magazine producers using MagCast or PressPad or even Adobe DPS do not have backgrounds in the publishing world – one reason why many of those inside the industry look at these products and are aghast at their design work --- Art Woo Magazine is probably a good example of this trend. The new magazine launched this week and is available exclusively for iOS and Android devices (the iOS version is live in the Apple Newsstand, the Google Play version will be soon). It is created using PressPad which limits the risk to only a few hundred dollars a month, though forces the magazine to appear under the vendor’s name and allows them to plaster their logo on the app’s icon."


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Managing Print Relativity and Profitability in Today's Digital Environment

'Print' used to be the sweet, young damsel that all the young, publishing studs lined up to ask for the next dance. The only girl at the dance under Momma's age, so to speak.

Not any more! Now there are a number of younger, publishing format damsels sitting side-by-side and taking up half of the ballroom floor.

BUT, Miss Print, although older, is still a beauty and in some demand!

Tonight's post is going to examine how to manage the reduced, but still viable, demand and profitability of the print format.

Most print outlets (including magazines and books) have been swinging toward digital and events as a more accessible, efficient and profitable means of reaching more people faster.

And this move is right - especially for those with the long term vision.

But, print is still producing acceptable (but declining) profits in many areas of the publishing universe --- Especially in the established brand market that was initially born out of the print format.

So, how to manage 'print' to make it the most profitable today?

Many publishing companies today have embarked on a digital/print format system that has reorganized its stable of print brands to a tiered value system. To wit (excerpted from tonight's research article):

"First-tier brands, identified by their high-value readers and customers, get the full multiplatform treatment: monthly print issues, a robust digital offering, events and marketing services. Second-tier brands will have the same mix, but with a reduced-frequency print magazine-bimonthly or quarterly. Third-tier brands, where there isn't enough revenue to support print, are digital and events only." 

"A digital-first operating structure supports print as a by-product, as opposed to having print as the core and supporting digital, which is the legacy model," says Peter Goldstone, CEO at Hanley Wood."
"As a result of that reorganization, Goldstone says that while the majority of capital investment has gone towards technology and data infrastructure, as well as new talent, print is getting some resources too. Only now, the company can better determine where to best allocate the funds."
Note by John: As I've said numerous times before, 'print' will never go away completely. It will be used in a vibrant, different, but reduced mission. 
More details, including some neat charts showing publishing ad and revenue losses as well as print investments, are presented in this informative article by Bill Mickey in FOLIO magazine:

Managing Print Profitably 

Deciding whether to contain costs, invest—or both—in legacy products in the age of digital.

It wasn't too long ago that print was considered the center of the wheel from which all other product platforms sprang out of. That's still the case for most traditional publishers, but the newer product platforms are where all the action is now. Companies are declaring "digital-first" or "mobile-first" strategies with brand spin-offs that are anything but print.
So where does that leave the print products, the very brands that gave credence to the digital products and events that are now commanding greater shares of the topline as the magazines plateau or even contract? For some, it means feeding print just enough sustenance to keep lending the other platforms the brand equity needed for audience growth-while the vast majority of the capital investment is poured back into everything but print.
You don't have to look very far to see the trends. According to ABM's most current BIN numbers through August 2013, year-to-date ad pages declined 7.5 percent. Comparing that to the same period from 2008, b-to-b print advertising has declined 37 percent in pages. Most b-to-b publishing leaders will tell you that they don't expect those pages to return.
On the consumer side, full-year numbers provided by PIB show a 34-percent decline in ad pages between 2008 and 2013. The MPA has moved, smartly, from cheerleading print to a focus on magazine brands' cross-platform audience and advertising footprint.
And that's the story most traditional publishing CEOs will tell you. The focus is not on print anymore, it's on total reach. More specifically, it's about growth in digital and events.
The Value of Print
Executives say that readers and advertisers still value print, but those groups are shrinking.
At IDG, which among the other tech-oriented publishers has been a canary in the coal mine with its strategy of managing print against other lines of business, there's been a push towards digital and events for years. In the IDG Enterprise division, which has brands such as Computerworld, Infoworld and CIO, print revenues are now "comfortably under 20 percent" of gross, says IDG Enterprise CEO Matt Yorke.
"Print to profit is definitely something IDG has been talking about for at least five years," he says. But looking at print's contribution to the overall revenue pie has become more complicated. There's the pure financial allocation, but there's also the less tangible strategic view.
"We also look at it strategically in terms of the equity that print brings to the brands. The value, for example, of having a print vehicle that supports robust digital and event offerings. And if so, where is that value derived and how do we do our best to quantify that? Are we prepared to look at it as a marketing expense? Or do we think a particular brand has reached the point where there's far more value in digital and events and having print is actually stopping us from doing other things-therefore there's a negative value?"
The flip side, adds Yorke, is looking at opportunities that might become available if print wasn't part of the equation. They could be taking those resources and investing in platforms that offer a higher path for growth.
Active Interest Media, an enthusiast publisher in the outdoors, home, horses and marine markets, has a more stable view of print, but that's likely going to change in the long term. Print is still relatively strong in niche enthusiast markets, says AIM's president and COO Andrew Clurman. Aside from the newsstand, which is extremely challenged right now, subscription and advertising revenues are positive.
"We haven't seen any discernible fall-off in subscription interest and renewals or the core metrics around reader engagement and satisfaction," he says. "And for the overall print mix, we have been flat to slightly up in pages on a global basis."
Accordingly, Clurman says the company is putting about 25 percent more capital towards traditional consumer marketing efforts-direct mail, email marketing and other promotions. But there needs to be a payoff on the other side. The investment isn't arbitrary or done simply to prop up print.
"We're doing that based on our estimation that we're actually going to get a return on that," he adds. "So I think that speaks to the power of print in our markets."
Print revenues overall are just under 50 percent at AIM, with events adding 45 percent to the top line.

Nevertheless, when taking a longer-term view of print AIM is hedging its bets. The outdoor group, for example, is moving much more quickly towards a digital mentality, at least from a customer perspective, where marketers have become very sophisticated with their own earned and owned media efforts. And as that digital favoritism creeps into other markets, print's growth curve becomes pressured. Even now, Active Interest Media has a very conservative outlook for print.
"We don't see print as a growth business for us," Clurman says. "Our strategy is to go find the premier legacy media brands in the special interest markets that we're in, and those are almost entirely print magazine brands. That's the gateway and it gives us access and credibility to do all the other stuff which is to surround the print brand with events, digital and services."
The Influence of Print
At the same time, print still holds a cross-platform influence. "If you let the print brand slip, then people in those markets, whether they're readers or advertisers, will think the brand has lost its luster. That has an impact on everything else we do," says Clurman.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Absolute Power of Writing Processes

A scene from the documentary “The Missing Picture,”
a memoir of the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia.
A writing process can possess the power to change a 'documentary' style reality (content over form) into an artistic form that approaches that reality by emphasizing form over content --- In other words, a more entertaining documentary.

Caution has to be used here, however, so as not to blur the lines of reality so extensively that you stumble into an unacceptable revisionism of facts.   

“The documentary as we have come to know it, especially in the United States, emphasizes content over form, information over aesthetics,” the festival’s program note says, adding that there is consequently a need “for the documentary to be reconsidered as art.” - Rithy Panh

Other key excerpts from source research article:

“I’m not really very concerned when I’m starting a film whether it will be documentary or fiction,” he said in an interview late last year. “When you’re making a documentary, you don’t have actors, but nonetheless, there is a writing process that does take place in the editing room. Every time you are getting ready to make a shot in a documentary film, you are asking yourself questions about your cinematographic approach. You are approaching the truth, but the image is never the truth itself.”

“It’s not that there isn’t a lot of really worthwhile work in the field,” said Dennis Lim, the film society’s programming director (and a former contributor to The New York Times). “But I feel it gets dangerously close to being just informational or journalistic.” He added: “We’ve come to think of documentary and fiction as very distinct forms, but the line isn’t as clear-cut as we have been conditioned to think. There’s a lot of work that falls in between.”

Writing processes can make true, biographical or documentary works read like literary fiction.

More on emerging writing processes from “The Missing Picture,” a memoir of the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia, “Manakamana” set in a cable car in Nepal and “The Act of Killing,” a documentary about mass slaughter in Indonesia that relied heavily on re-enactments by members of the death squads that committed the original crimes:

What's Real Gets More Creative

‘The Missing Picture’ and Other Films Rethink Documentaries

The very first movies were, in their way, documentaries: snippets that showed the trot of a horse, a smoke-belching train pulling into a station or Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee procession. But the paths of fiction and nonfiction film soon diverged, and they remain distinct today, each with separate standards and expectations and consigned to separate categories at festivals and the Oscars.

But documentary filmmakers, chafing at those rules, eager to broaden the variety of tools at their disposal and hoping to tell their stories to a wider audience, have been pushing aggressively at the boundaries of their genre. The traditional “A-roll, B-roll, talking heads” paradigm, influenced by journalism, is increasingly being challenged by experiments in which all of the standard features of the traditional documentary — like voice-over, music cues and narrative arcs based on real life — are being mutated or eschewed and devices from the world of fiction embraced.

“It almost feels wrong to call the films that are coming out now documentaries,” said Richard Rowley, director of the Oscar-nominated“Dirty Wars,” which used film-noir techniques. “It sounds like we are stenographers, filing away records for future generations to see what life was like here, not storytellers. But there’s a huge body of docs being produced now that are as immersive and transformational as a well-constructed fiction film.”

There were indications of that approach in this year’s Oscar race, in which one of the nominees was “The Act of Killing,” a documentary about mass slaughter in Indonesia that relied heavily on re-enactments by members of the death squads that committed the original crimes. But it is even more evident in a crop of new documentaries that includes “The Missing Picture,”a memoir of genocide in Cambodia that opens in New York on Wednesday, and “Manakamana,” which takes place entirely in a single cable car in Nepal and will open in theaters next month.

In many ways, “The Missing Picture,” which last spring won the top prize the Cannes festival’s Un Certain Regard competition for “original and different” work and was nominated for an Oscar in the foreign-language category, is a hybrid. An intensely autobiographical account of the genocide the Khmer Rouge inflicted on Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, the film is directed by a survivor, Rithy Panh, and uses techniques unusual in documentaries.

Confronted with the absence of family records and the relative paucity of official documents, Mr. Panh, 49, had to search hard to find substitutes. He ended up using clay figures set in dioramas and mixed in whatever grainy archival footage he could find, along with Khmer Rouge songs and speeches, dream and fantasy sequences, and a haunting original score, topping all that off with a hallucinatory, poetic, French-language narration.

“I’m not really very concerned when I’m starting a film, whether it will be a documentary or fiction,” he said in an interview late last year. “When you’re making a documentary, you don’t have actors, but nonetheless, there is a writing process that does take place in the editing room. Every time you are getting ready to make a shot in a documentary film, you are asking yourself questions about your cinematographic approach. You are approaching the truth, but the image is never the truth itself.”


Source article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/movies/the-missing-picture-and-other-films-rethink-documentaries.html?ref=international