Printed in the left column below is a review of the book posted at Amazon.com by F.Felix "f-f". Judging both by what he (or she) writes here and by other books he has reviewed, I'd say FFff is an environmentalist and a liberal. And since my book does not follow liberal orthodoxy ( I confess on page 138 that I lean Libertarian) and instead suggests a documentarian should dig for the truth, and ask hard questions, FFff apparently took offense. Now I'm not so thin skinned that I can't take negative criticism, and had FFff stuck with that, there'd be no problem. But he didn't. He chose to try to tarnish my book with half-truths and outright lies, which is a technique of attack documentarians that I criticize in the book. So I wrote the rebuttal that appears in the right column below, and posted it at Amazon.com as a comment on FFff's review. The problem is the comment is hidden from view unless a reader clicks on a tiny "Comment" button at the bottom of the review. I sent an e-mail to Amazon.com asking that they either post my comment where it can easily be seen by the reader, or remove it, since the untrue things it says about the book would clearly be misleading to readers. Amazon.com chose to edit the portions that were a clear violation of their guidelines. So here is FFff's original review and my comment . . .
Too Much Personal Info by F.Felix "f-f"
Wow, this is a tough one. How to review a book that contains fantastic
topical information, surrounded by a lot of ridiculous, pointless,
The Good: as other reviewers have noted, this book provides some
great information about the process of documentary filmmaking. There is
a valuable & interesting discussion of ethics that goes well beyond
the "get a release" advice that is all that other sources ever mention.
I also really enjoyed Hampe's emphasis on "visual evidence", rather
than meaningless, pretty b-roll & his suggestion that you should
turn off the sound to see if your footage is actually telling the
story, or just illustrating the dialog. His recommendation to try to
reduce talking heads is a great stimulus to problem-solving, & his
emphasis on the all-important need for advance scripting & good
story-telling is excellent.
"Truth" with a capital T is a big issue for Hampe, & he has an
excellent discussion about it & the need for the documentary
filmmaker to become expert in their subject to avoid manipulation &
so that the right questions are asked both in the planning stage &
as the project unfolds. This level of comprehension is also efficient
because it prevents the project from devolving into the classic error
of becoming a fishing expedition or treasure hunt where miles of video
are shot in the hopes of something interesting randomly appearing in
it, while the critical information needed to stitch a story together is
missed entirely. Meanwhile, filtering & organizing all the material
ratchets up the cost of the project, even though "video is cheap".
Okay, so now The Bad: in a way, this author is sometimes like your
crotchety old uncle who has a wealth of good experience &
information to share, if you can just stand to be around him long
enough to receive it. As I read this book, I went from "Oops! He's
accidentally giving us a little too much info about his personal
politics," to "This guy has a serious agenda", to "I can't believe a
professional editor let this slide."
Although he frequently bemoans how polarized Americans politics has
become, the author does his utmost to widen the gap. Relentlessly, he
picks away at liberals, Democrats, unions & Hollywood.
The book sags when the pointless opinions fly thick & fast. For
instance, why is it worth the space to learn that this guy hates nature
programs ["How many ocelots licking their babies heads can you watch?"]
yet worships the military--how many dorky war documentaries can you
watch, Hampe? Why are we getting a supercilious, though flawed, lesson
in "Economics 101" [if competition really invariably keeps prices down,
explain the fashion industry or extravagant executive compensation,
Hampe]? And what does a defense of Reaganomics have to do with
filmmaking, anyway [yeah, I guess if you write yourself a check &
deposit it in your savings account, then technically your revenue HAS
increased]? And tell me again: why are we discussing how businesses
offering their executives health insurance led to the corruption of
American self-reliance? Is this guy really serious when he claims that
oil companies are not necessarily profiteering in a time when Fidelity
returns on the energy sector are sometimes surpassing 40%? Hampe even
whines that CNN is--or at least was--wildly leftist.
The fact is that this author is not qualified to speak on these
topics & makes no effort to support his statements. If you're going
to sling this kind of old cheese, you REALLY need footnotes & they
better be legit.
Hampe is excellent when he sticks to the subject. This book will
richly deserve 5-stars if the author avails himself of a better editor
next edition--preferably a pinko-commie leftist liberal to counter his
own strongly distracting right-wing perspective.
My Comment on the Review from F.Felix "f-f"
I want to thank F.Felix "f-f" for his (or her) good words about the
parts of the book he liked. And yes, Truth with a capital T is a big
issue for me. That means tell the truth - and the whole truth.
F.Felix "f-f" does in the polemic part of his review is exactly what I
am complaining about in the book. He says, "this guy hates nature
programs ['How many ocelots licking their babies heads can you
watch?']" It's not true. I don't hate nature programs; I wrote
favorably about "March of the Penguins." The only reference to nature
programs that exists in the text reads, "If you want to make nature
documentaries in remote locations, start with a nature documentary,
even if it's in your backyard or the park across the street." [page 50]
The quote, presumably from the book, about ocelots licking their young,
was manufactured by FFff. There is never a mention of ocelots in the
book, nor any reference to "how many" of anything "can you watch".
castigates me for liking military films. Well, I admit I spent a hunk
of my life in the military. And I lived through World War II, the
Korean War, the Vietnam War, and all those that have come since. So
this is living history for me. I like it, but I don't insist you do.
But if you deal with it as a documentarian, do so honestly.
to the fashion industry and executive compensation, if you understand
market economics, you'll know how they work. If you don't, then it all
seems terribly unfair. F.Felix "f-f", if you truly want answers, start
with Tim Harford's The Undercover Economist: Exposing Why the Rich Are
Rich, the Poor Are Poor--and Why You Can Never Buy a Decent Used Car!
is a reference to Reaganomics in the book, but it's part of a couplet
about "truths" believed by conservatives and liberals. FFff makes me
appear biased, by telling only half the story. I wrote: ". . . what
about the things we know are true - because everyone we know agrees
they are true? Such as? Well, most people on the religious right know
that the Supreme Court outlawed prayer in public schools. (It didn't.)
And most people on the liberal left know that President Reagan's tax
cuts didn't increase revenue to the government. (They did.)" [pp.
11-12] The only other reference to Reagan in the book is in a quote
from Hal Hinson of The Washington Post writing about Michael Moore.
FFff says, "And tell me again: why are we discussing how
businesses offering their executives health insurance led to the
corruption of American self-reliance?" Well, we weren't. The only
reference that fits is in my description of a film about health care.
Summarizing the narration in the film, I wrote: "The filmmakers show
that an important development occurred during World War II. Because of
wartime wage and price controls, employers were unable to raise wages
to attract workers, but they gained government permission to offer
health care as a fringe benefit for their employees. That historic
change from individual responsibility to the expectation that a third
party - employer or government - would provide health care, led to the
current situation explored by this documentary." That's the filmmakers
speaking, not me. And note that it's about health care for workers, not
FFff asks, "Is this guy really serious when he
claims that oil companies are not necessarily profiteering in a time
when Fidelity returns on the energy sector are sometimes surpassing
40%?" In comparing the difference between journalism and documentary, I
used the example of the rise in gasoline prices in 2005-06 (probably a
bad choice given what I just paid to fill my tank in July 2008). I was
saying that I expected a documentarian to do more than just fuss about
the price and interview politicians who were looking for someone to
blame. I said, "By mid-2006, gasoline prices had reached an all-time
high, and most journalists followed the lead of Congress in deploring
windfall profits, rather than analyzing why prices were up and might
not go back down. I would expect a documentarian to explore the
economics of the issue - to look at the actual return on investment, to
examine how high gasoline prices would probably lead to exploration of
new sources of petroleum previously considered too expensive to
develop, and to further development of alternative energy sources." [p.
25] Yeah, that comes out to "oil companies are not necessarily
profiteering," but it also says go find out if they are or not. Get the
Finally, he says, "Hampe even whines that CNN is--or at
least was--wildly leftist." I was writing about Robert Greenwald's
attack documentaries, and I said, " In 'Outfoxed' he takes Fox News to
task for practices that CNN pioneered years ago. But he hardly
acknowledges that CNN exists, let alone that it was once so liberally
biased that it was known as the Clinton News Network, which may be one
of the reasons Fox News stole its audience." [p.24] Is that a whine? Or
a call for fair play?
What I am saying throughout the book is
that in documentary truth counts, and facts trump opinion. A biased
report does not make a good documentary - or even a good book review.
Barry Hampe 7/21/08
And the Beat Goes On . . .
This actually turned into a lively discussion about truth, objectivity, bias, journalistic ethics and more that covered ten comments and replies. To read more . . .