Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles, and D.A. Pennebaker were some filmmakers who worked for Robert Drew on cinema-vérité films as part of Drew Associates. To create candid photography in motion pictures, Drew hired photographers and decided to make them edit. He wanted to “help each one of them develop as a ‘filmmaker’- a person capable of going beyond his or her specialty to also produce and manage the editing of films” (Rosenthal 286). He wanted to train his crew who could do everything during the production of the film. He founded Drew Associates, considering them as “creative ‘associates’” researching stories, developing concepts, and shooting the story (Rosenthal 288-289). Because of their experiences, they were able to take the knowledge with them and pursue their own projects.
One of the first filmmakers that Drew worked with was Richard Leacock. Drew recalled, “Leacock’s ideas and mine coincided almost perfectly” (Mamber 23). When Leacock left Drew Associates, he worked on his own cinema-vérité films. One notable film Leacock did was Happy Mother’s Day, a film about the Fisher quintuplets in Aberdeen, South Dakota (Mamber 192). In contrast to the dynamic storytelling style of Drew, Leacock’s film is different because when he sees something meaningful, he will film it for a while before moving on. For example, there was a scene where the family was in the car and as the camera panned to follow the car. When he stopped, Leacock focused on a family of ducks as if he is trying to draw parallelism between the human family and the duck family. The editing style of Happy Mother’s Day is very minimal. There were many long takes throughout the film. Mamber pointed out that “the film looks untampered with; whatever selections have been made is part of the way things are shot” (Mamber 199). The film is very close to real life in terms of shots and storytelling.
Albert Maysles worked with his brother David Maysles after leaving Drew Associates. One notable cinema-vérité style film they did was Salesman, where they followed the activities of four bible salesmen (Mamber 161). The filmmaking style used in Salesman has almost a fictional narrative feel to it. The characters in the film are shot and framed that makes it clear to see their expressions as they speak. The Maysles brothers probably did that because they wanted to maintain a personality-oriented structure instead of relying on a crisis situation (Mamber 141). According to Mamber, the Maysles’ work lacks clear resolution that is important in the storytelling dramatic structure (Mamber 141). The film style contains various shots where the camera is following and in front of the characters. According to Mamber, the editing style of the film “relies frequently on cutting among the activities of several people” (Mamber 162). The active editing and filming style of the Maysles brothers is similar to Drew’s films.
D.A. Pennebaker, according to Mamber, is probably the most well known cinema-vérité filmmaker of the time (Mamber 173). His most notable film post-Drew Associates is a cinema-vérité style film, Dont Look Back, about Bob Dylan’s music tour in London. There were some parallelism in the scenes between Dont Look Back and Primary such as the way the camera was following Dylan in the same manner as when the camera followed Kennedy to the stage. Mamber remarked how “to a surprising degree, Don’t Look Back looks like a remake of Primary” (Mamber 179). The filming style is similar to Primary because of the position of the camera; most camera shots are when he is following Dylan by foot or by taxi. The editing style tries to match with the main character’s non-conformity. Pennebaker’s editing and filming style is somewhat dynamic and character-oriented.
Leacock, Maysles, and Pennebaker were all part of Drew Associates and brought their experiences with them when pursuing other projects. Leacock produced Happy Mother’s Day, Maysles produced Salesman with his brother, and Pennebaker produced Dont Look Back. They continued the cinema-vérité convention of observational direct cinema, continuing Drew’s philosophy of documenting real life while telling a story and following characters.
Mamber, Stephen. Cinema Verite in America: Studies in Uncontrolled Documentary. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1974.
Corner, John and Rosenthal, Alan. ed. New Challenges for Documentary. 2nd ed. London: University of Manchester Press, 2005.
Rosenthal, Alan. “Don’t Look Back and Monterey Pop.” In The New Documentary in Action: A Casebook in Film Making. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971. 189-198.
Couchman, Jeffrey. “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.” American Cinematographer. 28 (December 2002) 94-100.