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About the Book

About the Book: Archival Storytelling

Posted on: July 22, 2020

Development in Nigeria

Archival Storytelling, 2nd Edition
A Filmmaker’s Guide to Finding, Using, and Licensing Third-Party Visuals and Music


By Sheila Curran Bernard, Kenn Rabin





Impact IconImpact

Archival Storytelling, 2nd edition is written for multiple audiences. First, media makers—whether Hollywood producers, independents, or students; working in fiction or nonfiction; focusing on social issues, history, drama, sci-fi, or something else. This audience knows the growing complexity involved when they want to incorporate music, audio, still, and motion images that they themselves did not create. They encounter a baffling array of technologies; a world in which intellectual property (music and visual catalogs included) changes ownership frequently; and licensing rights are almost inconceivably complex. Also, confusion persists over when and how material is in the public domain (free of copyright), or when a maker’s use of copyrighted material can be considered a “fair use,” which is a key exception to U.S. copyright law with some counterparts in other nations. 

As we found with the first edition, there is also an audience among those seeking to learn more about intellectual property and copyright issues, including law students. And especially with changes made to this edition, our intent is to reach historians, museum professionals, archivists, preservationists, and policymakers, as well as fans of history. The world’s audiovisual heritage dates back to the mid-19th century and continues to grow exponentially. While it offers powerful evidence of the past, its effective use requires a greater understanding of what these materials are and how they came to be.

Highlights IconHighlights

First and foremost, much has changed since 2008, and this 2020 book is significantly rewritten to discuss advances in technology, online research strategies, and production workflow. We spent more time than before on the history of the audio and visual record, in part for reasons explained above and in part to help readers understand what types of materials (audio, still photographs, motion picture, analog video, digital video, etc.) they might find, depending on the era they’re researching. We’ve also updated all of the discussion of working with professionals, accessing archives, and of course, licensing third-party materials. Lastly, we’ve expanded the discussion of audiovisual literacy, past and present, and the extreme danger posed by “deepfakes”—the increasingly sophisticated digital manipulation that can result in convincing audiovisual coverage that is entirely false.

Research IconResearch

It’s been more than a decade since the first edition came out, and our ongoing work as filmmakers, consultants, and educators has significantly influenced this new edition. The interval made it clear just how dynamic the field of media production is, and how filmmakers continue to innovate when working with archival materials, and the creative, ethical, and creative challenges they face. Filmmaker Roberta Grossman, for example, talked with us about her experiences combining archival materials and reenactments to tell the story of Oyneg Shabes, a clandestine group determined to defeat Nazi propaganda and the destruction of Jews in Poland by creating a secret archive of their lives in the Warsaw Ghetto. Editor Jabez Olssen described his work with director Peter Jackson and the painstaking care involved in restoring, colorizing, reframing, and adding sound to black-and-white archival footage of World War I. A conversation with archivist and teacher Rick Prelinger helped us to deepen our understanding of the importance of home movies and benefits of nonlinear storytelling.

Development IconDevelopment

As noted, Archival Storytelling, 2nd Edition, A Filmmaker’s Guide to Finding, Using, and Licensing Third-Party Visuals and Music stems from our own active engagement in fiction and nonfiction filmmaking, consulting, and teaching. We also reached out to professionals in all areas of this industry, including not only media makers but also archivists, researchers, insurance executives, lawyers, and others.  And also, of course, read and watched material widely. It’s our hope that Archival Storytelling, 2nd edition provides answers to questions, confusions, and misperceptions that we commonly encounter in our work, and that it challenges those who use third-party materials as evidence to be sure to contextualize what they are seeing and hearing, checking for veracity, authenticity, and representation.