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How to make a documentary

If you’ve ever fancied making a documentary yourself, take a look at my workshop „How to make a short documentary with a smartphone“. Follow this tutorials for some tips on creating a documentary film. Here are some supplementary notes.

Cover photo: Runner1616, Clpbrd, CC BY-SA 3.0

  1. Develop Ideas (Choose a subject. Start with something you’re passionate about). Define the goal of the film. Create a rudimentary story board of basic scenes. Documentaries shouldn’t be boring. As a documentary filmmaker, it’s your job to tell a story. (Tip: Show the drama of real life. Every good story needs a hero, a strong beginning, middle, and end aka Setup, the Confrontation and the Resolution.) If you have problems with it, watch documentaries. Need an example? How to become a Bollywood-Star
  2. Check Legal and Copyright Issues
  3. Research (Think about who, what, when, and where do you want to film. Find out who are the most important persons. Identify people to talk to. Decide who you want to interview and what you want to investigate. Ask if the other persons has time to talk with you, if they are available and not busy. Plan questions. Start wirth the Five Ws: What happened? Who did that? When did it take place? Where did it take place? Why did that happen? and, if you like, How did it happen? Brainstorm questions around these. Other issues could be What would I personally like to know about this subject and what would I want to learn about this subject If I were a member of the audience?)
  4. Plan as much as possible. Try to visualize the finished film in your head. Create a storyboard or script. The ideal video length is between 2 minutes and 3 and-a-half minutes. Make every second count. Write a voice-over text based on the story you want to tell. Draw or write snapshots of the story from beginning to end. Think about the images and sounds you need to tell your story. After the storyboard is written, ask friends for feedback.
  5. Shoot it. Film the same scenes from different angles so that when you edit, the audience will have different things to look at. Film both close-ups and wide shots. Don’t bore your audience with endless clips. Shoot a lot of B-roll. It’s important to get extra footage for transition scenes and close ups. Capture as much variety as possible. Interview the subjects. (Please see „Tips for shooting dynamic video interviews“ listed above)
  6. Watch all your footage and write down what shots you particularly like and which are wholly or partly unusable.
  7. Edit your film. Once you have finished your first rough cut show it to few of your friends or family and ask for their feedback. Use these comments to make your videos better.
  8. Check Legal and Copyright Issues
  9. Upload your film to Wikimedia Commons (or Youtube, Facebook…).

Workshop: How to make a short documentary with a smartphone

Filming with a smartphone is fine. Bild: Intel Free Press, Mobile Video on Apple iPhone 5, CC BY-SA 2.0
Filming with a smartphone is fine. Bild: Intel Free Press, Mobile Video on Apple iPhone 5, CC BY-SA 2.0

Part 1: The best apps for making videos

Part 2: Mobile journalism must haves

Part 3: General filming tips

Part 4: Michael Rosenblum’s “five shot” method for meaningful video sequences

Part 5: Tips for shooting dynamic video interviews

Part 6: Working with video apps

Part 7: How to make a documentary

Part 8:  Further reading

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