Making a short documentary takes just as
much effort as a longer one; you still need to
compile the material, sort through it, and get
the right angle on the story. Here are some
pointers for the best technique to adopt when
putting together a short documentary..
A documentary film is a nonfictional motion picture
intended to document some aspect of
reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction or
maintaining a historical record. Such films were
originally shot on film stock—the only medium
available—but now includes video and digital
productions that can be either direct-to-video, made
as a television program or released for screening in
cinemas. "Documentary" has been described as a
"filmmaking practice, a cinematic tradition, and mode
of audience reception" that is continually evolving and
is without clear boundaries.
SCRIPT YOUR STORY IDEA
You will need to have a script, or you can't
have a film. While thinking of an idea, make
sure you write something attractive to
your viewers. For example, If you're giving
the script to someone who likes drama, add
lots of drama. Comedy, add comedy, etc.
Once you have worked out what style of
documentary you are going to make, analyze
similar documentaries to identify
conventions. Make sure you pay attention to
the documentaries narrative structure, as this
is where most amateur documentary
filmmakers go wrong.
WRITE A TREATMENT
Summary of documentary.
Goal/purpose of film
Outline your script so that you can make sure
that it has all of the good short story
components. In your outline describe each
section of your film, for a short film the
outline does not need to be longer than 300
From your outline identify priority scenes.
DEVELOP CHARACTER MOTIVATIONS
Characters without motivation or a
personality aren't really characters.
INCLUDE A DRAMATIC EVENT IN THE NARRATIVE
One that involves all of the characters.
SHOW THE FINISHED PRODUCT TO
FRIENDS, FAMILY, TEACHERS, ETC.
Brainstorm the worst things that could
happen during making your documentary
and how will you deal with these. Remember
to look at both technical problems and story
GET READY TO SHOOT IT.
Choose the equipment, something that can
record video. There are many choices. This
process might take months or even
years, but you have to keep looking. Make
sure your video recorder works with your
VCR or editing equipment.
LEARN A FEW FEATURES, AND REVIEW HOW
YOUR RECORDING DEVICE WORKS.
Learn how to start and stop recording, fast
forward, rewind, playback, and anything else
you might need. Save the special effects for
your second or third project.
CHOOSE A SUBJECT -- WHAT YOU WANT TO
MAKE A FILM ABOUT
Remember, you'll need to complete the
project. Think about who, what, and where
you'll shoot. Form a basic idea for a story
and if you're having trouble, read short
stories for inspiration.
TYPE OUT A SCRIPT
Make sure to develop your characters with
different personalities; your movie won't be
interesting if everyone acts and talks the
DRAW OUT A STORYBOARD, ILLUSTRATING THE
SHOTS YOU PLAN TO USE
Don't worry about following the storyboard
perfectly. It's just a good idea to get your
thoughts on paper and a great way to see if
you can communicate an idea "visually"
rather than needing the actors to verbally
communicate the concept. The viewer is
watching first and listening second.
FIND PEOPLE WHO AREN'T BUSY AND ARE
WILLING TO WORK HARD ON YOUR FILM.
Provide food for your crew. They'll appreciate
it and be able to hang around longer
CREATE A SCHEDULE
This will keep you focused on your project.
Get a diary.
Identify what days you and your crew is
Jot down priority scenes.
Film interviews early on.
SHOOT YOUR FOOTAGE
If you want to highlight your pet, you can
shoot video of your pet eating, sleeping and
playing and perhaps put it to music. If you
are under a tight time pressure, consider
using a second camera as this will enable
you to be twice as efficient.
Plan questions. The easiest way of doing this
and keeping focus is to write
who, what, why, when, where, how, and
when and brainstorm questions around
Subject must be comfortable around the
camera and open and honest.
Talk to them before filming, you could talk for
half an hour or more to make the subject
comfortable around you.
KEEP A DIARY
Keep a diary where you write how the filming
went, what mistakes you made and how you
could avoid these next time and ideas for
what to film on other shoots.
Before you proceed to editing your film watch
all your footage through, writing notes on
every shots stating if it works, are there
technical problems. This will save you a lot of
time when editing.
EDIT YOUR FILM
Many cameras edit in limited ways and some have
special effects. Learn how to "cut" pieces of your
footage together and put music or speech over your
video. Check your camera's manual or use a
software package like iMovie to make your final cuts.
One way is to use your VCR or DVD burner to make
copies for friends and auditions. If your film is
digital, you can also output your final edit to a
readable format to send via email. Also if your film is
in digital format you can upload to YouTube or
another video sharing site. Check up with the
website's video formats to see if you can upload your
Learn how to edit. This will not only save time when you come to
edit as you have coverage, it will help you with pacing your
Let your imagination take you away!
Request constructive criticism from your audience. Take to heart
what they have to say, and make appropriate changes to
strengthen your film, whether that means reediting or shooting
Backup your footage multiple times.
Storyboarding each individual scene will make you think about
from what camera angle you want to film each conversation, each
bit of action. Don't be afraid to be creative. An excellent example
of a director who used unconventional camera angles that helped
create the mood of his movies was H.C. Potter.