How to make documentary films


Published on is a Documentary Film maker in Mumbai, Delhi, Doha, Qatar and Toronto.

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How to make documentary films

  2. 2. DOCUMENTARY FILM  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..
  3. 3. DOCUMENTARY FILM  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.
  4. 4. 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.
  5. 5. WATCH DOCUMENTARIES  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.
  6. 6. 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 words. 
  7. 7. PRIORITY SCENES  From your outline identify priority scenes.
  8. 8. DEVELOP CHARACTER MOTIVATIONS  Characters without motivation or a personality aren't really characters.
  9. 9. INCLUDE A DRAMATIC EVENT IN THE NARRATIVE  One that involves all of the characters.
  13. 13. PREPARED  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 problems.
  14. 14. 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.
  15. 15. 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.
  16. 16. 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.
  17. 17. 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 same.
  18. 18. 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.
  19. 19. 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
  20. 20. CREATE A SCHEDULE This will keep you focused on your project. Get a diary.  Identify what days you and your crew is available.  Jot down priority scenes.  Film interviews early on. 
  21. 21. 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.
  22. 22. INTERVIEWING 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 these.  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. 
  23. 23. 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.
  24. 24. LOG FOOTAGE  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.
  25. 25. 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 movie.
  26. 26. TIPS       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 documentary. 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 additional footage. 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. Get coverage.
  27. 27. CONTACT US  Purple Flicks C Wing 114 , 11th Floor Asmita Jyoti, Marve Road, Malad West, Mumbai - 400095 Phone: +91 9833131669, +91 22 28640429, +91 22 42641669 Email:, mailme.arvindgupta@  Web: 