Your complete guide to documentary filmmaking

Documentary filmmaking involves careful planning, but there are still some aspects you just can’t plan. Interviews can quickly go off-track, for instance, or you may not be able to get access to the locations you need to tell your story. Making a documentary is no cakewalk, but if you review the resources in this article, the process will be much more manageable.

Let’s dive right into it:

The basics

First and foremost, no matter what gear you’re using or how great the interviews you’ve landed for your documentary are, documentaries need to highlight a story worth telling. It will be useful to watch our Interesting Storytelling Techniques for Documentaries. The video goes over the fundamentals of storytelling.

Furthermore, behind every great documentary are solid facts. Research is essential to every doc project. The facts you find during your research are what will make your documentary deep, credible, and accurate.

The amount of research you’ll need to do will depend on the topic and your prior knowledge of it. Everyone will need to do at least some research, though. The more you know, the better. Check out What to Research in Order to Make a Great Documentary for further guidance.

Also, be sure to look at these other resources to get the basics of documentary making down:

Starting out

So now that you know that you know the fundamentals of documentary storytelling, you have the tools you need to start documenting. But there are still a lot of questions you’ll need to answer before you start: what gear should you be using to shoot my doc? Do you really need to use release forms when setting up an interview? Can you fund your documentary without digging into your own pockets? Check out those article along with the ones listed below to answer all these initial questions:

Let’s make a documentary!

Looks like you’re ready to start production. Maybe this is your first doc, or maybe you’ve already have a few under your belt. Regardless it’s always good to know the entire process and its steps. Know how are you developing your story, budgeting your film, shooting and editing it

And while things can get pretty difficult during the heat of an interview, here’s some tips for making the interview less hectic. Also, make sure you know how to respond if your documentary veers off-course!

Use these additional articles for reference as well:

Learn from others

Sometimes the best way to learn is to learn from other projects. While there are tons of documentaries you can learn from, here are a few articles that analyze a few docs for a more guided learning experience.

At the core of documentary making, the ones with a story worth watching are supported by credible information and facts. No matter what topic you decide to document, continue researching throughout the production process. Viewers look to documentaries as a truthful analysis, and while they expect a good story, that story needs to include facts to make it worth watching.

Sean Berry
Sean Berry
Sean Berry is Videomaker's Managing Editor.

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