How to Make a Documentary

Learning how to make a documentary can help you get a personal story out to a wider audience. Amateur documentaries are becoming a popular staple on many Internet video sites and can be a great way to inform the public about a story or issue important to you.

Making Quality Documentaries

Documentaries have the power to inform, motivate and reveal. Given the simplicity of Internet distribution, it's never been easier to get your story out to a wide audience. If you're interested in creating your own documentaries, here's how to get started:

  • It starts with a story. Documentaries call for a compelling story that focuses on an important subject or sheds light on a little known situation or personality that others might find interesting. The best documentaries feature stories that their creators felt strongly about or had a personal interest in.
  • Find out more. Although you may have firsthand knowledge about the story you're trying to tell, your documentary will tell a richer story if you do background research. Finding out details of the time, place and history of your subject will help immerse viewers in your story.
  • Take inventory. As you gather information, be sure to capture it in an organized manner. Stock footage, research material, interview subjects and ideas for scenes should all be recorded. Index cards work well for this step. Once you've collected all of your information, try to lay it out in a logical fashion that will help you tell your story.
  • Define the structure. Any story should have a beginning, middle and end. The most compelling stories have some sort of conflict and resolution. As you construct your story, be sure it has a well-defined structure. Will you tell the story in a chronological or non-linear manner? Will the story be narrated or driven mainly by interviews? Answering these questions will help you determine the structure of your film.
  • Find your emotional center. In order to engage you audience, they'll need someone they can relate to. Decide early on which person or group should be the focus of your documentary and then concentrate your efforts on telling that story.
  • Make an outline. Unless you're narrating your documentary, your script will take the form of an outline. This outline will help you determine your shooting schedule and help you to make sure you film all aspects of your story. Once principal filming is complete, you may go back and formalize your outline into a script for editing and post-production work.
  • Technical considerations. When filming your documentaries, always film more than you think you'll need: let the camera run long and don't be afraid to shoot background footage of anything that catches your eye. Also, remember that sound quality is crucial. Invest in a good microphone and practice using it. Finally, if you're a beginning film maker, start with simple shots and framing and work your way up to more elaborate techniques as you become more comfortable with the tools of the trade.
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