How To: Film a Documentary

Girl filming another girl with flowers

The process of making a documentary can be somewhat daunting, but planning it out beforehand and breaking it down can help you feel a little less overwhelmed. Here are some tips to get you on your way.

Finding friends who want to be involved will make it more fun and also make your life a lot easier.

Things You’ll Need:

  • Tripod
  • Video editing equipment
  • Digital camera
  • Microphones
  1. Decide on a topic. Pick something that you are passionate about – something that you are willing to spend a lot of time on. Your film should have a fairly tight focus, but large enough to find good information and a lot of people to interview.
  2. Research the topic.By the time you're done researching, you should be an expert on the topic. During your research, make a list of all of the possible people you could talk to. This list will be constantly growing, but start early.
  3. Decide how fancy you want this film to be. Some documentaries can be very expensive, requiring investors or grant money, but if you have already have the equipment (or can borrow it from school or friends) production costs can be much cheaper.
  4. Decide who you can realistically get to interview. Order your list from people who would be a reach to people who are real possibilities. Try all avenues, but realize people may say no. People will need to sign releases, so for every first choice you have for an interviewee, have another one in mind.
  5. Set up the interviews. Be ready to explain who you are and the purpose of your documentary. To make it easier, you can write out a paragraph that you can read over the phone.
  6. Create questions for your interviewees. They should be thought-provoking and interesting.
  7. Shoot b-roll for your documentary. B-roll is everything that is not your interviews. It is all the background footage that you'll when editing the project together.
  8. Edit your project. Editing can be a very long process. Depending on the length of your documentary, give yourself plenty of time to focus on nothing but editing.
  9. Find film festivals. Enter your documentary in film festivals both locally and nationally. Film festivals can give your film great exposure.