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How to Create a Good Documentary Film

A documentary is any video or film that informs viewers about a topic or issue. Many documentary films provide us with educational information. Others just describe certain people. Many people think making a documentary is easy. However, making a documentary is not as easy as it seems. Here are some tips on creating your own, good documentary film.

Do some research. Even if you know your topic well, still do research. You can use the Internet and the library to find information. Also, talk to people who know about or are interested in your subject. Once you have a general topic you are interested in, try to narrow it down. If you are interested in cars, figure out what specifically interests you. Brainstorm ideas and take lots of notes. For example, narrow down a documentary about cars to one about a group of people who work on classic cars and gather to show them off and talk about them. A number of things that you might include in your documentary would be:
  • Interviews
  • Recordings of events as they happen
  • Pictures, drawings and/or documents (If you decide to use other people's work in your piece, such as videos, pictures or sound recordings, you must be sure to get permission to use them before you add them to your documentary)
Interview people. Get interviews from people who have knowledge of or are interested in your topic. If you get many interviews you will have a more diverse and interesting piece. Be sure to take notes and film the interview. Let's get back to a car example. Let's say the topic for the documentary is "The History of Cars". You might want to interview your grandfather about basic car stuff (how they were designed when he was a kid, how do they work now, etc...). Then, look for people with specific knowledge about the history of automobiles and interview them.

Organize all the parts in an order that is interesting and fun, but that will also make sense to the viewers. In our car history example, we would start off with who built the first automobile and what that car looked like, people's reaction to automobiles at that time. Then, we would go through the changes to automobiles and people's attitudes about them through time to the present day. The end of the piece might be something that ties the information together in an interesting way, or a great comment from an interview. Remember, the story is what is interesting, not dates or rote facts.

Show your movie to someone, like your parents, or friends. Make sure you ask them to review your movie and give you some critique. According to what they tell you, go back to editing and fix what needs to be fixed, even if that means reshooting footage or adding new scenes. After you edit the piece, repeat reviewing process, and if the reviews are positive, distribute your film.

Be aware:
  • Be sure to include informative interviews, re-creations of events (or actual footage if possible) and factual documentation supporting all sides of the story. A documentary is meant to simply present the facts and allow the viewer to decide for them selves. Above all else, be sure you do not editorialize or impress your own, personal opinion, into the documentary. Once that takes place your work ceases to be a documentary and becomes propaganda.
  • If you include music in your film, be sure to get permission to use the music.
  • A documentary, like all film, is storytelling. Most documentary film makers bend rules, reorder material to change context of interviews, etc. Don't be afraid to make your story more interesting.

Contributed by: Mohinder Pal Singh 
City: Kolkata
Country: India
Date: July 25, 2010