Elements of a Good Documentary

Steps in Documentary Filmmaking

If you're planning to make a documentary film, it's important to incorporate the elements of a good documentary into your work.

Many Elements of a Good Documentary

Making a good documentary film is a very systematic process that involves a great deal of planning and preparation. For many filmmakers, creating a documentary is a true labor of love that requires a great deal of hard work. To enjoy success as a documentary filmmaker, it's necessary to understand the different elements that are necessary to create these types of movies.

Interesting Subject Matter

The idea behind making a documentary film is to create a video based story that portrays the truth about a particular event, person, or situation. The starting point for any documentary film is the topic. It's important to choose a subject that you are interested in, even passionate about.

Even though the motivation for creating documentary films isn't the same as that for filming box office blockbusters, you should consider your audience when choosing subject matter. It's also important to choose a topic that is significant and that is likely to appeal to the audience that you want to attract.


Every good documentary film includes interviews with people who can provide information of relevance to the subject. Depending on the topic you are covering in your film, you may want to interview subject matter experts as well as people who have had first hand experience with the subject at hand.

The interviewer should start with scripted questions that have not been provided to the interviewee ahead of time to ensure spontaneous responses to relevant inquiries. The entire interview should not be scripted, however. Instead, the interviewer should pay attention to what his or her subject is saying, allowing the direction of the responses to lead to unscripted questions based on the content.

Filmmaking Equipment

In order to create a documentary, you'll need to have access to quality technical equipment and you will need to have the skills to use it correctly. Equipment necessary to film a documentary includes video cameras, microphones, editing equipment, and more.

Live Location Footage

In addition to showing interview footage in your documentary, you'll also want to show live location footage relevant to the topic of your film. As opposed to interview footage, which uses scripted and is staged, taking live action shots simply involves filming what is occurring without interference from you. This is one of the most important elements of a good documentary, as it provides you with an opportunity to show scenes that tell the story of the events you are portraying in real time.

Still Scenery Shots

Documentary films also feature still shots of relevant people and places. This type of footage can be used to help paint a complete picture of the events being covered. It can also be effective transition material to be used between live action footage scenes and interviews.


The soundtrack is an important part of any film. Music plays an important role in setting an appropriate tone for documentary films as well as for other types of movies. Choosing the right music and making sure that it is edited properly is an essential element of quality documentary filmmaking.

The Finished Product

Creating a documentary doesn't stop when you've gathered all the footage you need. The post production process is just as important as the act of gathering footage. Once you have assembled all the elements of a good documentary, you'll need to pull them together to create a unified film that accurately reflects the events what you documented during the filming process.

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Elements of a Good Documentary