If you're just starting out on your filming adventure, you'll need to know the basic equipment needed for documentary filming. Assuming your budget isn't unlimited, you'll need to know where you can cut corners and still get great results, and where you really can't sacrifice without giving up at least some degree of the documentary's quality. Borrow or rent what you can, but sometimes you have to make a few purchases.
Basic Equipment Needed for Documentary Filming
Starting out, you will need:
- Video camera
- Editing software
You don't have to go out and spend exorbitant amounts of money on a video camera if you're just starting out. You'll be able to shoot great footage with a video camera for "regular people" rather than a heavy-duty one designed for filmmakers. Later, you may want to branch out and try something more top-of-the-line, but the real area you'll want to spend money is audio, not the image. Why? The average video camera does a good job capturing the action visually, but the audio isn't always up to par. You could ruin your effort simply because your audio isn't ideal. You can concentrate on microphones to fix that.
Interviews with experts, survivors, or anyone else you'd like to use in your documentary will be far from moving if you can barely hear them once the film is put together. If the sound's too muted, too overwhelmed by all of the closer miscellaneous scratches and bumps near your video camera, or just bad quality overall, your project will suffer profusely.
You can alter the color in a video, tweak things here and there, and get a stunning result when the finished product is done. There isn't much you can do for faulty sound, though.
Bottom line? Skip the microphone that comes with the camera and opt for an external one. You can attach a small microphone to your interview subjects' lapels or use a handheld one. You could even set one up on a boom stand if you prefer.
When you purchase your video camera, take a look at the available tripods. You don't need anything too extravagant starting out, though you can get models that allow you to control the camera with a remote control from several feet away, tilt, pan, and more. Decide what you're looking for and narrow down your options from there. You may be able to get away with spending less than $20 on a tripod.
You'll want to make sure that all of your scenes are well-lit, so you'll need to purchase some lights, too. You can either get a professional light kit or choose a less expensive route by purchasing halogen lights and setting those up. Be creative here. There's no right or wrong as long as it keeps your interview subjects from getting lost in the shadows.
If you don't have access to a school's editing equipment, for example, you'll need a program of your own. You can get editing software for Macs and PCs so it doesn't matter which type of computer you have. Ask any filmmaker and you'll get a different answer as to what the best editing equipment needed for documentary filming is. Some top picks include:
- Final Cut Express
- Sony Vegas Pro
- Final Cut Pro
- CyberLink PowerDirector
There are some free programs out there, but they may not suit all of your needs for making a truly professional-looking documentary.
The Bottom Line
Borrow or rent what you can, but if you have to make purchases, focus on the sound. That is especially important if you're just starting out and have a relatively small budget. You can buy more powerful cameras and editing programs later. The sound, however, can make you or break you in making a documentary-or any movie, for that matter.