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Steps to Making a Documentary

Steps to Making a Documentary

From start to finish, the steps to making a documentary are fairly straightforward. First, you have to research how documentaries are presented so you have a goal in mind. Then you have to decide how to best approach your topic of choice. Then you have to gather up the equipment, record, and edit. The more detail-oriented steps to making a documentary may seem overwhelming at first, but if you plan ahead, you should be fine.

Determining If It's a Good Fit

Once you've watched a few documentaries, you can begin to create goals for yourself, such as:

  • Make sure to give a unique perspective
  • Determine if your idea is documentary material. That is, is there a lesson to be learned from it that applies to many people or is it just an interesting story?

Plan, Plan, Plan

Make an outline before you set out to do anything else. Planning ahead is one of the crucial steps to making a documentary to ensure that you get the most compelling, yet educational, storyline for your viewers. Notecards work well for this because you can put down each element of the story, each interview subject, and so on, then shuffle until you find the best order. Now is a good time to decide how to present your documentary-using voice overs rather than putting the camera in the action to show rather than tell the story, for example. What do you want the tone to be?

Finding the Equipment

Now that you have the planning in place, it's time to find the equipment you'll need. Some documentaries will require little more than a camera. Others will require a crew with cameras. Depending on your budget, you may want to add lights, sound, shoot in multiple locations, and edit extensively.

Raising Funds

Writing out all the steps to making a documentary from start to distribution can help you get the funds you need. Create a proposal and try to raise funds for your project and possibly even time from experts with filming/editing equipment. Please be aware that you may need to speak with a lawyer if you want to receive money to help with the creation of your project. If you're a student, check with your school to see if they can let you borrow equipment.

Film without Fear

Film your interviews and your additional material. At this point, don't worry about time constraints or getting everything perfect because you can edit later. If you have time, do test different camera angles to get the impact you want.

The Finishing Touches

Once you have all of the raw material, it's time to edit. This is another situation where you may want to enlist the help of an expert who already has some of the equipment and software programs you will need. This is the time to add music, transition scenes, and more.

Distributing the Product

Consider using a service like to have DVD copies made and mailed to you. It's relatively inexpensive and you don't have to order thousands at one time. You can go back and order more copies of your homemade movie once you've sold the first batch.

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Steps to Making a Documentary