How To Make Great Documentary Films
This foundation course in documentary film-making will give you the skills required to:
- Develop a distinctive documentary idea
- Test its effectiveness as an engaging film
- Decide the appropriate way to film it
- Find the right people to appear
- Choose the best things to film
- Shoot and edit your film in the most effective way
- Pick the right music or sound
- Shape your finished film into a story that works dramatically and emotionally.
Week 1: How Good Is Your Idea?
You think you’ve got a great idea for a documentary but will it really make a film? It’s not enough to just find a subject that interests you. A documentary is much more than that. Especially one that people will want to pay money to see. This evening explores how you can find out whether what you’ve got will really make a film and how you can work on your idea to ensure that it does.
- Deciding what sort of documentary you are making
- Making your film reflect your world view
- Getting your film to ask a question
- Deciding on an appropriate style e.g. comedy treatment of a serious subject
- Establishing drama in your film
- Putting your idea to the test
Week 2: Interview Style and Technique
Having built the all-important foundations of your film in Week 1 it’s time to search for the people to inhabit your film. Is it better to use normal people or professionals? How do you know who will be right to interview? And how do you convince people who’ve never been in front of the camera to bare their soul in front of a potentially intrusive camera? What are the five big mistakes of interviewing?
- Choosing the right participants
- Deciding if you need a narrator
- Choosing where to put the camera and frame size
- The behaviour of the crew before, during and after an interview
- Coverage during the interview
- Practical interview exercises
Week 3: Camera, Lights and Style
The lighting and camera style will affect the story you are telling. And to decide that style you must first know the story you are telling. Once decided you have to be able to realise that vision on an appropriate budget
- Choosing an appropriate style for your story and budget
- Deciding to go hand-held and without lights
- Shooting a documentary on your mobile phone
- Filming successful drama reconstruction
- Comparisons of different styles and techniques
- Basic lighting exercises
Week 4: Editing & Sound
Story telling is an art. I often see well-shot documentaries with interesting characters that are dramatically a mess with no real sense of vibrant story-telling. Once in the cutting room it may be too late to salvage a badly thought-through film. But then again, with a little additional filming, it could be the making of a film. It all depends..
- How to use a dramatic arc
- Make them laugh, make them cry, but make them wait
- What to cut-away to
- What to do if your film is not coming together in the edit
- The power of serendipity
- Using sound design instead of music
- Choosing and briefing a composer
- Dramatic analysis of a great documentary
Week 5: Sell Your Documentary
So you think your film is ready to send out into the big wide world of documentary exhibition? But is it really? What have your test screenings told you? Is it time to invite a broadcaster in to view a rough-cut? Should it be entered to film festivals before you try to sell it to broadcasters?
- What if broadcasters aren’t interested?
- Making your film the best it can be
- Learning from recent documentary success stories
- When is it better not to be commissioned?
- Getting music and interviewee clearances
- Using film festivals to promote your film
- Using film festivals to get your next film commissioned
- Using the internet to showcase your film
- Marketing your film
To enhance your appreciation of this course it is suggested you pre-view:
Man On Wire (2008) (Director: James Marsh)
Grizzly Man (2005) (Director: Werner Herzog)
Garbage Warrior (2007) (Director: Oliver Hodge)
Who Should Attend
Anyone interested in the art of documentary filmmaking
Here are Col’s Top 5 Docs:
Capturing The Friedmans (screened at Raindance in 2005)
If the Great American Novel were a documentary then it might look like this. An extraordinarily constructed film that doesn’t provide easy answers and lets the viewer put 2 + 2 together.
Possibly the most enjoyable 90 minutes I’ve ever spent in a cinema watching a documentary. It shows the thin line between loser and genius and has the immortal line: “You f*ckin broke my sitar, motherf*cker”
An 18 certificate Doctor Doolittle. Werner Herzog’s take on one man’s doomed love affair with a grizzly bear. Tragic and darkly humorous.
The Story Of The Weeping Camel
This story of a Mongolian camel that neglects her new-born camel plays like a drama. Certain scenes were in fact re-enacted for the camera but rather than appearing false and awkward as some drama reconstruction can, this film is charming, playful and deeply moving. A documentary to definitely brighten your day.
Hearts of Darkness
This behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of Francis Ford Coppola’s self-financed Apocalypse Now is an utterly riveting story about one man coming face to face with self-doubt and a whole load of bad luck. It also has a wonderful epilogue filmed in the late 80s where Coppola gives his predictions for a digital future where anyone will be able to go out and make a low-budget film.
*The intellectual property rights of this course remain the owner of the tutor