The Ten Elements for Producing Great Digital Video Documentaries
written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/18/2011
Documentary film is an art-form that any home digital video producer can try, but certain points must be kept in mind.
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Making a Digital Video Documentary
As new technology disseminates into the consumer culture it is more possible than ever for home digital video producers to produce the same kind of films that larger film companies have been doing for years. When it comes to documentary production home producers are now able to set-up interviews and get the same kind of footage that professional filmmakers are able to.
Though it is now possible to do this kind of home filmmaking, it still holds a unique set of challenges for those setting out for their first time. Lack of contacts and financing can make producing great documentary films very difficult. There are several points that must be taken into consideration when doing a home digital video documentary to ensure that your final product is superb.
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1. The Story
Before you set out on the documentary trail you have to be sure that you have a great story to work with in the first place. For a film to be great it has to recognize the dramatic conflict or struggle between characters and the world. Though this may be out of the producers control at times, a great film will follow the dramatic curve of this story all the way to the resolution. This can be very difficult in documentary production because instead of being able to wholly craft the story, like is done in narrative film; the documentary producer must sit back and wait for the story to unfold.
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2. Interesting Characters
For the story to work at all you must be working with great characters to follow and interview. The audience should be able to empathize with them, and see that they are struggling and have qualities that the audience can connect with. If the viewer cannot relate to the characters in a film at all then the purpose of the project has been lost.
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3. Quality Interviews
The success of a documentary as a film rests on the power of the interviews you have. Make sure that the questions you ask the subjects are appropriate and lead them to tell the story in a personal and honest way. Depending on what effect you want them to have on the audience you either need to gear the questions as a way of laying out the story or as a method of learning more about them as characters.
After you have the story and interviews with interesting people set up you can focus on the visual and technical elements of story telling.
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4. Striking Visuals
The interviews need to be paired with great visuals, as in B-Roll or stock footage that you use. This gives the film a dynamic and watchable feel that elevates it from simply being a bunch of interviews lined together. These will add depth to the story and allow the audience to understand where and how things in the plot are occurring. Film is a literal and visual medium so aesthetics are very important during its production.
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Sound is another side of this aesthetic that cannot be ignored. Make sure all interviews are recorded with appropriate microphones and try to cut down on interference and noise as much as possible. One of the main factors that separates professional and amateur films is music, so try and get music that will match the visuals throughout the project.
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Any documentary must have a reason for being made. There must be certain things you want the audience to take away from the screening. Should they learn about a character or subject? Do you want them to empathize with another way of life or tragic situation? Whether it is an emotional or intellectual response you hope to elicit, make sure that you have a clear purpose with your digital video project.
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You also have to consider what kind of equipment the project will take and what you have access to. Great documentaries require that you utilize a quality digital video camera, good recording and lighting apparatus, and a solid system for digital video editing. This is hard for home producers because they are often using consumer equipment, so you have to know if your project is going to require you to buy or rent more advanced equipment.
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8. Is It Possible?
The most difficult part of this type of project for home digital video production is the feasibility of getting resources and funding if needed. Since home producers do not have legal and financial backings like professionals do, they must avoid projects that will require using copyrighted material or getting into locations that could be difficult. You have to keep in mind the timetable of getting footage, how difficult it will be to get your key interviews and B-Roll, and how crucial some things are to the success of the film. If you feel that your film will only be great if you are able to acquire certain elements that may be next to impossible, it may be time to consider a different project.
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Keep the project relevant to the audience you are preparing it for. This does not mean it has to be on a current topic, but make sure it is relatable to a contemporary issue. Without this the documentary is certain to bore the audience.
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10. Have Fun!
The last, and most important thing is to pick a project that will be fun and fulfilling to you. If this is not the case it will become a chore to work on and the joy of digital video filmmaking will be lost. Documentaries are one of the most multi-faceted types of story-driven films and if you keep these ten elements in mind you will be well on your way to producing a quality movie.