Film & video

Filmmaking Tutorial: 5 Tips For Making A Great Documentary

Learn the basics of how to develop a successful audiovisual documentary, with Jose Garcia and Rene Strgar

Got a great idea for a documentary but not sure where to start? In this beginner’s tutorial, London-based filmmakers Jose Prada & Rene Strgar (@jrvisuals) run you through the essential elements you'll need to consider when making a documentary.

Prada and Strgar have worked for an impressive range of clients, including Ford, L’Oréal, Red Bull, and Zara, and like all good filmmakers, they have had to adapt in style and tone when approaching each story. Favoring a documentary-style of filmmaking, they’ve picked up a lot of knowledge along the way, from how to iron out concepts, research their subjects, and edit their footage.

Check out their tips in this video!

1. Choose And Research Your Topic

Carry out in-depth research before meeting your subject so that you are prepared and know where you want the story to go.

Showing your subject that you’ve done your research will also give them confidence in working with you, and will demonstrate your investment in the project and in them.

Research your topic and your subject
Research your topic and your subject

2. Build Trust With Your Subject

The interview with your subject will be a really important element of your documentary as it'll guide the story of the film.

Take time to build trust with your subject, and give them a chance to warm-up to being in front of the camera before you sit them down for an interview.

Spend time with your subject to build trust
Spend time with your subject to build trust

3. Spend Time Location Scouting

Visiting locations before filming is important so that you can check technicalities like lighting, background noise, and space, as well as logistics like parking, and where to load in your kit.

Sometimes when you’re making a documentary, you might not have the luxury of location scouting, so it’s also important to learn to adapt to different locations.

Spend time location scouting
Spend time location scouting

4. Use Lighting To Create Mood

Lighting can transform the mood and tone of your film, so it’s really important to keep in mind. Are you going to use a light to interview your subject? If so, think about where you want the light and shadows to fall around them.

When you’re filming a documentary, you have to think quickly, and putting up additional lights might not be an option. You can use this to your advantage though, and make a beautiful looking film by using natural light in your shots.

Use natural light to your advantage
Use natural light to your advantage

5. Use Editing to Pull Your Story Together

Editing your footage can be a really exciting process as you begin to pull your story together into a finished documentary.

Think about the mood you want to create and the pace and music you want to add to your film. You can use voiceovers and interviews to piece the narrative together, but be mindful of what the images you’ve filmed are telling your audience.

Bring your footage together in the edit
Bring your footage together in the edit

Did you enjoy this tutorial? If you'd like to learn more about how to develop an audiovisual piece from the initial idea to the post-production process, check out Jose Prada & Rene Strgar's course Documentary Filmmaking from Scratch

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- 10 Essential Keyboard Shortcuts for Mastering Adobe Premiere Pro
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- Creating Documentary Short Films with a DSLR Camera
- Storytelling for Short Film Screenplays


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