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Documentary Filmmaking Techniques

Divya Bichu
While making a documentary, a filmmaker has a lot of responsibility towards his audience. A documentary throws light on a grave matter or issue concerning the public. A filmmaker must know well of the techniques to better his work, or come out with a good movie.
A documentary is different from a typical Hollywood movie, in terms of making it and also its objective. Now, if a documentary were to be defined in simple language; it is a way to document reality in the form of a movie. Although the motion pictures in a documentary are carefully chosen and arranged sequentially, it is definitely not scripted or unreal.
It is more to do with actuality and often includes interviews of people associated with the subject of the movie. Usually, documentary movies happen to be intense, however, there can be various other genres like ironic, amusing, absurd, shocking, inspirational or even a combination of the above-mentioned.
Traditionally, the length of such films are supposed to be 30 minutes to 2 hours, however, the filmmaker is free to extend the time-span, in case he has to explain the subject in brief. However, he has to make sure of keeping the audience interested all the while.
Before we get to the crux of the documentary making techniques, it is important for every aspiring documentary filmmaker to view a lot of documentaries to get a decent grasp of the big picture.
He should not just watch the movie but also study what must have gone into making that particular documentary, how every shot must have been shot or how perfectly the locations in the movie complemented the subject, what must have gone into the director's head while shooting the scene in this fashion, etc.

Documentary Filmmaking Tips

#1 Goals and Objectives

Unless you are clear of what to showcase, you will not be able to portray it to the audience. It is important to know the purpose of making the movie. Once you know the subject, it is easy to make a documentary without words (which happens to be the soul of the movie). If the objective is clear the purpose of screening this movie is successfully achieved.

#2 Understanding the Genre

Most documentary movies follow the thought-provoking style or rather the more intense genre. However, as a filmmaker you are free to explore all the different types. The genre decides the use of photographs, real events, videos and interviews, which when edited together create an appealing impact.
The genre would determine how the scene has to be shot. It is important for a filmmaker to understand the style he wants to mold his documentary into.

#3 Defining Your Subject

The essence of a documentary movie is to fulfill its purpose; whether it is to inform, teach, educate, or entertain. Moreover, the subject should be defined in a way such that it makes the film dramatic, attractive, appealing and stand out from other films previously written or presented on the same subject.

#4 Thorough Research

Making a documentary film gives the filmmaker a chance to share his views and ideas related to the subject of his movie. It is important to support claims with proper facts while providing opinions or a specific message concerning the topic. To gather all the proofs and facts, it is important for a filmmaker to conduct a thorough survey of the subject.

#5 Realistic and Believable

When you have authentic facts and information about the subject, it automatically makes your documentary look realistic and believable. The best way to authenticate your information is to interview people who are experts in the subject and take notes of the same.

#6 Getting the Sound Right

It is not very difficult to start rolling camera and get right shots for your documentary with a good camera and shooting skills. Most difficult is to get the sound right, which is the soul of a movie which makes interpretation easy. Get the right apparatus to record the sound for right impact.

#7 Exposition

Exposition usually occurs at the beginning of the documentary or when one has to introduce important subject matter in the movie. This aspect is important because it acts like a trailer, which gives the audience a brief idea of what the film is going to be like and introduces the audience to the content and characters (if any) of the movie.

#8 Ask for Opinions

When you are done with making the documentary, make sure you show it to a few close friends, family members, or your mentors to get proper feedback and some genuine critical reviews. If you're convinced about what they have told you, get back to improving a few scenes or adding new scenes, whatever the case may be.
Remember, it is your documentary, therefore, change the content or add new scenes only if you are convinced of the same, it is not compulsory, as reviews are subjective and might differ from person to person.
Most documentary films follow certain preset rules. However, lately, documentary filmmakers are bending the rules, reordering the content, and editing interviews to make the story all the more interesting, which is fair and encouraged if done with a good intention.
Therefore, don't be afraid to introduce creative ways to make your documentary appealing and stand out in the league of other films.