A tripod keeps the camera steady when you are shooting footage.
Lightweight cameras and sound equipment available today make it possible for a small crew on a limited budget to make a quality documentary film. A single person can shoot footage effectively and edit it into a polished, professional product that could be shown in film festivals or on broadcast and cable media. It takes practice and skill to master the camera and editing suite, so it is a good idea to seek out instruction before you begin work on your first project.
1. Seek out instruction on operate a video camera and editing equipment. Explore your local-access cable TV station – if your community supports one – and take lessons on use video equipment there. Borrow or rent equipment to create video projects.
2. Brainstorm a topic that you would like to research. Choose a subject that you can shoot close to home and research whether you can locate a number of people who are knowledgeable about the topic and who are willing to speak about it on camera. Talk with members of your community who can recommend good speakers and ask them to participate in your documentary.
3. Write a basic outline of how the scenes of your documentary will flow. Start by arranging the order you expect the interviews and other footage to appear that will best tell your story. Write down the names of interviewees who have agreed to participate and the locations and objects that should be included in your documentary. Think of questions you can ask each interviewee and write these questions on index cards.
4. Schedule appointments for interviews and select appropriate locations for your interviews. Choose locations that are readily available to you, are not likely to be excessively noisy or crowded and offer amenities that will make your job easier, such as electrical outlets and protection from the elements. Bear in mind that a location you choose can also help tell the story visually; so, think carefully when you select your location.
5. Arrive early at the appointed location to give yourself time to set up and test your equipment before the interviewee arrives. Check your camera by shooting a few seconds of video and replaying it on the camera’s small video monitor to ensure that the camera is recording both picture and sound.
6. Shoot interviews with the people who have agreed to appear in the documentary. Keep your index cards with your questions on hand, so that you can keep the interview flowing and not waste time with gaps of silence. Shoot any other relevant images, such as objects or illustrative parts of the location before you leave.
7. Review the tapes you have shot and take careful notes of important quotes and pictures, including the location on the tape – the digital timer available on playback can help you pinpoint a specific part of the tape.
8. Edit your shots – with the help of your notes – which will greatly reduce the time you would otherwise spend finding content you are interested in. Create titles and other graphics that will help to tell your story with your video editing software. Create your final polished cut and burn your documentary to a DVD or Blu-ray disc.