A documentary is one of the most interesting projects a filmmaker can work on. At the same time, it can be a huge challenge if you don’t know how to go about it. Maybe you are looking to expand your repertoire, or you just have a story you think needs telling. Read on for tips on how to make a documentary film.

The story

The story is where it all starts. The art of a documentary is to start with a subject that excites you excites you. This way you have the passion and the drive to make the best film possible about it. When looking for a story, there’s plenty of inspiration out there. Even if you make one on a subject that people already know about, make it in a different way. Put your own spin on it to make it interesting and engaging.

Entertainment doesn’t have to be a bad word. In fact, according to Michael Moore people are much more likely to see your documentary if you apply the same principles of making it interesting that you would in a regular movie. Research and make sure you know more about the subject before you decide that it’s the story you want to tell. Find interesting people to put in front the camera, and plan how the story will be structured.


Once you have an idea and are ready to go, be organized about the actual filmmaking process. Create shot list, i.e., a detailed checklist of all the shots that you want, including the interviews. At this stage, you’ll also want to determine your budget. When you get started there are a few things to keep in mind as far as the techniques that make a doc good. Adding a voiceover or narration, for example. Moore also recommends this technique.

Doing a reenactment of an event also works well. To distinguish this from actual events you can use different lighting or color effects. Interviews are a big part of most documentaries and are used to give weight to your subject. They can take place both on and off screen. Don’t bore the audience with an hour-long showing of the whole interview. Highlight the important parts.

What comes after

After you have your footage, editing is next. If in doubt, cutting a scene is always recommended over leaving it in. A good story does not need to be three hours long. The best filmmakers can tell a sharp, focused story in a limited time frame.  Since you’re dealing with real-life issues, cover your legal bases. Make sure whatever footage you use from other sources isn’t copyright-protected. If in doubt, pay for legal advice before you complete the film.

Distribution is also a big part of the filmmaking process. In the modern world, you have many options, from YouTube to selling it to a television station, all the way to a major release in theaters. Get your work out there and showcase it to the world.