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Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 11 of 35

Client Work Vs Legacy Work


Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 11 of 35

Client Work Vs Legacy Work


Lesson Info

Client Work Vs Legacy Work

This is also a nice segue into client work versus legacy work, and legacy work being your sort of personal projects, things that you're doing, that you initiate. So we do a lot, with Julie, Talking Eyes Media, we do a lot of legacy, excuse me, a lot of both actually but a lot of client work. And there's challenges to doing client work. But also, I feel like we have learned so much and we have become better filmmakers through doing client work. Yeah, it's almost like they often say its harder to write a short story than a novel. It's really hard to craft a three minute film. It just is! You have a lot of information, especially when you have a client who is expecting this film to do everything. They want this thing to do a heavy lift. And so, it's their calling card. It might be used to raise money. This is their public face. So at Talking Eyes Media, that is our bread and butter money is client work. We work with a lot of foundations and nonprofits, and have a real sweet spot in a th...

ree minute video. And I think that's where the bulk of the work is. And I think, quite frankly, for a lot of organizations, three minutes is ample, because it's on their website. Nobody is coming to their website to watch a 20 minute film. So you have to think about, what are you trying to sell them? You should be selling them something that's really useful, and three minutes is such a beautiful length because it can be shown as part of a public presentation. They can show it before their CEO gets up to speak, and it does a heavy lift, 'cause it's an emotional connection to very complicated work. So, a lot of making a great three minute film is about learning how to message. It's becoming a communications specialist of sorts, but then taking it and bringing it alive through this narrative type of storytelling. Now I'm sure you've all seen the range of videos made for NGOs, and foundations, and many of them are talking heads. Lots of talking heads telling you things that are very important and incredibly drilled down in the weeds, to things that you gloss over and you have no idea what was just said. We try very hard to bring our documentary skillset, to that corporate video sweet spot, in the nonprofit sector. For us, that's the zone. So we employ all of the skills that we're talking about, and all of the skills that you've seen in the examples we've shown, we bring that to bear on these three minute videos. These three minute videos typically, just to give you a sense of how long it takes to make them, what were going to show you will be two days in the field. 'Cause you're gonna have to craft a budget that reflects this. So we have two days in the field, and we give one week of editing, which would include two rounds of revision if needed. Then we also obviously have some motion graphic, we have templates that we can keep repurposing. Color correction, sound mix. So all of that, realistically, start to finish, you're looking at at least a month of work, with the back and forth. Lots of prep going in the front end. At this point, we do so many of them that we're very efficient in turning them around, and you'll get there as well. Your first go round don't worry if you took it on and you didn't make as much money as you thought 'cause it took you longer, that's okay, this is your calling card. I never worry about how much I'm investing in making something that I'm proud of. 'Cause I know that's gonna pay off. So if I look at a client job and I say, Oh, you know, the clocks ticking and they only paid me for blah blah blah, I'm not gonna go back and do that pickup shot that I really needed, because they didn't pay me for it. Well at the end of the day, you're going to make something that's not as good as it could be, and when you go out and you're competing in what is a very competitive market, then you were penny wise pound foolish. 'Cause your stuffs not gonna sing in the same way someone else's will. So, this piece that we're gonna show is a classic client video. You'll hear the messaging that's in there, very clear intention in the messaging. Using a documentary style, and look at how much you get in a short amount of time. (dramatic music) [Doniece Sandoval] What if you couldn't shower when you needed or wanted to? It's something so simple, something that most of us take for granted. But it connects us to our sense of self worth, and to our dignity. Over 116 thousand men, women, and children who are homeless in California don't have access to water and sanitation, and that's a real problem. (dramatic music) (talking in meeting) Lava Mae is transforming the way that communities see and serve people living through homelessness. When we first launched, we took retired transportation buses and converted them into showers and toilets on wheels, and we have expanded that to include commercial shower trailers. (car honking) We pull up, hook up to the fire hydrant, heat up water, and then they have about a 15-20 minute appointment. We provide them with fresh towels and all the toiletries, and then we always leave them with a hygiene kit, so that they can keep up with their hygiene in between visits with us. When we were homeless, me and my boys were in the shelter, and because I was a single dad, without a female, they would not allow us to go and take a shower. It was hard. They were going to school dirty, people would look at you like "Oh, you stink." Lava Mae gives you the opportunity to get clean, and now you can come out, you can sit down next to somebody to have a conversation, and that's all they want. (city sounds) [Man With Clipboard] So you're gonna be next. Lord willing. [Doniece Sandoval] We've deepened our programming to add something called pop-up care villages, where we bring multiple providers to the street to increase access to critical services. (music)(crowd bustling) [Black Man in Hat] I'm gettin' the general services, I'm gettin' medical services I get ID, there's love here. (upbeat guitar music) [Doniece Sandoval] We provide what we call radical hospitality. The way you serve someone is as important as the service itself. We learn peoples names, and their stories, and we do everything we possibly can to ensure that they leave feeling better than when they arrived. [Man Getting Haircut] You lift my self-esteem today. Yay, good! I'm glad. [Doniece Sandoval] Launching Lava Mae is a real 180 for me. I lived in a neighborhood called Western Addition, and many of my neighbors were middle class African American families who had been there for a long time, and my neighborhood became very trendy. There were three older gentlemen, all in their eighties, who we knew really well. One by one, we saw each of them become evicted, move into their cars, have their cars repossessed, and end up on the street, and they ended up dying. I decided I needed to do something. (dramatic music) Lava Mae really goes after a problem that very few have really tried to tackle. The idea of bringing services on a temporary basis in a location that's not normally used for that purpose is innovative and it's incredibly important. (uplifting music) [Doniece Sandoval] It's actually incredibly humbling that people would be so grateful to you for something that is a basic human right. (uplifting music) That made me a little teary. (Ed and Julie laugh) Can we stop this? So, But so I think we share this feeling that there's client work, that is like okay, we're getting paid, we're gonna be able to pay our bills; then there's client work where were getting paid, and we can pay our bills, and were like, were jacked about doing it, because it's you know, I know its not, again, it's that whole thing, it's not as sexy as whatever, being on the cover of XYZ magazine, or being on Nightline or ABC, but these sorts of short films can have impact on policy, on where budgets are allocated, so they can actually have real impact on people's lives. And so if we can play even a tiny, tiny, tiny role in that process, that's righteous. That is beautiful. [Seated Audience Member] For the Syria project, you were there for two weeks, and you know the story arch is such an important part of it, I'm curious how, in such a short time frame, you can create that meaningful story arch, while also not, I mean, being the filmmaker and not understanding the language, and kind of not even knowing what happened in those moments, did you leave there knowing you had something? Or was it just kind of shooting everything you saw? Did you script it? So no scripting, it was shooting everything I saw, and also, constantly talking to the folks, like the IMC people, International Medical Corps people, and my fixer, my interpreter, you know, trying to understand what's the story. What happens is you start down these alleyways, right, these narrative alleyways, these paths, and you know, you're feeling your way, especially the first days. You're learning about the people, you're learning what their story is, and then you're trying to figure out okay, how can I do this in the short amount of time I have with them? And then, you know I'm always asking, so what do they do everyday? What's your schedule? When will Jihan go to school? So I can follow her to going to school, which then allows me to get a sense of the environment that they're living in. So it's intense. It's intense. It's not nine to five work. You know, it's this complete immersion, and this sort-of like, being a quick study. Again, if I was there for two months, then it's different. You can chill out, you hang out with them, drink tea, maybe you don't shoot for a whole day! But you find some nugget of information that leads you to something, but in this kind of work, you're just constantly pushing, pushing, asking questions, and then immediately trying to interpret that into action. [Seated Audience Member] So you didn't really plan a lot beforehand other than, I mean, you planned with the councilors and IMC but it was just kind of showing up and doing it, and then coming back and figuring out how to have that play out. Like what we had, then figuring out what we had, and that's where the post-production and Julie or whomever is your editor, or yourself, that's where you figure that out. That is one of the beauties of doing it all, by the way, 'cause as you're shooting, you can already start to think about, okay cool, that scene will lead to that scene. I see the arch coming. Whereas in my case, I come back and I go, I've got all this great stuff! Right, Right. Go figure it out! (laughs) And the other thing is, you get as much as you can. So you have two weeks? You shoot the hell out of it, and then you come back, and then you've gotta craft out of that. Is this the same film that would've been made if Ed took that trip and then three months later he revisited the family, and then a year later revisited again? It would be an entirely different film. So, you work with what you have, and it is inevitable that you're gonna be kicking yourself because there are things you didn't get. But you just have to be zen about it, and it's like, I got what I got, and I'm gonna make what I can make out of what I've got. [Standing Audience Member] I kind of have a legal, technical question going back to the Sandwich Generation piece that you did. So, you were approached by an entity to tell this story. You shot the story. It was obviously your story, your home, your family. And then you took that further and had different audiences aside from the original person or entity that intended to tell that story, how did that work? Did you always retain rights to all of the footage? Yeah. [Standing Audience Member] Can you talk a little bit about that? Do you want to answer that? Yeah, we retain rights on all of our footage, and you have to negotiate a contract to your advantage as much as humanly possible. You always, always, always want to retain the rights to your raw footage, and quite frankly, most places aren't gonna use it for anything anyway. It would just be to waste. Except client work. Well, right. It's important to make that distinction. And with client work, as much as possible, we try to negotiate better contracts. Often with client work what I will try to negotiate is the right to reuse it, with permission. So because most clients will not say, sure, you can just go do whatever you want and rightly so, like you just saw a piece about homeless people in San Francisco, they don't want their image appearing everywhere. They agreed to go on camera to support an organization that helps them, and you know, I feel like were not mercenary in this, it's not at any cost I'm gonna get our stuff out there. Again, back to the spirit of collaborating, you're working with people whose images will go out into the world and it's beyond their control what you do with it. So there's a bond of trust, that you need to respect, and if it were a shoe on the other foot, you know, I wouldn't be too happy if I saw my image suddenly advertising something I didn't support, or being used by a political campaign for a message I didn't agree with, or you know, a million things that could go wrong, once you allow yourself to be filmed. So, we retain rights. In cases where we are not allowed to keep the rights, I try to add a clause that says that we could come back to the client, and ask for additional permission if there is an opportunity down the road because ostensibly I would wanna reuse it for like purposes. So it would be to show it, and a lot of our client work then will get repurposed and go on, you know a segment on a news show or we had a deal with AARP for a number of years where, they had a T.V. show called "My Generation." So we would recut things and it's usually to the advantage of the people in the film or to the client, that the story gets out farther. And I'd like to just say, to speak directly to your question, 'cause it's a really good one, and it's really important, and I've seen this evolution in contracts, you know, especially... So for example, when you shoot for the media, like Sandwich Generation was for I mean, yeah we needed model releases from Herby and everyone, but we kinda didn't also, because it's for editorial or journalistic use. Whereas, something like the Irvine Foundation, or even the Syria piece, and increasingly a lot of the NGO, nonprofit, foundation work, that which is the bulk of where the opportunity is to do this work, by the way, the contracts, I actually have come to respect them. They're more restrictive. And, the point is, that at any time, with some of these contracts, the organization can actually rescind my right to distribute the work, because let's say maybe, that family goes back to Syria and then we find out that that would endanger them, you know, that kind of a thing. I mean, in this case, the cat's out of the bag with that. But, I actually have come to respect the slightly more restrictive, if that's the right term, protective! It's restrictive from my point of view, but it's protecting the subjects, and that I think is a good thing. It's a good thing. In terms of also the rights with streaming online, 'cause most of these short films that's the home. They're streaming online, they're not broadcast. Streaming online, even for editorial outlets, there will be an embargo period in your contract. So whether it's three months or six months, sometimes it's less, sometimes it's a week. So, you wanna make sure you have a contract that has a limited time embargo, so that you know exactly when you could place it on other outlets.

Class Description


  • Figure out what your story is and create a story arc or narrative.
  • Perform extensive research and gather background information.
  • Prepare for, conduct, and edit an interview.
  • Use B-roll footage to round out your story.
  • Master the post-production process and create a polished finished piece.
  • Find partners and funders through pitching and trailers.


Documentary film is an incredibly powerful way to tell a story, but it can also be a daunting project to undertake. How do you figure out your story, theme, and vision? What’s the best way to interact with your subject? What about all the technical aspects—from lighting to audio to editing? And of course, how will you get the funds to complete your film?

If all these uncertainties are causing you to rethink your idea of making documentaries, then this class is a must for you. Award winning documentarians and photojournalists Ed Kashi and Julie Winokur will give you all the information and inspiration you need to tackle your project and see it through to the finish.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Identify a great subject and define your vision.
  • Research your subject thoroughly and find other work that’s been done on it.
  • Choose and gather the equipment you’ll need.
  • Prepare for your interview, including formulating the right questions.
  • Conduct an interview, including setting up your lights and capturing the audio.
  • Create a post-production workflow.
  • Write a compelling pitch and create a trailer to gain funding and support.
  • Generate a variety of end products, including videos for social media and still photos.

Whether you’re looking to create shareable videos on social platforms or hoping to gather funding to produce a bigger project, this class will help you simplify the process and begin creating documentaries for clients or to fulfill your own artistic vision.


  • Photojournalists and photographers wanting to get into video to expand their capabilities and explore new ways of telling stories.
  • Budding filmmakers who need the knowledge and inspiration to get started on their project.
  • Those who want more technical information and skills on how to develop and produce video and film


  1. Class Introduction

    Ed Kashi and Julie Winokur, a husband and wife filmmaking team, offer an overview of this class on how to make a short documentary.

  2. How Did We Start Making Documentaries?

    Ed and Julie describe their backgrounds, explain what has led up to their careers as documentary filmmakers and talk about how to start making documentaries.

  3. Universal Themes Through First-Person Storytelling

    See some of Julie and Ed’s early work and listen to them discuss the importance of first-person storytelling, the integration of stills and video, and publication across media platforms.

  4. Use Visual Language to Tackle a Theme

    Julie and Ed show a more recent project to talk about how to structure a documentary and the infinite options for tackling a theme.

  5. Issue Driven & Non-English Story Development

    Ed shares his documentary about young Syrian refugees and discusses documentary story development. He talks about what it’s like to create an extremely personal project that is both emotional and newsworthy.

  6. Translate a Theme Into a Film **Warning: This lesson contains scenes of graphic violence**

    Learn about the differences between themes and stories, how to translate your concept into an actual film, and what goes into the documentary storytelling process. **Warning: This lesson contains scenes of graphic violence**

  7. Turn Failures Into Lessons

    Look at an example of an idea that didn’t pan out and learn about the mistakes documentary filmmakers make.

  8. Finding Your Subjects

    Your subjects are your collaborators. They’re with you throughout your journey of making a documentary, so it’s important to learn how to find a documentary subject.

  9. What is Your Motivation?

    Discover what your motivation is for telling a particular story and learn about finding a documentary theme.

  10. Follow Your Passion & Invest in Yourself

    Sometimes you need to invest your own time, money, and energy to do a project. Julie and Ed talk about getting started in documentary filmmaking.

  11. Client Work Vs Legacy Work

    Learn how to bring your documentary filmmaking skills to short videos for clients.

  12. Translate the Idea to Reality

    The first thing to do once you have an idea is to do a lot of research. Learn about researching a documentary so you can understand the issue inside and out.

  13. Create Multiple Products from One Idea

    Sometimes you can create smaller pieces that focus on a particular story from larger projects. Here you’ll learn more about documentary storytelling techniques.

  14. Pre-Production Plan

    Before you start shooting, get on the phone with your subject to talk about logistics, background information, and other essential aspects of the documentary production process.

  15. You Just Have to Dive In

    At a certain point, you need to just dive in and get to the work—there’s really nothing to lose. Here you’ll go over the steps to documentary filmmaking.

  16. Time & Cost for Projects

    The harsh reality of trying to get films made is the difficulty of raising money to get the job done. Ed and Julie help answer the question of how much do documentaries cost—from person hours to equipment to travel.

  17. Writing a Strong Pitch

    Learn how to pitch a documentary idea so you can clarify your vision, get others excited about your project, and propel your idea forward.

  18. Develop a Fundraising Trailer

    Creating a documentary pitch video will help you showcase your idea and raise money for your project.

  19. Identify & Approach Partners

    Learn about finding documentary partners who might be interested in working with you or supporting your idea and how to approach them.

  20. Define Your Desired Impact

    Finding a topic for a documentary means you’ll have to think about what you want to accomplish with your work, whether it be a personal goal or something more far reaching.

  21. Introduction to Working in the Field

    Get an introduction about working in the field and location scouting for film.

  22. Shoot: Interview Set Up

    Learn about documentary interview setup, including doing a pre-interview, coming with the necessary equipment, and knowing where you’ll be placing your cameras.

  23. Shoot: The Interview

    Here are some interviewing tips for documentary filmmaking, including how to prepare your subject, figure out your questions, and allow your subject’s voice to truly come out.

  24. Different Types of Interviews

    There are many different documentary interview styles. Some have a formal set-up with artificial light, some are more casual with natural light, and some are done on the go.

  25. Shoot: Capturing B-Roll

    B-roll is everything you shoot outside of the interview and is used to establish a sense of place, put your character in context, and tell more of your story through visuals. Here are some things to consider with b-roll.

  26. Shoot: Detail Shots

    Detail shots allow you to focus on something small and particular that helps to illuminate your story. Here’s how to create a filmmaking shot list.

  27. Shoot: Capturing a Scene

    A scene is an opportunity to watch your subject interact with someone else, offering further information about their life and character. Learn some key documentary film shooting tips.

  28. Shoot: A Set Up Shot

    Creating a great set-up shot involves thinking about the lighting, the background audio, and the camera angle. Here you’ll learn about some filmmaking shots and angles.

  29. What Video to Keep in The Edit?

    The film post-production process workflow is an intensive process of figuring out what to keep, what to toss, and what to polish for your final product.

  30. Identify Strongest Audio as Starting Point for Edit

    Learn about audio post-production techniques, including starting with your strongest piece of audio so you can begin with something powerful and compelling.

  31. Use Audio to Guide Narrative

    Ed and Julie discuss the importance of sound in documentary. Listen for the narrative spine, the unfolding of information, and the integration of multiple voices.

  32. Transform Raw Content Into Finished Piece

    The quality of your final cut depends on your visuals, music and ambient sound, and the editing rhythm. Here you’ll learn about documentary post-production editing steps.

  33. Building Scenes in Your Edit

    One way of creating a short documentary is to focus on building your scenes and try to create some drama within them. Find out about some key drama film editing techniques.

  34. Short Doc Created from Pre Shoot: Resonant

    Watch the final cut of “Resonant,” the documentary that Julie and Ed created for this course, and learn about finishing a documentary film.

  35. Final Thoughts

    Ed and Julie talk about why they work on documentaries and provide some filmmaker inspiration.


Elisa Correa

wow, wow, wow! what a amazing course! I learned so much, I was inspired so much... congratulations, Julia and Ed, you are excellent teachers and do a really wonderful and powerful work. thank you!

a Creativelive Student

OUSTANDIING COURSE, congratulations creative live for bring Julie and Ed in teach about documentary filmmaking. I have watched and bought a fair few courses on this subject and not one of them comes close to this. You can see the amount of work Julie and Ed have done to make this course amazing. The best bits for me are the real teaching opportunities when Ed and Julie are making their violin documentary. I have never seen this before in any course. Thanks Ed and Julie for an amazing course and letting us see inside there work that you do and sharing all your experience with us. I've never really written any feedback for most courses, so this must be a good one :)

a Creativelive Student

Ed & Julie provide so much insight & knowledge into the documentary making process. This is a high-level class that gives you a wonderful overview of what goes into making a powerful and interesting documentary film. It was so helpful to watch them work on an actual short film from start to finish, and to hear their workflow. You'll need to learn the technical nitty gritty elsewhere, but this course will help you dive into how to tell stories on video. I particularly loved the segment on doing interviews, and Julie is an absolute pro at this! Also really nice to see Ed & Julie working/teaching together and how their different skills complement each other. It was a pleasure to learn from them!