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Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 13 of 35

Create Multiple Products from One Idea


Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 13 of 35

Create Multiple Products from One Idea


Lesson Info

Create Multiple Products from One Idea

So this is a case where there were many voices, many topics, the film ended up being, suffering from segmentitis. It ended up kind of feeling like, you know, here we are we went to a prison and then, immersed in a geriatric prison ward. Oh here we are at the Senior Pro Rodeo, so it ended up being almost like a lot of these mini films that were strung together as part of this kind of survey overview piece. In the course of it, and you see also that we ended up relying on a certain amount of text slides to get the, some of the statistical information out of the way. It really was a survey piece, and it was a piece that the overview, this entire film ended up being incredibly valuable as a teaching tool, which make sense, as I mentioned before because it is used extensively in courses in gerontology, in social work, in geriatrics, their whole range of types of classes cause it gives you this great overview. But in the course of shooting it, we came across one story that rose to the top, a...

nd so this is the other thing where you may take on in terms of having these big issues, and starting to cover the big uber-theme, and then as it is progressing you find one story that really overtakes the rest as an interesting story. And so I wanna show you "Friends For Life", which grew out of "Aging In America", and so "Aging In America" is a one hour film, it's been on stations across the country and PBS, but "Friends for Life" is the piece of that film that everybody remembers. What we did is we extracted this one story that's in the hour long film and strung it together as it's own stand-alone, because even though you're starting out thinking you know what you're going to cover, you don't know sometimes and you have to be flexible enough to then pivot with it, so that you can really now immerse in what is a great story. (upbeat music) Warren DeWitt and Arden Peters live in a small town in West Virginia. Arden's children had moved far away and Warren had never married. They were trying to cope with the demands of aging more or less on their own, then they met each other. What do you think about this guy? You happy you met him here? He's all right when he's asleep. (laughing) And I call him my friend. We used to come here every morning for breakfast. We didn't know each other at the time, and he and Mrs. Peters would sit at one of those booths over there, and that was my booth over there in the corner. We never talked any until eventually Mrs. Peters wasn't coming any more. He came in by himself. Arden was 90 years old, and he was trying to look after both himself and his wife. It was proving impossible. Maxine has the Alzheimer's Disease, and she also has Parker's Disease. She was starting to get bad and I'd meet him at a Wal-Mart and he'd tell me about what all he had to do, scrub the floor and wash the clothes and had to look after her and help her and, so it was pretty stressful for him I think to have all that on his mind. When she gets real sick, like at night, when I would be home and he'd call me and I'd come up here, he'd just be crying and crying and carrying on. I felt so sorry for him, I swear. Broke my heart. She can't move her arms, she can't turn her body, she can't do anything. They have to, they have to shove her over, push her over on her side and put pillows behind her to hold her there. Mama's crying and she said "You need be making plans to put me away." I said "oh no, we're not." And when they first started here, they said they'd put her in a rest home I said "No you're not going to put her in no rest home." The doctor did say that if they had someone 24 hours a day, we would let you keep her at home, and I said Pep, why don't we tell him that Doris is gonna be here in the daytime and I'm gonna stay with you the rest of the time, and see what he says about that, so we just turned the car around and went back and talked to the doctor, and we told him that, well, we had this girl working here eight hours a day, and I was gonna be here the rest of the day and night, every night, he said "Okay, if there's gonna be someone there, I'll let you take her home." (slow banjo music) I don't think she would get this kind of care in a rest home that she gets here now. Yeah, I don't know how she'd ever get better care than she's getting. I did everything I know what to do. He's got an awful lot of patience with her, really. More than anybody else that I know would have. And I sort of like her a little bit. (laughing) See her grin. But I do most of the work that has to be done here. After all, he's 90 years old, he don't have much strength you know, so he couldn't possibly take care of this if someone wasn't here. Have you thought about what you're gonna do when she passes? Oh, I'll stay here with him. I wouldn't leave him for anything, no. He'd need me more than ever then. Well, when you get this old, you just don't look forward, you just live from day to day and, but you don't worry, I don't live that way to worry. So I went and bought our grave lots, and I have got our tombstone put up and everything. Where you goin' after you die? I'm going to heaven, that's where I'm going. And I'm positive of that. You and Maxine, both. That's right. ♪ The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. ♪ ♪ He makes me lie down in green pastures. ♪ ♪ He leads me beside the steel water. ♪ ♪ He restoreth my soul and guides my path. ♪ ♪ In righteousness for his name's sake. ♪ ♪ And surely goodness and loving kindness ♪ ♪ Shall follow me all the days of my life. ♪ ♪ And I will dwell in the house of my Lord, ♪ ♪ Forever and ever and ever. ♪ One of the last words I remember her saying now is she says "I love you." (slow music) Hey Pap, your breakfast is ready. It's just like I belong here, we're just great friends but it's like, it's just like being in your family. But I wanted to be around for a long time. I guarantee you I'll take care of him as long as he lives. We're gonna be together for life. (upbeat music) Let me shake your old dirty (inaudible) (laughing) Oh Pappy, Pappy, Pappy, he's my buddy all the way. What an incredible story, right? Incredible characters, I mean, you know I'm often asked when I'm interviewed what, are there, the particular story or something that touched you and this is always, this is almost 40 years of experience I have now, and this one always rises to the top, and a few things I want to talk about before I hand it back to Julie is, one is that song that was sung, that was the Hospice nurse. Like who would a thunk, who would ever, so again always keeping your eyes open, your mind open for these possibilities. I can't remember how we, we sort of befriended we spent a couple weeks there in West Virginia, and we befriended her, I think went out to dinner with her and her husband a few times, and somehow we found out, and there's a tradition in that part of the country of people playing music together, whether it's for church or just music, and so we somehow found out and we were like well, can we record, can we record you singing a song you like to sing, never expect, knowing, would it be used how it would be used, and then Julie beautifully matched it with sort of the death scene, and again this was back when I was mostly doing stills and a little bit of video, it was at the very early stages of our video process. So pay attention, you never know where, where these raw materials will come from that you can infuse into the final piece and make it something that you otherwise never could have made it, and you also don't have to pay like, you don't have to like spend money to have it composed, I mean, that's, that's a minor point in the context, in the spirit of what I'm talking about here. Thankfully the Lord's Prayer is not copyrighted. (laughing) And then the, the thing I wanted to say was how really because of this project and particularly this story but this aging project, that's why we moved back to the east coast to take care of Julie's father, never expecting it to become this sandwich generation thing. So think about that, that meant that this, when we talk about finding, you know, how do you find a story, something you care about, well, who could have known in 1994, when we were, started talk about, I think aging's going to be like a topic of, one of the main themes of our lifetime, almost like anthropologists, it suddenly it, not suddenly, it ends up being how many years later is that? Almost 20 years later, now we have changed our lives and thank goodness we did, we moved our family, took care of her father, and then ended up even being able to tell more stories about this issue. So, I always say that one of the many things I love about doing this kind of work is that it engages you with the world in a way that you otherwise never do it, for most of us, and it allows us to go deep, it allows us to meet amazing people and witness amazing stories, and they're not going to be the headlines, but that's okay, so. Yeah, and it's testament to the universal relevance of individual stories, so back to this sort of overarching question you're trying to answer, and why does it matter? Cause you're always asking yourself, well, who cares? Who cares about two guys in West Virginia. Well, we all care if you can touch us with that story and open our own eyes to pay attention. You know, there are a million of these kinds of stories right here in town, so it's finding the universal in the personal. This is a case, too, where we had set out, for this portion of "Aging In America", we had set out to do something about home hospice. That was a topic we were thinking about, well how do we deal with end of life, we're dealing with old age, but it's inevitable, we're talking end of life ultimately, so we wanted to show something that was about a good death, how good can death be? So again, back to this like, starting from the macro, we started with end of life, well what is the version of end of life we would like to show, home, a home hospice situation, so then researching, researching, researching, and literally reaching out to the National Association of Hospice Organizations to then find out what programs are exemplary in the country and this one in West Virginia came up a couple times. "Oh you gotta see what they're doing there, they're really, you know, ground breaking, they run this program really well, you're in an area that's very spread out, not a lot of access to care." That was the other thing, so statistically, most people who would die at home were in rural settings because there wasn't a lot of access to care, so the story started to inform us from the macro to the micro. We showed up in this town, having made, established communication with the hospice, and the Hospice Organization then asked about like which clients, and what does it feel like when you show up in a town and you're saying to people, "Is there anybody who you think is gonna die within the next two weeks?" cause we only have, you know, two weeks. So "Is it possible you could take us to patients or clients who are really at death's door," right? Which is a very uncomfortable and inappropriate kind of request, but again you're on board with people who this is their business, they're not afraid to talk about death, and this is about facing death head on and looking at it as a life process. So instead, you have to sometimes shelve your own prudishness or discomfort or whatever it is in the topic and really kind of get on board with people who deal with this topic in a very open and honest way as opposed to through taboo and embarrassment. And just to say, they took us to ten, maybe ten, clients, and at least half of them were like "No thank you." Yeah. You know, we're not gonna let you film my mom, my dad, our grandparents. Right. You know, but you have to like take that rejection in a graceful way 'cause of, you can't like argue with them, you can try to convince them maybe but I've also learned that you want to be careful about using up that capital, especially, you have to be thoughtful, you have to be mindful of the fact, well, in this case we're coming from San Francisco, we're in West Virginia, we wanna, we need to make, who knows how they look at us, these are all, this is even within our own nation, let alone when we're going abroad, so again, not to make things too complicated, but these are critically important elements to pay attention to. Uh huh, and if you noticed in that story also, this ark is created because we allowed enough time, so we had the luxury, and this is what you get to do when it's a personal project, where we met these, we met Warren and Arden and Maxine, while we were in West Virginia on that first trip, somebody did pass away and we did film a death and, but it wasn't nearly as compelling as this story. And so we left West Virginia and just, again it was like, that was an incredible story, we gotta go back. We've got to stay in touch, we've gotta find out what is going on in their lives. Is she declining, it was how many months after we met them that she passed away? That was July and then in October, I went back for a week to ostensibly go for a family reunion, so again, we're always looking well, what are going to be interesting situations to get into, once you have access, so cool, so I went back alone, I was living with Warren and Arden and Maxine in that farmhouse and we're just like three teenage boys being idiots, like teenage boys, but, but it was sweet and then so, family's gonna be arriving from around the country for this family reunion, and come the middle of the week, it's clear Maxine, that's her day to die, and actually I was the one who was, who had to go and tell Arden to give her permission. It was so clear that she's so strong and so tough, she would not let go, and there was no one else I think only, everyone else was afraid to do it, but cause I was sort of an outsider, so I talk about this as an example of how sometimes in this work, you don a different cap. You know, I can't say I was a friend at that point, but I was maybe is it a social worker, that you're playing a different role now, and I was the one who told Arden, got on my knees and said Arden, you're going to need to go in there and let Maxine know that it's okay to let go. He walks in and does it, an hour later, the death scene, she dies, so a very powerful, lot of responsibility, too. Lot of responsibility that, in this case, we're taking on. Not all short films have to be this sappy. I know, right? Anyway. We really packed it, didn't we? Cat hiking, cat hiking, we need the cat hiking story. Cat hiking, we are so doing a cat hiking story next. Anyway, so I'm sorry I, but, yeah. And not to shy away, I mean, clearly, and Ed was photographing during the most important emotionally heightened moment of their lives, but we had spent enough time with them that they were comfortable having that happen, also, that that was part of their experience in that moment, so you know, that is a testament to building the relationship and the collaboration, that this was their story and they were helping to craft that story. Yeah, they're real heroes, actually, that's what I've come to feel of subjects, they're collaborators and they're heroes that they're willing to do that. I remember going back to San Francisco with a dear, dear friend and her mom had passed a year earlier and I was like oh, you know you would have let me go and do that and she said "No f-ing way, I never would have allowed you," and she was one of my closest friends, so I want to say a take away from this, one of the many take aways is that again, it's going back to that thing of that quality or that element of story telling journalism, whatever you want to call it, where or short film making, where you need to have genuine curiosity about the world. Yeah. You need to genuinely care about other people, you know, ideally you care about an issue, so any one or all of those things put together is a very powerful motivator, and very powerful inspirational tool for you to get out there and do it. And it's easy to forget that when you're in the field, cause you're so busy trying to get the story and you're so worried about your gear, and you're so worried about being at the right place at the right time, so you lose sight of the humanity of it, you really do need to make sure you're constantly remembering why you're there in the first place, cause they don't necessarily need you there, their lives are going to go on with or without you.

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!