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Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 19 of 35

Identify & Approach Partners


Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 19 of 35

Identify & Approach Partners


Lesson Info

Identify & Approach Partners

This is a very interesting and sort of evolving area of this overarching idea of how do you make a short documentary film. Again, we come out of the world of the editorial world, of magazines and so forth. And what's happened is, and I've touched on this already, but it's really critical to understand this because this is most likely where you can not only get your funding, but you can get your partners to distribute the work and in some cases, help you accomplish the field work as well. So we're talking about NGOs and foundations and non-profits. So that could be anything from Human Rights Watch, or International Medical Corps, to foundations like the James Irvine Foundation, or Encore, another San Francisco-based organization. We've done a lot of work with the Ford Foundation. There's so many out there. Very high level, Ford, Rockefeller, Bill and Melinda Gates, so forth. And then you go down to the sort of, Medecins Sans Frontieres, International Medical Corps, Human Rights Watch, A...

mnesty International, and then you sort of drill down to maybe organizations that are not, or UNICEF is another one, the big one. The thing that's amazing is it's almost endless. This potential, this group of potential partners is virtually endless right now. And again, as Julie has so correctly pointed out, there might be an organization out there that we have never heard of, but the idea you're interested in is exactly what they need. And it's exactly the sort of film that they could use. So again, this comes down to figuring out alignment. But again, where does it all start with? Your idea. What are you passionate about? Let's come back full circle, what are you passionate about? What do you care about? What do you think you can conceivably pull off, given your whatever, you know all the different factors that go into creating a short film. And then where are the funding partners? Where are the distribution partners that this will be right for? And it might be Time magazine or National Geographic and also be foundation XYZ, based in whatever city or town that's nearby you because it connects to the issue you're interested in working on. It's important when you approach partners not to just ask them for what you need. It's really important that you approach them with what you can offer to them. So you really need to go in in that spirit. It's not a one-way relationship. And a lot of it is saying to them, I would love to produce a film that you could use for fundraising or a membership drive. How do you present this particular branch of what you do? Have you captured it as a story, and would that be valuable to you? And it's asking the question, like I raised before, it's that idea of what is valuable to you? What piece of the story do you feel people don't understand? What would help you communicate your work better? So I think it's really important that you walk into those kinds of meetings, or you make that initial phone call, talking to them for A, asking questions about what do they need. Like if I were to make a film, what would be valuable to you? As opposed to going in with your agenda. I'm planning on making this film about X, Y, and Z, and I figured you guys could use it. And sometimes that'll work, but a lot of the time it's almost like, I'm busy, I got so much on my plate. I can't, you know whatever, that's great. Why don't you tell us when it's done. And you can't really ask for support unless somebody feels like they're gonna get something out of it. So you have to play it more strategically. It's the kinda thing too where like if you know that you, and especially if travel is involved, 'cause it's pretty hard to get an organization to send you somewhere, which is also why in the early stages, you should capitalize on where you are. You might be appealing here to somebody who runs a foundation in New York because you're located here. So be strategic about these relationships. If there is a story you wanna tell and it's somewhere else, you might even walk in to that introduction by saying, well, I plan to be in Mexico in March, because you know you're gonna tell this story, and you're very appealing if you're gonna be there anyway. Thought it might be valuable to you since I'm gonna be there anyway to team up so that I could actually produce something that's of value to you. So be strategic about these things. Why would they want to work with you? Now, anybody in here who also shoots stills? It's a big selling point. So if you shoot stills too, and it's a huge selling point for Talking Eyes, has been all these years, when you talk to a foundation and you say, well, one of the things we can offer is that we're gonna make that short film for you, but we could also do stills. So we'll come back with stills that you'll be able to use online, on your website, in any printed materials. So you're getting like twice the bang for the buck because a lot of the times those stills are what they can use in perpetuity. The film has a limited lifespan. So again, strategic. What makes you unique? And think about that kind of media NGO combo. And by NGO I mean foundations, non-profits, and NGOs. But think about that, that's certainly something we've had some good fortune with. I hope we get some more in the future where one or the other, 'cause they're very distinct, and there are actually some media organizations that will not publish things that have been funded by an NGO. But that's a whole 'nother issue, but that is something to pay attention to.

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!