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Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 30 of 35

Identify Strongest Audio as Starting Point for Edit

Ed Kashi, Julie Winokur

Making a Short Documentary

Ed Kashi, Julie Winokur

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Lesson Info

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.


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 Class Introduction Duration:13:55
7 Turn Failures Into Lessons Duration:13:46
8 Finding Your Subjects Duration:15:07
9 What is Your Motivation? Duration:02:10
11 Client Work Vs Legacy Work Duration:17:51
12 Translate the Idea to Reality Duration:16:25
14 Pre-Production Plan Duration:09:32
15 You Just Have to Dive In Duration:30:40
16 Time & Cost for Projects Duration:28:21
17 Writing a Strong Pitch Duration:11:38
18 Develop a Fundraising Trailer Duration:12:28
19 Identify & Approach Partners Duration:06:35
20 Define Your Desired Impact Duration:21:21
22 Shoot: Interview Set Up Duration:34:38
23 Shoot: The Interview Duration:32:08
24 Different Types of Interviews Duration:13:35
25 Shoot: Capturing B-Roll Duration:21:54
26 Shoot: Detail Shots Duration:18:09
27 Shoot: Capturing a Scene Duration:27:02
28 Shoot: A Set Up Shot Duration:24:03
31 Use Audio to Guide Narrative Duration:09:33
33 Building Scenes in Your Edit Duration:03:41
35 Final Thoughts Duration:03:01

Lesson Info

Identify Strongest Audio as Starting Point for Edit

A lot of this in my process is about what rises, because I think it's the most valuable way to think about how to construct, rather than building a, b, c, d, what I'd rather do is say, I've got, you know, this, this, and that, which are my magic, now let me work around those. And so, I do the same thing when it comes to my visuals. I feel really strongly that I wanna think about what were my strongest visuals, and play to that, rather than the other way around. Rather than kind of saying, oh, I need a picture of this. Oh, I need something that will cover that. I'd rather think about what my strongest visuals are and pair my strongest visuals with my strongest audio, as opposed to being mechanical in my edit. So I do the same thing in terms of organizing my B-roll, which is here. So you can see I've done the same thing. If you look at the sequence down at the bottom, I've done the same exact thing with doing my pulls here. So we can take a look at also with this. And what I'm gonna do i...

s I'll try to toggle between, and we can kinda lookit, you know, what rose to the top in terms of B-roll here. So, we did some exteriors. So, here's our shot of David. This is the first thing that I thought might be usable. And there he is. And done. That sort of shot might be usable, so I've highlighted it in my sequence. I do my pulls, I scrub through everything, sometimes I don't have the time to watch through everything. So the next shot that I thought might be usable, you know, assuming that this was where I was going, oops, was that lovely shot Ed had from outside the window. So, again, I did the same sorta thing that I had done with there. As I scrub through, it felt like this might have been a better moment. There's movement, you see how that movement, I really like the way these were shifting, you know, so it was a long shot, and now I'm looking for kinda like what was the moment in the shot. So, before he plays with his lamp. So, same thing. I scrub through. There's to me beautiful moment, right? So, what rises to the top? And then work from there, rather than trying to work with a massive amount of material. So I went through, I set this up for both of our cameras, I went through A-roll, sorry, the A camera, I pulled out, this is Takumi visiting the shop, you can see that in my sequence I broken it out. I ended up creating a new sequence for that scene, so I could work that scene in a separate place. And then I did the same thing with my B cameras down here. So here's B camera. And same idea, what's usable? David's sitting down, starting to work. So, a lotta this is subjective, but you also know where you nailed it, where you're settling in, where you're out of focus, where you have a bit of movement. Now, one of the things I'm looking for also are the dynamic moving shot, so it's not just, oh, thank goodness, I locked it in, it's solid, it's in focus, exposure is good. As an editor, I'm also looking for, like, well, did I, is there a pan? Is there something that helps to kind of create that extra energy in the shot itself? So, you know, sometimes my pulls, it's also so I don't hafta go back in and find those. I'm looking for what would, you know, what rises. So a lotta these shots you're gonna see end up making it into final edit. I think in here there's a pan. Can't remember. No, no pan in this. One of these has a pan up. So, it was again, you know, I'm looking for what, here it is. So here's a moment that, you know, I'm thinking oh, there's something valuable, transitional shot that can help me. And if not, I've also pulled this up so I have my cutaway. Are there any questions just in terms of the breakdown, and you know, is this helpful to you as a way of starting to just chisel? I see it more as like a big block of stone, that you're gonna release the statue from, right? And so if you think about it that way, there's something kind of, it's the opposite approach, I think, than logic tells you. 'Cause logic tells you, oh, I need to, like, build it up, as opposed to chiseling it out. I'm wondering, I don't know if I'm the only one that has this problem or not, how do you find the endurance to cull through (audience and Julie laugh) hours and hours and hours of footage? And how much is temperament, right? Because some people love noodling in an editing program. Really, some people are born to edit, you know. They're probably introverts, and, you know, I wouldn't say antisocial, but. (laughs) This is funny, it's like somebody once said about our son, that he suffered from, instead of having attention deficit disorder, that he suffered from attention surplus disorder, and so there is an attention surplus that this requires. So, I think that for me, I don't even hafta muster the patience, because I transport to this other place, where I don't even hear other things going on in the room. And so hopefully you're able to hit that place where you get so immersed in the content that you, like, time is suspended for you. Now, not everybody's cut out to edit. And there are some people who, unless they're kinda up and moving, and they have, you know, they get to be out in the field working, this is mind-numbing, whereas for me, I love the detail of it, and I love the choreography that I can make happen through the edit process. So I think it's, you know, it appeals to a different process for me personally, and so if it's hard to sit and concentrate on this way, I suppose part of it for you might be like, trying to figure out how to play with scenes more. You know, like maximize the visual drive of an edit, as opposed to this kind of like, 'cause you do hafta go through all of it. Now when I go through and edit, I can listen fast, you know, it could be, I don't hafta listen in real time. If I conducted the interview, sorry, not the edit, the interview, so I will, I'll do a double-time through, 'cause I can understand, I hear what's being said. With footage, I scrub over, more often than not I'm scrubbing. Now, I will, straight up, I will tell you, and when you see the finished film, I feel like what I would love now if I had more time, I'd like to go in and recut Takumi's scene where he's playing the violin in the studio, because there are some really great shots, but I didn't really have time to sit with them. So, when you're rushing, you don't always get the best material. And so I know that, and I'm eager to, you know, have you guys watch the final film in a little bit, because I know that I could also experiment with it more, but I didn't have that luxury of time to let it marinate, so I cut something that's very straightforward, and I think there'd be an opportunity to kinda mix it up, and open differently, close differently, you know, but that's a by-product of not sitting with the footage and actually watching it all. I was scrubbing, I had three cameras, I got the multicam on-screen, and when you look at a multicam that, where is his playing, I have it here, violin multicam, so when you go into a multicam with three shots, I mean it's like look at what you're looking at on-screen, right, so that's what you got going, so you're watching three shots simultaneously, trying to figure out what you're gonna use, and you're scrubbing, and so you miss things, right? I can't possibly take it all in. So there is no workaround. You hafta look at the footage. You just do, you know. There's no workaround. But yeah, it's, I guess it's stamina, but I suppose it's that, like hopefully you can get lost in the reverie of it. (laughs) It's just a quiet reverie. Yeah? How long after you shoot do you start to look at your footage? Do you let it sit for a bit, and then go back to it, or do you look at it right away? It's better to look at it sooner than later, if for nothing else so that you know what you really have. And also, if you have any glitches with your camera equipment, you wouldn't know it if you don't check your footage. So you should be looking at your footage regularly. Sometimes we're so busy that I don't get to an edit for months. Occasionally there's something that sits in the cam for months before I can actually do anything with it. That's not optimal by any measure. So again, better to just at least be looking at it, even if you can't dive in. I do try to get everything transcribed immediately, because that can be a delay in workflow, so I'd rather have those transcripts done. It also means that that's an easy thing to do not tied to your computer at your desk. I can bring transcripts with me places. You know, it just means that I know when I'm ready, then I don't hafta waste another few days waiting. I wanna be, like, set up. The other thing is I do like when a project is prepped immediately, and then all the new footage can be pulled into the project, 'cause it took me, so we did the shoot during the day, it took me hours to get my project set up. One day of shooting, but we had multiple scenes, we had multicam, I transcoded some footage, so just because you finish shooting doesn't mean you're gonna be ready to edit. You hafta be mindful of that. If you can start to edit things together sooner than later, it's actually better, because then you know what you need. And when I edit, I make discoveries, and then I think, oh, you know what we should be shooting? After doing this shoot, now I realize if we just would go out and get x, y, and z, wouldn't that be awesome? And so the sooner you do it the better, 'cause there's a better chance that you can flesh out your coverage and really go deeper, better, more, you know, you give yourself a lot more to play with. Julie, I have another question from online from PG, who said, following up on the last question, is the attacking of the footage a linear, sequential process for you, starting with a first capture and ending with a last, or, for example, do you make notes during real time while you're recording, which might direct you to a particular shot, or a particular sequence of shots, right away? Right, so I do not take notes while recording, and I do that really because when I'm doing interviews, I'm assuming, like the notes being during an interview, when I'm interviewing, I am all in that conversation. I am really, really focused, and to me, that's part of establishing that really robust, you know, kinda the richest experience I can have in an interview with someone. What I do, though, before I start to edit, I'll often stop, and then I did it with this too, so before I started to do anything, I thought through what were the sound-bites I remember. And the fact that I still remember them means they're probably gonna be on rung four. So, this to me is the reflection of what was most emotionally compelling, or what was something I learned in that interview. And so that's back to something I said about like when you leave here and you say to whoever, your significant other is this evening, or friend, family, loved one, when you go and you say, oh, today I learned that blah blah blah bah, that is, that's resonant, that was that piece of information, that moment of all of the other talk that happened that rose to the top. So, I think about this, and even when I work with other editors and like all my team, I'll sit down, and I'll say, okay, let's talk about what are the five things this video needs to do? So we're not even gonna look at the footage, puttin' this way. I did this with Ed, I said to him well, what, you know, so what was most interesting for you today when we shot, you know, with David? And so, we talked about it, you know. And I said, well for me, like this takeaway of every violin having its own character, I love that idea, you know, that they're individuals. And you know, we were really struck about how that he didn't play violin. You know, that was one of those like, how can you possibly tune, you know, repair violins and not play violins? You know, so we talked about kinda what were the handful of things that if you were gonna recount to somebody, like, you know, oh, I did this interview today with this guy who's a violin repairman. So what was interesting about that? What do you remember? And so it's a really important place to start. And when I sit down with editors, you know, who I work with, we'll talk about also what is the main message this film has to convey? Especially if it's for a nonprofit, or a corporate video, or whatever you might be doing, what does this need to say? And we'll talk about the five points. Well, we really hafta get across, so let's take an example with the Fighting Chance, right? Well, you need to know this guy was a vet. You need to know that he's working with these kids who come from a really tough situation. Like, we'll talk through like what do you need to know before you start editing, because again, if you edit to the strongest, most important notes, everything else falls into place, and you can get rid of all the other stuff. So, what I would like to do, I want to, let me make sure I get the right sequence up. So this is Scenics, his stringout, his selects. Okay. Yeah, so I did not save, I'm afraid, the initial script, so what I am gonna do is I think I will turn off the visual, and I'll play for you what rose to the top in terms of David's. Okay, so I am going to, oops. Okay. All right. So I wanna play for you what rose to the top for me in terms of his audio, so you can hear what I ended up selecting from everything that we had. (violin music) Okay, sorry that. I'm gonna mute. I don't wantcha to hear any of that gorgeous playing, 'cause you're gonna be totally distracted by the playing. (laughs) In general, I'll hear a violin and say, yeah, that's a violin, but they all have their own character. Like people, we all sound a little different. There's my opening sound-bite. It's just beautiful. It's as poetic as he gets, right? As you work with them over time, you start to hear the subtle differences, and you can hear if something's not quite right, or if that's just the character of the instrument. (violin music) Some more, see, Takumi wants to be in here. (laughs) Okay. Let's make sure he doesn't get to detract from David's spoken word. My workshop's in west Seattle. I do violin repair and restoration. I been in the business, oh, about 16 years. The most interesting instrument I've had in recently was made by Guadagnini. I have seen some 3-D printed ones that use some carbon impregnated plastic. It's an interesting science project, but I still like the wood better, completely done by hand the best. I love the workmanship and the history, the craftsmanship that goes into making 'em. Everything's handmade, so it can all be taken apart and put back together again. Sometimes they'll sound nasal, congested, you know, sound tight, or sometimes they'll sound slightly hollow and woofy on the other side, and so something like that's going on, then there's a problem. The time you spend learning how to work on the instrument is kind of equivalent to the time you spend learning how to play a instrument. Not a lotta makers are great violinists. More often than not, we're good at making or repairing, not so much at playing. (string music) All the sound, we want it to be coming out of the sound holes, so if it's open, then it won't sound quite right, and it doesn't feel right, either, so (string music) feel how it's vibrating? Listen to the ringing of the instrument, and I hear that it's gotta lotta power, you know. (string music) and the response is excellent. Takumi stops by occasionally and just has me go over the adjustment. I've been looking after his violin for a few years. It's important to work with the player and find out how they're feeling, how the instrument's responding in their hand. That's where you really dial in the sound of the instruments. So that's the radio cut. So half an hour just got chunked down to what felt like the essential interesting bits of what he had to say. Right? So time got condensed. I can almost guarantee you that everything in there, except for how long he's had his shop, or how long he's been in the business, was rung three and four, right? So you guys heard before an extended portion of his interview, but everything that he said here, and what's really important to me is everything is unique, he's not going back over the same ground twice. He's concise. I condensed time on what he had to say. And hopefully it gets to the essence of what compels him, what drives him forward. That at least gives you a sense of just the workflow. Once I have the sound-bites pulled together, that's when I start adding picture. I do not touch picture until I've distilled to that degree those sound-bites. As Ed mentioned, we did pull out the one about the value of that one violin, because, you know, it just wasn't good for David to broadcast that. It wasn't critical to the edit either, even though it was interesting. I usually do not show a film to subjects until it's done, done, done. I always worry that somebody is gonna not wanna look bad and they are gonna want you to change something, so you're on a slippery slope if you show people the finished product before you share it publicly. That said, you know, all of my clients do wanna show the finished films to the people in the films for accuracy's sake, and obviously you wanna create something that they will use in the end, you know, 'cause most of my clients, they're foundations who commission these films about grantees of theirs. And so it really doesn't behoove anybody to produce a film that the grantee doesn't wanna use because there's some piece of information in there that doesn't reflect well on them, or that is not accurate. So, you have to make that judgment call, one by one by one. What I ended up doing then, you know they, after, once you have your radio cut, then you have a pacing question. So, you come out of a radio cut where everything is smushed together. It's just sound-bite, sound-bite, sound-bite, sound-bite, sound-bite, and so the next question is, how are you gonna pace that up so that it's watchable for somebody, and where do you pull apart and have breathing room? I would like you to note in a sequence like this, I will show you the sequence, I don't wanna reveal the film, so that's why I'm being very cagey about what's on screen. (laughs) I'm trying to hold out that little last bit of mystery. But I do want you to take a peek here at the spacing of the sound-bites. So if you look at also, 'cause to me this is part of where the magic happens in an edit, I want you to look at how spaced out the audio is, 'cause again, David speaking is all on here. This is V1, right? He's V and A1. So I want you to look at, what happened was once I got all those sound-bites, if you look, he doesn't actually start speaking until here, 19 seconds in. And that's because we have this gorgeous music. We have visuals that are going to put you in the situation. So I didn't want him to start speaking immediately. So now I'm gonna start spacing out, I'm not spacing out, but I'm spacing his sound-bites, just checkin'. So if you look at this, look at the pacing that starts to happen, 'cause that's the next thing about how do you make this short documentary sing, and more often than not, with people who are new to editing, what I find is they struggle with the pacing. So, you know, the sound-bites are jammed up, they don't recognize that like if you look in here, I've given him breathing room where he might not have had breathing room. You can pull sound-bites apart, you can put them together. You forget how in control you are of the rate of speaking and information. So, if you look at this, you know, I've given him another breather here. So he says a little somethin', and then he's gonna pause, so we get to process. Then we have a break in here where I've inserted a title, which you'll see in the finished piece. So a lotta this is then structuring. So, you will also see that, I'll talk for a moment, just we have one scene, right? So we have Takumi and his mom coming into the shop. And you got to see that play out. It was quite a long scene, but I needed to chunk that down. I needed to have him arrive in the situation, and I needed to just have that scene deliver enough to tell me a piece of story. And so that scene, again logically, I needed to meet David, I needed to find out what he does, I needed to kinda fall in love with him, and then I needed Takumi to come much farther down in the scene. He couldn't arrive immediately, because I just didn't really know what was at stake yet. So, if you look at the way this unfolds, you can see how much, you know, pacing-wise, how much spacing, I'm giving in between certain sections to give you a little glimpse into that. I was curious about when you're filtering through the stage before this, where you're going up, you know, two star, three star, four star, do you even bother going back to the two star ones if you can tell the story in those three and four? No. I hopefully don't need it. You know, as I said, usually when it's a two star, it's gonna be just informational. It's like points that need to be made, you know. I've been doing this for 16 years. Well, that's not poetry, but I might need that. You know, where we're located. Yeah, so it's more informational, and in a way it's almost like you have visuals like that as well. Here's a visual that's gonna tell me, you know, Takumi and his mom are arriving at the shop. It's not a great shot, it's a transitional shot. It's the sort of thing. Yeah. Thanks. You mighta mentioned this, but I'm wondering if you had scripted it, and how woulda that informed this part of your process? If I had scripted it, so what I believe is when you script on paper, then it just means that the edit is much faster, but the scripting is slower. And the other thing I find is that when you script on paper, things may read a certain way, they don't play out that way. So you can read your transcript, and there's this great sound-bite, and then when you listen to the delivery, it took like 30 seconds to spit out what you hoped was five. So, there's that kind of, it's a funny one. When you read on paper, sometimes you'll also miss a great delivery, because the substance of it wasn't nearly as good as the twinkle in somebody's eye, the smirk, the smile, that kind of expressiveness. A great transcription will note those things, or you know, especially if somebody laughs, if they, they'll give you more detail. Or if, obviously, if somebody cries, you'd like to know that in transcript, a very emotional moment. If you script on paper, you do run the risk that when you bring it into editing, it doesn't live up to expectation. At least at that point, like, more often than not, I'll get a sound-bite in that seems good on paper, and then what I realize is, I'm gonna hafta halve it. So I'm gonna take the beginning and the end, you know. And you do a lot of behind the scenes. You know, what I'd like to show in the next segment, actually, I wanna show you a radio cut so you can watch all the cutty-ness of it, and then play for you a finished version of it. So you just heard David's soundtrack, right? So, you got to hear at least what I pulled out, what I thought was most interesting, but you're gonna watch in the finished piece how it now sings, when it's got visuals and music and all of that. So it's that transition that can happen. The thing with editing is always to stay true to a persons intent. Nobody's gonna sit and watch as long an interview as you watched earlier in the pre-shoot. That would be a really boring video. Or that would be live TV, I mean you get to watch people reason things out in front of your eyes, and some is interesting, and some isn't, and they ramble, but not, in a finished film, nobody's gonna have the patience, at all. So as long as you stay true to what somebody meant to say, we do a lot of slice and dice.

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


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!