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Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 21 of 35

Introduction to Working in the Field


Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 21 of 35

Introduction to Working in the Field


Lesson Info

Introduction to Working in the Field

We're gonna actually get into the craft of working in the field. We did actually go out and shoot a video. We had a day in the field together. You're gonna get to see some of the pre-shoot footage of how we work together in the field, you're gonna see how we set up an interview shot, conduct the interview, and then we're gonna get into the nuts and bolts of the post-production workflow in the afternoon. We'll go over how to then take a lot of material, distill it down to what you'll actually keep in your final narrative, and then you're gonna get to see the finished video that we created. Within two days we shot and edited a video, so you're gonna get to see what we were able to do within a very, very tight timeline. So with that, time to get started. And also we are gonna go over B-roll. Besides the interview in creating a short video, you have sort of the two basic components which is the A-roll interviews with your main subject and then B-roll, that sort of forming the visual narr...

ative spine. But let's start with working efficiently in the field. All right? Okay, so we did some pre-production for the video that we shot. We discussed with Ken and with Sara, our producer, what it was going to take for us to accomplish a finished video within two days. Now that's a remarkably tight timeline. Most of you are not gonna have to work under that kind of stress and duress. But we did enough pre-production to determine what would make a good subject, what would be visual, what would be also self-contained. If you have one day to shoot you don't want to have five locations. As it is even in one location you feel pretty harried, so we did a lot of pre-production to figure out what would be a good self-contained story. So we ended up with a violin repair shop which is located in West Seattle. So you already, when you hear that, you think visual. Violin, repair, tactile, it conjures these kind of great visuals that you don't really have to make much effort to create something out of nothing. Which is sometimes what happens. Sometimes you have to do somebody who sits at a computer all day and so what do you do with that? So this is a case, we have somebody working with his hands, gorgeous instruments. So we're already starting to imagine what we might shoot, what would it look like. We did our homework in advance to find out is there any other media about him. Can we get a visual on him? Can we hear his voice? So what we learned is we knew we were walking in to a very tiny space. He's got a very small workshop and that was obvious from a video that was online. He also seemed like a somewhat introverted character from the video we saw. Not really outgoing. Not somebody who was going to propel a narrative forward. He seemed more of a quiet character. So we're already kind of thinking about what might we face when we get in the field and obviously there's a big concern when you go to interview somebody like that. Am I going to be able to tease out something compelling? So in terms of what we did when we arrived, so we got to the location and the first thing that you're going to want to do is just take in the whole scene. So even though we had an idea from the video we saw online of what his interior space looked like, we didn't have a sense of the context. We wanted to take it in. We arrived, we took our time to really survey around. Now even on the way there we were eyeballing what is the neighborhood. What are some of the scenics on our way to his shop? How do we place him in Seattle? And Seattle has a million gorgeous vistas, so what would be an optimal place? We only have one day and we're gonna try to set him in Seattle and set him in his violin shop and get to know all the details of what he does. I should mention that also in the pre-production we spoke to him on the phone and we had this robust conversation of asking all those questions about well what do you usually do, and do you make violins, repair violins. Do people come in and out of your shop? Are you a storefront? And then we decided it would be much more robust if we could actually meet one of his customers. So we asked him is there somebody who might be coming in that day that we're there. Would there be a customer that would normally come in so we're not having to totally stage things cause in our experience when you stage something what you end up getting is a bunch of people who look at you and they say "Well what do you want us to do next?" And our goal as documentarians is always to say you do what you normally do and we're just gonna dance around you. Our goal is always to disrupt as little as possible, let them play out their real interactions, that will translate on camera, and then we can sort of tip-toe around. And we try to intrude as little as possible. But having said that, in this case, and sometime and quite often with client work, and let's just say that this is an example of client work, right? We were given an assignment and we had a set amount of time and we had to accomplish it in that amount of time. We wouldn't necessarily have done this subject if it was up to us, even though it was great. In that case there are situations, or there are moments, where we will set things up and we will do a certain amount of direction. And we'll get into that more later because there are certain ethical questions that presents, especially as documentarians. And it kind of gets back to one of the things we were talking about yesterday which is this balancing between client work, making a living, and doing personal work, all right?

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!