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Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 14 of 35

Pre-Production Plan


Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 14 of 35

Pre-Production Plan


Lesson Info

Pre-Production Plan

Let's talk a little bit about the questions that you would want answered in advance. So you've got to get on the phone with people beforehand. This emailing, texting thing just is not going to cut it. You've got to get into one of those nice rambling conversations where you're finding out a few things. Some of it is the logistics. So you're asking that million and one questions about so what is really happening now? You gotta be asking questions like, well, what will I be able to see? Because people don't think visually. So you've got to really be clear in the way you're asking those questions. What will I be able to see? What is your day like? Why don't you give me a run through? What time do you get up? How do you get there? What do you do when you're there? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. You need to find out what days of the week are the most active. If I can only go and shoot for a couple of days because that's what my schedule allows or timing wise, whatever, so which two days? ...

In the next three weeks, tell me what's on your schedule. You've got to be so specific. I can't tell you how many times you're on the phone and you think you're asking one thing, and then you show up and you're like, how come you didn't tell me that you work from home? I thought you were actually going somewhere. You don't actually handle any clients any more? You just manage people through phone calls? Those kinds of things that if you are not super specific in your pre-production, you will have some unpleasant surprises potentially. You want happy surprises. You don't want the kind of surprises where you realize, how many times have you heard this? You should have been here three days ago. It was awesome. I mean, it happens all the time. It doesn't do you a damn bit of good what happened three days ago. So pre-production is asking a lot of questions that seem really obvious, but they are far less obvious than you would expect. So it is the actual what you're doing and what will I see you doing. What does it look like? For client work, it's so great to get some iPhone pictures of somebody's office or that sort of thing. We're always mining for also, well, if we're going to tell the boxing story is a good example. So we have a main character, we're going to tell a story about this former marine who's now running a boxing gym. Well, that's great, but I'm always thinking about so who are you most impacting? So let's talk about well who else might we meet while we're there? Who are the most compelling kids in your program? Who is somebody that has come out the other side and can really testify to the success of what you do? 'Cause your emotional hook is always in that. It's in the person being served in client work, right? It's not the doctor, it's the patient. So the pre-production is mining, mining, mining for what is your universe and who is really interesting and compelling and who can carry this story around you? And then it's that next layer of questioning about those people. Do you think they'd be comfortable on camera? Are they shy? What do they look like? How available are they? All of those things that are just like the nuts and bolts of pre-planning, so you don't show up and it's gonna be a crap shoot. Or if they're underage. Or if they're underage, right? It's a whole 'nother layer of questioning and permissions and you know. If you have to go into a school, it's about getting permissions in advance. If it's a health care setting, HIPPA laws can be massively difficult to overcome. Forget about filming in an emergency room at this point. So permissions in advance, you want your shoots to go as smoothly as possible. You're not leaving it up to chance. So the more you do that, now it's an interesting one, because at this point I have people on my staff, I love having someone else do a pre-interview, because then when I go in to interview, it's fresh. So when people tell you their stories, you only get to light a match once. When you say to somebody, remember that story you told me? Now that the camera's rolling, could you tell it to me again? It's never as good. It's flat, it's almost rehearsed, you're not as interested because you now have already been around the block with the person. There's a crackling freshness about that first interview. So if you have the luxury of collaborating, it sure is nice having someone else do some of that pre-vetting and then give you some notes about what kinds of things you should mine for, because here are the compelling things in this person's interview. What if you don't have that luxury? If you don't have that luxury, you do want to take some notes about the well told stories and some of the kind of catchphrases, because then in an interview you might say, hey, when we were on the phone, you used a great phrase. Can you say that and tell me what that meant? Remind me what the context was. So you're going to try to gear them in that way, but I feel like that's also why you want to do the interview first. And people often ask that. Do you do your interview first, or do you wait until somebody's comfortable with you? And I love doing an interview first. It is that time, also they're very meditative interviews. And again, back to people want to be listened to. If you are there and you are just all ears and eyes, and you're patient and attentive, I can't remember anybody I've interviewed who didn't want to share a story. I mean, some people are less articulate than others, but we all have stories. And so if we feel somebody's interested in us, then it's amazing how our mouths can start to move. And also, I want to add once again, this kind of work is unnatural in many ways. It's kind of weird. It's not normal to say tell me your story, but wait a second, let me put a mic up your shirt and set up lights and cameras, right? So there's an art to finessing this, and for some people, it might be a very uncomfortable thing to have to do. You might be the most outgoing gregarious person, but this doesn't feel right, because the way you like to have conversations with people is not with all this paraphernalia and these, not restrictions, but you really do need to be mindful of that. How many times do we show up and you may be really excited, you start to talk to the subject, then you go wait a second, because you realize they're starting to deliver gold, and you have nothing set up, right? Now, that's the natural human way you would do it. Hey, how are you doing? You start them to get in conversation with you, and then you start to open up, right? So you have to find this way of, this funky kind of way of operating where it's like I get permission to come into your life, I reel you in a little bit, and then I say, OK, stop now, and I'm going to set up the super structure of the interview, and then it's like, OK now, give me your heart and soul, right? It's hard enough to do that even without the gear. So it's something to be mindful of if you feel this is something that doesn't come naturally to you, it's something you need to be cognizant of so that you don't miss that gold, you don't miss those great anecdotes or tidbits when you get the person to start to speak. Right. And then also determining how much is a formal interview and how much you just need to loosen up and let that camera roll but just make sure you're holding steady. Because if they're in a groove, and it's comfortable, and you can make a situation work, then you do. Oh, yeah. She's famous for doing really long interviews, and as the camera person, you're like, OK, enough already. My back hurts. Anyway, but it's amazing. She'll be like what appears to be she's ended it and thank you and all that, and I'm ready. Shut the camera off or do my room tone, and then she'll say, by the way, blah blah blah, and then the next thing you know, the best sound bites come. So again, Julie's exceptional. It's years of experience, but I hope these are little tidbits of information that get your mind going about how you would integrate that into who you are and what would be comfortable for you in your working method.

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!