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Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 28 of 35

Shoot: A Set Up Shot


Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 28 of 35

Shoot: A Set Up Shot


Lesson Info

Shoot: A Set Up Shot

We are now going to cover the setup shoot that we did. So, we plan to look at this setup shoot we did with the young violinist, who you met during the earlier pre-shoot video. And then we're gonna go through the workflow of bringing all of this content into premier and how to start to distill that content into the best usable bits that are going to create the final documentary. And then, you'll get to see, later this afternoon, what that finished piece look like. So, you'll get to actually see those building blocks and in my mind, this is really where, it's the great mystery to most people because we understand what it takes to get out there and shoot the footage. We understand what it is to deal with people and relate to people and then there's this black magic that seems to happen between that and then watching something really polished that somehow, by a magic wand, turned from raw content into finished film. So, we're gonna go through all those steps. So, to get started. Yeah, bu...

t first, the set-up shot. (both laughs) So, we felt that in the context of this film, the fact that we were given this gift of Takumi, this young violinist, and I think Julie, she came up with this idea and this was actually before we came here to Seattle while we were doing pre-production calls with the CreativeLife folks and this is typical of how it would work, whoever are your liaisons or client or what have you, the liaisons to the subject matter that Julie thought, well, if we can get this violinist to play a full piece and recorded in a clean sound so that the very least we have a complete piece played, laid down with perfect sound. And so, the CreativeLive folks, fortunately had a nice studio to work with. We don't always have that luxury. And then, what you're gonna see here is what we produced, what we shot and you're gonna see pretty much at least, I think we had him play twice. So we had him redo it. And, again, audio is critical in this. Lighting is critical. We took care, well, again, we were able to benefit from the lighting that CreativeLive did. Good job, thank you, guys. And then, camera angles, right? Right. Again, always looking for different camera angles. And the way we dealt with this was we had one camera on a tripod in a fixed position, and so we just, again, we know we have a safe shot, that we can always come back to it. And then I was on, actually with a 400, a really long lens, on a tripod doing kinda details and more abstracted, well, not that abstracted, but more abstracted kinds of shots. Right, and doing a piece about music, obviously, the music is paramount and the idea of having someone perform a live piece absolved me of the responsibility of having to find music to put onto this video. So, isn't that a wonderful thing? There's nothing more satisfying than being able to record something authentic to the situation and not having to go to some royalty-free music site to find something that we'll have to do in a pinch. I know, maybe this is a good moment, hadn't planned on talking about how you normally deal with audio for the sound. Yeah. So, I do use royalty-free sites a lot. I have opted, after many years, to actually have a blanket license with one of the suppliers. Over the years, many years I did not have a blanket license, an annual license with anybody because as we all know, you can go through royalty-free sites and listen to a thousand pieces of music to find one that you like. And, for most of us, I know, that I might know the genre of music I need for a scene but I can't articulate exactly what I want until I hear it, and so, you just, it's very time consuming to go through track after track after track. Sometimes, what I'll do is I have certain royalty-free sites I go to often. So, what I'll do is create folders of sentimental music, emotional, dark, I'll make my own folders because I might come across something I like, and I don't wanna have to try to find it again. So, it helps a lot, while you're doing your research to be building folders within each of the royalty-free sites to save you time in the future. Typically, I don't want to skimp on music if it's going to really help my edit because music creates emotion. I will qualify that. I think you wanna use as little music as possible in the course of your film, but use it in a way that really enhances and adds a dimension that is not created through the footage itself. And by that, I mean like, it drives me up the wall when I watch a short doc and there is music playing the entire time. To me, what that says is you couldn't pull it out from your visuals. That's all it says to me. It says to me that you needed that music to make it feel like it was moving along. So, it's really important to recognize that music is not, it's not the antidote to slow editing. If the editing is that slow, or you don't have the content, the music, don't try to just mask it with music. Figure out how to make that edit more dynamic. So, that said, then music is another sensory experience and it's a manipulative experience as well, 'cause I know that I can tug at your heart strings by playing an emotional piece of music. I know I can get you a little more anxious by some sort of a bed that's a little tense. So, I wanna use that in a really, really intentional way, not a lazy way and not in exchange for the other elements of the film, spoken word and visual. So, I think it's also interesting when you're editing to swap out musics and try a couple of different tracks to see how it influences what that edit feels like 'cause it really can change your entire experience of a scene if there's music there or not. When I'm cutting something that I know is music-driven, then the music has to come in as I'm editing, it's gotta be there already. Whereas if I'm cutting more of a variety situation or just building my narrative, it's fine. I don't want any music 'cause it's a bit of a distraction. So, you do have to decide, is the music motivating the edit or vice versa. Right. Let's let it go here. Okay, you're in for a treat. So we're back at the CreativeLive studio and we're gonna film Takumi playing the violin. We've set up a couple of lights, we did that in advance. And, we've got a rug underneath him to absorb some of the sound. We've already determined that we want him pulled away from the wall, so that we can blur the wall a little bit, and really focus all of the light and camera attention on Takumi while he plays. We decided to use two different lenses, we've got a 50 on this camera, so that we can get the shallow depth of feel, that'll be a static camera, and then we've got a Four. 400, a 400 on this camera. So, we'll get very, very, very tight details on him to interplay between the two. Ready? Okay, great. So, just give us a minute and let's make sure you're still in position. (Takumi speaks faintly) Sorry. Will I be playing through a piece? Yeah, you're gonna. Just play the whole piece start to finish. And so, what I would like you to do is, you're probably okay, I may have you just a hairline to your right again. Yes, perfect. That's it. Okay, so we're ready. You good? Julie. I'm good. I'm rolling. Okay, rolling. (violin music) Wow. (Ed exhales sharply) Wow. Awesome. Truly, truly beautiful. I feel like crying actually. Oh. (Ed exhaling sharply) How does it feel to play something like that? I mean, it's fine, (laughs) I think I'm playing good. This setting makes me a little nervous. Yeah. Well, you don't seem nervous. Thank you. At all, at all. That was amazing. Oh, inspiring. Yeah. You wanna do one more time or, of course you do. That's a dumb question. I've always wanna do one more time. (Ed laughs) You know what I'd love to do? What? Could we, I know you're gonna hate me for this, but could we pull a Osmo out and let him do one and let's move on it. Okay, so then. No, if you don't wanna do that. No, no, no. I understand. I'm happy to play, happy to play, so. And what do we, just put this camera aside for now, or. Well, we. Actually, you seem to hold your position very well. Yeah. You're not moving, I mean, you're moving but you're not really. So, I could, there is a vision there that was so gorgeous. Yeah. You know what? Actually, we do this way. You don't need to monitor this. No. We'll just let this roll, you play with this. I'll do the Osmo, okay? Deal. I like that. (violin music) Wow. (humming in approval) Pretty cool, huh? Wow, you weren't kidding. Yeah. When I said, how long have you been playing? He said, "12 years." I said, how old are you? He said, "15." Yeah. That's commitment. That's 10,000 hours. Yeah. Already. Yeah. And he's only 15. Puts us to shame. Right. So. (Julie exhales sharply) Yeah, I feel emotional just even. Yup, mm-hmm. This is the third or fourth time going through it. Yeah, yeah. So, yeah. We're very lucky, very lucky to experience that. So, what are the takeaways? All right, so we did two takes of the song. Obviously, it's a static subject. We were able to shoot it and work this situation from different angles. The first round you saw, we did in a very safe, stationary way. The second round, it didn't make sense to repeat what we had done because it's not like he was performing a different song. I'm also assuming that the two takes were close enough that it was easy to cut between version one and version two. Partly because our ears are not trained nearly as well. He was probably off 1/100 of it, pace, in his beat or something. But we would never know the difference. So, in the multiple takes, it gave us that kind of latitude to then mix it up, play a little bit and just see what else we could pull from that situation. If we had more time, we would have done more than two take. Oh yeah. I think he certainly has it within him to do more. Yeah, yeah. The audio you saw that we had a boom pole set-up, we decided that would be the best in that situation. Because he's also moving quite a lot, that's just the logical way to capture that sound. We had a lav on him when he was at David shop and so, any of the audio where he's playing in the shop is through the lav, which was blowing the lav out when he would start. So, there was a lot of, kind of adjusting and then there's also the hitting of the lav because it's where his violin is. So, the boom mic made the most sense. The sound quality is beautiful. The rug underneath helped because it was quite a large room, that just helped to buffer a little bit the resonance. And then that mic, if you saw it was quite close also. It's as close as it can be and still remain out of frame. In the second take, that first camera with the 50 millimeter lens, you were still running that on the tripod, was that purely for audio off the boom and do you just throw away that footage with that hand-held camera? Never throw any, we don't throw any of the footage away. And part of what we did is we thought, you know what, so this is gonna be the shot that you see beyond the seams also because Ed is coming and going and it was in such a context that it was one of those things that you never know. What if you wanted to break it down so it doesn't feel like you're pretending, this visual is disembodied. To break the fourth wall. Breaking the fourth wall. So, you never know. It could be useful as footage. So, we never throw it away. Storage space is so cheap too, and it feels like I'd rather store everything, hold on to it, until it's just so outdated, nobody can use it for anything. And also, I had told Takumi, I said to he and his mother afterwards, that I'm happy to give you a polished start to finish edit of this performance. So what I'll do, is I've multi-cammed it and I'll just cut between shots, paste it all up, and then they will have for their own sake, a copy of this to keep when he's applying to schools it was a beautiful performance. All right, so lessons learned in terms of, sort of overall comments about making a short film and in relation to what we've done also as well. I hope you've seen like, use your time efficiently. Also, don't overshoot, which is kind of, maybe goes against the answer of the last question. But that as much as possible, when you're working on a tight timeline and if you know you're only gonna produce a short piece in the end, 'cause we don't always know that. A lot of the films we enter into, we know that it's not gonna be 30, 60, 90 minutes but we don't know if it'll be three minutes or 15 minutes. So, we don't restrict our shooting. But when it comes to either client work or let's say something like this where there's real finite goal here. It's better not to overshoot because it creates all these other backend responsibilities and issues. They're time consuming.

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

    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.

  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.


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!

a Creativelive Student

Outstanding!!! I am midway through the class and felt compelled to write a review to let Creativelive and everyone else know how amazing this class is. I have watched several classes on Creativelive but this is far superior to others I have viewed. Ed and Julie are clear masters in their craft of storytelling. If you are undecided about which class to take in the category of filmmaking you MUST put this at the top of your list. It is first class. Frankly, I wish all Creativelive instructors were of this caliber. They are delivering concise information that is incredibly impactful. I love that they are here to teach and not sell their DVDs. Thank you, Ed and Julie, you are a magnificent team.