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Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 27 of 35

Shoot: Capturing a Scene


Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 27 of 35

Shoot: Capturing a Scene


Lesson Info

Shoot: Capturing a Scene

So capturing a scene. Yeah. You wanna take this? All right, so this is, this is sort of a setup for a visit by this young violinist Takumi who is a client of David's so, in anticipation of this our goal is to get interaction. This is the one chance we have where David, this very laconic figure will actually interact with another human being. So we're looking for not just the meet and greet but hopefully some kind of moments, moments. Just real moments that humanize them and maybe also help tell the story as well, you know? B-roll audio, really important, I think we're gonna talk about this later but to keep on rolling is something I've tried to teach myself. Especially when you're working in the short form there's a lot of stop-start, you know? I'll get him going from here to here and then I'll stop. But when you're in a scene that is unfolding you keep on rolling because of the audio if nothing else so that you have uninterrupted audio, even if the visual is not going to be used, ...

okay? And again work the angles, you hear this over and over again, try to be creative with your angles and just try different things as much as you can, and that gets back to that capture being, not just doing. So how interesting is it to get, "Hey Takumi how're you doing?" you know it's like, you get that, but then what you want is something else, something more atmospheric or, sometimes you get that through playing with angles, and anticipation is so critically important in verite and documentary work, and that comes back to using all your senses and using the powers of observation, and when Julie talks about me basically using my peripheral vision, I'm so conscious of that all the time and I don't think it's just because I was training as a photographer. If anything in video you need it even more. But it's always that idea that whatever I'm concentrating on I'm listening who or what might be coming. I might be smelling something, "Oh, I smell something burning around the corner," "I wonder what, maybe there's smoke." You know, just use your senses, not just your eyes, all your senses. And that enables you to anticipate. So I feel a lot of this the process is, do research and educate so you understand what you're looking at and what you're trying to get. Observe. Anticipate, and react. If you can get, it's muscle memory too, I really feel a lot of this is muscle memory, it's like being an athlete. The more you do it, then it becomes second nature and it's not hard, it's just you're going with the flow. And there's something kind of magical about it. So let's play this. All right, so if you guys can come over here for just a second? So what we're gonna do now is we want to film you coming to David' shop, so we're gonna actually have you walk down this path, we're have somebody cue you so you know to start walking. The cue will probably be a hand signal like this. Ed will be outside filming you, I will be inside. When you come inside you should just act as thought you just arrived and you're here to meet David and just pretend that I'm not inside and we'll film you actually starting to work together. Okay. All right. Okay. And try not, don't look at my camera or Julie's camera. Just ignore us. Okay. Unless we need to give you direction or whatever, all right? Okay. Okay cool. Okay good. So if you wanna go, let's say, go towards the end of this corridor here and I'll just give you a hand signal when ready and just start walking in with a sense of purpose to see David. Good, okay. Well, the main this is I have a concert tomorrow. And so I've been coming here forever so I thought I'd get a checkup today and see how my instrument is. Yeah. So that's the Hill. It's nice bow isn't it? It really is. Would you like to see it? Yep. So everything feels good. I think so, yes. Sounds good. Is it hot there? It was actually raining when we got there and it was pretty cold but it did warm up. Now that you got the Hill Bow and you liked one of the others, the new ones, yeah. Okay, everything looks about normal. Let's hear it. (classical violin music) It's always interesting, it's always tricky when you're working with a second shooter and you have to sort of form this dance with each other where you don't-- Hey guys, you're in my shot. This is exactly what I'm talking about. You're in my shot you guys, why don't you come and join me in this? That was perfect right? That's exactly what I was telling you about. But I failed in this case. (classical violin music) I think it did open up a lot, actually. A little bit. It does feel a little bit surfacey still I think, on the bottom two. Okay. Julie I thinking of trying like a severe angle straight up. Okay, from where? You're wide, just literally underneath Takumi. Do you want me, did you want wide or did you want? No I think this might be ridiculous but I just wanna ... (classical violin music) Okay. All right. So, the two camera dance. Sometimes successful, sometimes not. We're watching this and we're realizing just on that last sequence before I went low how we were basically shooting the same thing from a different angle so as sort of critique of what we did, sometimes that's why it's so important to communicate. And in one way when I worked this young filmmaker I work with and we've done a little bit ourselves where we'll literally walk into a situation and we've got like a code where it'll be T or W. We'll walk in and he'll go, "I'm T." And I know that means okay, he's gonna shoot tight. And I'll be wide. So that you walk into a situation and you're not just stepping on each other physically or getting in each other's way, but you're not shooting the same thing from a different angle. You know cause then you're fittering away the benefit of having two cameras. Right. All right. And that comes with time and working with someone, you know? It's so beautiful from an editor's, filmmaker's point of view to have two angles on a scene. And obviously getting cutaways is the advantage of having two. So we could have been tag teaming even better than we did in terms of capturing the playing, the listening, we also did the no-no where we're on opposite sides so we're not even, we're breaking that line which is not so good. You want to explain that more actually? Cause we haven't really touched on that. Yeah. It's really important. So just in terms of when you're seeing an action if you get the tight shot or the cutaway shot it should mirror the scene. So if you're gonna have people flopping from side to side in a frame, to the viewer something is not computing properly. There's something wrong. Now this is again it's a rule of thumb and it's something that you should understand, do properly, but I am of that mindset that even that is breaking down because viewer's are so sophisticated now. They're not fooled by the fact that magically footage is captured and the camera people are not there, and there isn't some hand involved in crafting this. So I think that a lot of the rules we abide by, yes they are logical, the brain functions that way. So for example if you were going to be going back and forth between the two of us you want the cuts to mirror from your perspective what would that look like if we're gonna toggle between. You wouldn't want people jumping across the frame in a reaction shot. But on the other hand I do think that you have latitude now than you've ever had in terms of the viewer being sophisticated enough to kind quickly adjust with you. So if you screw up don't beat yourself up on it. I think that you have more flexibility than would have been true years ago, let's say. And now with VR there is no line. Right, right. Everywhere and nowhere. Allow a scene to play out. So this is back to, we let this whole scene unfold, if you notice there's no direction, it is just happening. We didn't really know what kind of exchange they would have, it turned out that he did test the violin out a couple of times and something wasn't sounding quite right and he handed the violin back. So we let this whole scene just play out and we just kept shooting and kind of trying to figure out how to cover. It's an opportunity to get cutaways if you hadn't gotten them because the scene continued, we were fortunate it didn't happen in three minutes flat and Takumi was out of there. So you let it play out, you keep rolling, the audio is valuable. Also, Ed and I had Lavs on each camera. I had Takumi, Ed had David. So when I was editing I was actually having to steal audio and flip back and forth because I want to adjust Lav tracks when they were speaking. So it was a problem if one of had decided, "You know, I'm not getting anything." So even if the shot wasn't there that audio was still really valuable. And you understand what we mean when say keep rolling for audio, that I might even, it might be that I'm adjusting from one shot to another so my camera is pointed down or wherever but I'm still conscious of the fact that I'm rolling because I have a Lavalier Mic on one of the subjects. You don't have to be obsessed with it as long as the camera is on you have to be having perfect shots. But it's also important to not turn it off because you're adjusting to a new angle or a new frame. I can't emphasize that enough because there's so much magic that happens, especially when you're in a scene, a verite scene. And one thing that we're always looking for, and really struggle with a lot, especially in the short form is to get scenes. So that the film is not just me talking and telling you my story and then sort of footage that some how illustrates it. That it's so nice to have the subject stop talking and show a scene. Right, that's where the real magic is, and where something unfolds, something plays out, there's an interaction that elevates the story, and or the character to a new level, whether it's on an emotional level, or it's just an information level, whatever it may be. Because again the great stories have transitions and transformation. Just thinking about to also think about what did you learn from that scene? So if you think about it's a pretty simple scene. A young guy comes in with his mom, gets his violin tuned up, done. But it tells me a few things. First of all I'm very impressed, when he starts to play I'm thinking, "Oh, David isn't just doing five year olds" "who are just starting out." "David's actually pretty legit if this kid comes here." So consciously I'm building a lot of story that will never be spoken. I also see that Takumi is so advanced and he's playing, and he hears something where, I don't know if you caught it in this but he says something about, "Well, the G is still a little bit off," like there's some really microscopic adjustment and he hands it back to David and David is then examining this thing and the way he handles this thing and this bit of tuning. In the course of this scene playing out we learn a universe about the precision of this work. Now during the interview David explained, and forgive me I don't remember if it was in what we saw today but he did explain the degree of the kinds of work he does, a violinist will come in here and I might be able to kind of hear it to a degree, but then they have to play it and then they can really hear. And there's this precision to it. I don't need him to say that now, because that scene is gonna tell me that. So this did heavy lift even though it's quite simple. If you think about what your take away was from these moments, it's doing a lot more than meets the eye. You know also from an experiential point of view, when Takumi started to play it was like, "Whoa, I am now in the presence of," you know that on an experience level it's almost like you want to stop shooting and just listen and you know, just to come back to that again this is one of the inspiring, motivating things about doing this work is that you get to meet and see extraordinary things and people, and in this case from my perspective someone like Takumi is quite extraordinary and that in a way we had a privilege that day. That it elevated the day for me just to witness Takumi. Let alone David with his craftsmen. And again you have to care about these things, because if you don't then your work is kind of wooden, no matter how beautiful it may be, no matter how well done it may be, there's gonna be something missing, you know? And so I can't emphasize that enough, this is about opening up your senses. Being open to the world and being truly engaged and excited about learning and witnessing and seeing new things. And I would say in that simple day, this simple little film, that in the end maybe doesn't mean very much, there were two ways I was touched very deeply, which is watching a craftsman at work and being reminded how almost this zen, simplistic beauty of that, just that. And then this young, maestro, what do I know about the violin, I was forced to play it when I was young so I have scars. But you know, this young man who's incredible. We got a little glimpse of that. It's a privilege. This work is a privilege. And when you really feel that, people pick up, they pick up on that. And it's again it's that whole idea of, some of this is a seduction, you know? And it's manipulative. Not in a negative way, I mean you can make it negative, but there's a way I'm basically trying to get you to open up your life to me and let me see these things that you would probably not let anyone else or most people see, and let me record it. And on the flip side I got an email from David thanking us for what a wonderful experience it was to have us in there filming. So to me, that's everything, that's the gift. That's like saying we did our job well. Regardless of what we captured, we did our job well. And there were a couple of things that he said in his interview, not sure we can share, where we were asking him about some aspects of the kinds of violins he works on and he said some things that we had in the original cut. It was about the value of the violins. And then he emailed without even knowing she had it in the cut, "I'd rather you didn't use that," and of course we took it out. For obvious reasons. Now, if we were working for a media outlet. That would be a different, it would be trickier. Because then you're weighing the value of that information in terms telling the story to the protecting the subject's safety, not safety, but you know what I'm trying to say, to protect the subject. Even in something as simple as that we were faced with a little bit of an ethical question which was a no brainer in this case, which is you just take it out. Because there's nothing to be gained, so. And this one is from Stephanie Christopher who says, "I noticed that the camera is very close" "to the subjects in the scene." "How do you help the subjects stay in the moment" "when you're moving in and our so close to them," "especially I they are the only one" "in the scene of the film and they might not" "have had time to acclimate to the camera." "So, going back to that quote that you said about" "capturing people being, not just doing." "How do you become invisible?" And so I think there are two things. One is establishing that we are working together. It's a collaboration. So that's first and foremost because David is in some way, he is doing his activity in tandem with me. I'm doing my activity, he's doing his, and they fit together. So that's a lot of that collaborative spirit. But I also feel it's a tone that you set as the documentarian, as the shooter. It's a tone you set. Again back to a medical analogy it's like nurses are brilliant at this because nurses make you feel confident like they got this under control and it's gonna be okay even if you're bleeding, they're like, "Don't worry, I've seen worse," you know, "We got this." It's like on an airplane when you feel turbulence, don't you watch the flight attendants and you're like, "They're calm," "they're up in this tin can every day." "They're fine, it's okay." I can keep reading my book and sipping my glass of wine. It's the same thing. So when you're in that space with your subject it's like saying this is gonna be okay, and at some point to stop talking. That's really important, because, a lot of times people when they're nervous they feel like they need to fill the space so they talk incessantly and I cannot tell you how hard it is to edit when people's lips are moving all the time because you don't want that audio. So a lot of it is where you stop talking and allow the silence to be comfortable. Because he can't really do his work if he's busy entertaining me and engaging me. So that's one of the ways that you have to be able to let it be okay for us to be quiet together, and that takes a little bit more time. So this is a question I get asked a lot and I'm gonna answer it in a slightly different way. May I approach the bench? But so some of this is about how you move through the world physically with your equipment. It's not only how you handle your equipment, but also so, if I may, let's say you're my subject, right, and you happen to be in this group. So if I come up to you and I do this, probably not gonna be so good. But if I do this. And I sort of ease my way in, and maybe I make some eye contact with you. It's the unspoken dance, it's the silent dance, right? And especially if I'm dealing with women because I'm not a huge guy but I could be an imposing male figure, or if I'm dealing with kids. You have to read, you have to be a humanist. And sometimes I don't even, I can just look at you across the room and I realize I'm good. Like you've given me the message I can approach you physically and it's okay. And sometimes you loom over people, sometimes you're crawling on your knees, but it's about how you move through the world, and it's this unspoken dance. You make some kind of human contact, and you'll let me know if it's okay or not. Even without saying any words, and there is a magic to that. Again there's a seduction to it that is really beautiful. And then what happens is the equipment disappears. Which is also why it's important not to fumble with it. Right if I'm here I'm doing all this stuff, you're gonna be going, first of all, get out of my way. And secondly does this guy know what he's doing and now I'm losing confidence in him. So some of these are pretty obvious things, but they're also very subtle and they go a long way, a long way in making your subject feel comfortable with you and your equipment. And you've gotta be comfortable being close to people. Some people are not. It starts with you. Are you okay being this close when you're shooting something? Are you okay with that or is that kind of, makes you a little anxious, so I guess that's a big part of it. Yeah, yeah. As an editor when you're going through all this audio, I was really interested hearing about transcribing interviews as a good method to cull through. But when you're culling something you can't transcribe. Ambient sounds. How do you go about that, quickest way possible, best way, most efficient? Right, so the fact that you shot it helps immensely, because you know where the peaks were in those, in the verite moments, you know where the peaks were. But you still need to listen through everything if you're gonna mine the best bits, and there's thing you forgot, or there are connective pieces you will still need. There's no shortcut to scrapping the rest of it. I'm a visual person so I like crafting with my hands and my eyes more than just on a piece of paper. I was just thinking if there are a couple of people, say the violinist and David, together, and they start having a conversation and you kind of miss the beginning of it. Would you ever say, "Would you mind just talking about that again?" I know that's a prompting right there. But if it was something really good and kind of necessary to the story, is that something that you would ever do? More likely I would not have anybody repeat because as I said then it's wooden, but what I might do is I might just at some point just say to them, "What are you guys talking about?" So I'd probably do it in a more conversational way and just let them explain again and hopefully that'll work. I find that more successful than saying, "I wasn't filming at the beginning," "would you guys mind repeating what you said?" It just throws them off their mojo. Or it could be like, "You were talking about the G didn't sound right." "I didn't quite, could you, I'd love to hear that again." Just in a nice way of saying, "Can you repeat that?" Play dumb. Play dumb.

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!