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Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 25 of 35

Shoot: Capturing B-Roll


Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 25 of 35

Shoot: Capturing B-Roll


Lesson Info

Shoot: Capturing B-Roll

So now we're gonna talk about B-roll, speaking of process. (chuckles) Okay, so... I'll state the obvious, B-roll is everything that's not interview, okay? Just to get that off my chest. (laughs) So your B-roll is really the visual magic of your film. And so it's also one of the reasons that it's a relief once you get that interview in the can, so that now you get to play. Because this is the place where you get to express yourself creatively. Where you get to really be in the space with your subject to dance around that space and find what your eye sees differently from everybody else. Ed and I are working together in the field, in Seattle here for this pre-shoot, so we also had to be able to dance together and coordinate, collaborate, make sure that we're getting different material so we don't just have two sets of the same shots, so we often will go into a situation and discuss in advance who's gonna cover what. I tend to do details; Ed is a master at really capturing action that's...

moving through a space. He's got just a phenomenal ability to track and predict what's happening. And I'm always impressed, and I don't remember if it shows up in our pre-shoot video, but I'm always impressed that Ed is able to focus on what he's capturing, and still, I think his eyes must move in different directions because one eye always seems to know what else is happening in the space. I struggle with that personally, which is why I think I like shooting details, because when I'm in the viewfinder of my camera, there is nothing but what's in the viewfinder, so the rest of the world disappears, which is not really helpful when you're trying to capture verti moments, because you do need to be able to still be very aware of what's going on. So what we'll do is we're gonna take a look at the pre-shoot video, and I want you to look for a few things in this. This idea of whether to direct or not direct your subject. Now, as journalists, that's really breaking the code of ethics to direct your subjects. But you're gonna see us do it in this pre-shooting. You are gonna see us do it, so this is the disclaimer. This was a shoot for a very specific purpose, it's a controlled shoot, and it's a shoot that had to be done very quickly, so we have a checklist of what we need to accomplish, it was about being very efficient in the field, so this also dictates how you're operating in the field. If I'm doing a documentary, I have a lot more breathing room and what I'm gonna do is show up and just say you do you, forget about me, I'm just gonna capture what's happening. And that's just that golden standard, you know, that gold standard of documentary film making. And also people have different philosophies on this. Sorry to interrupt but there are film makers we know, that, let's just say in this case, as I said earlier, we viewed this film as a sort of a client film, right? And so in that sense, I think we agree on this, we're cool to say hey, would you walk in the door, you know, we're gonna set this shot up. If we were doing documentary work, we just wouldn't do that. You know, we just wouldn't do that. If we miss it, we miss it, hopefully we're with them another day, or we have another chance to get something that we think we need. But there are film makers I know that even with client work they'll never do that, they'll never be like would you walk into your office and sit down. They'll never do that. And for others it's just pretty normal operating procedure. So that's something for you and your maker to decide on, you know, but I think it is very important, not to take too much time on this, but the ethics of the process of what we do is critically important, and I think you alluded to this earlier, that if, you know, with the transcript, if you break it once, you throw all of your work into question. And once that happens, as documentarians or journalists, then we're really on a really slippery slope. And I don't even know how much people trust what they see anymore. To some measure these may be standards, from, you know, when we were coming up, early days, as opposed to right now in this moment. I think people are very suspicious of what they see, because they realize how much can be manipulated. But the goal for us is to do less staging, even if we have to instruct the subject a bit, what we will not do is have them do something they wouldn't normally do. I don't care if it's for a client, not client, whatever it is, long form, short form, I want to be authentic and truthful in what is captured ultimately, so it's much more a question, well, what would you normally be doing? Like, so we asked David this question, well are there any things you might be doing outside? Because we were thinking it would be great to get you right outside your building, it's a cool red exterior, it's right near train tracks, so we said well is there anything you might be doing out here? And he said well yeah, sometimes I do this process but it's very complicated and it takes hours, and so we said oh well okay that's not happening, and we're not gonna have you pretend to do it. When you have people pretend to do things, they always look like they're pretending to do things. You cannot get around that. Most people do not act very well. So there is that feeling of like, even in a doctor's office, a doctor pretending to give someone a checkup, even though they normally give checkups, there's something wooden about the way they'll do it, and it's not convincing. Somewhere in your mind and in your heart when you watch that footage, it's like it's not ringing true. And you feel it. So it's more important to muster your own creative juices to cover what the people actually are doing than the other way around, to have them fit into what you need. And that should be your goal as a creator, I think, is to try to overcome when the situation doesn't just deliver. The goal with the B-roll is to make sure that you are letting the visuals tell a story. So what you're hoping you'll be able to do also, is not just have cover for the interview, but maybe eliminate some of your soundbites so that the visuals can tell me what this guy is doing, how he's doing, what he's doing. So the B-roll is also going to establish a sense of place, so you'll see the kinds of shots we were looking for, so you will wanna be thinking into your exterior as well. And then placing our character within that scene. Or context. So it'll be interesting also, you'll see a lot things we shot, and then when you see the finished film, you'll see what ended up making into the film you know, from the footage that you're exposed to now. All right. Let her rip. All right, so we've done the interview with David, with our subject, and now I wanna get an establishing shot of him coming in to his studio, and so what I was thinking was, there's this wonderful alleyway here with this great, you know, sunlit corrugated red exterior, and then I like, you know, we're in an industrial zone, and I wanna show that, so the idea of this shot is not only to establish the simplistic idea that David walks in which is about showing time, but it's also establishing where his studio is. So the shot I wanna do, and David, it's pretty simple, I'm gonna start by having the camera on the highway there, I wanna get some cars passing, but to get the timing right, as soon as I feel I've got that part of the shot, I'll give you a hand signal, you can go to the end, you don't even have to go that far actually, you can go like two thirds of the way down, and then I'll give you a hand signal and then I'm gonna pan down as you basically ignore me and walk in the door of your studio. And then I want Julie inside so she can capture him entering. All right, and so for the inside shot where we get to show the sort of sequence of David, we've shown him walking through the exterior of where his studio is, now we'll have him come in, and Jules, if you'll come here and join me, and so for the second camera which you will be, what I imagine is you positioned pretty squared off so you get violins, you get the cranes of the port, which again identifies where his studio is. And then it's a simple shot, you'll get him across, don't move, I would prefer if you don't move until he is out of the frame, past the windows. Okay. Okay, and then it's a simple shift and you'll have time to try it, you know, yourself, so that the next frame is from doorway to where he'd be seated to start working. Okay. Okay? Yep, I got it. All right, so David, if you'll go sort of two thirds of the way down and then just look for my hand signal, when I give it, walk, and walk briskly, you don't have to run but just walk pretty briskly, like with a sense of purpose, and then just literally do not look at the camera, I'm not here, and just walk in the door, don't look at Julie, who will be in there, just go and sit down. I assume you normally walk in the door and sit down and start working, right? Sure. What do you do actually? Usually I come in and I'll raise the blinds, and figure out what I'm gonna work on, and then start the day, start on my radio. So the blinds, is the radio over there? It's my phone, yeah. So what would be ideal is that you walk in the door and then walk to your work space even if you don't immediately start working, like turn on the radio, turn on a light, and then sit down, okay? Yeah. All right, and then what I'll do, a crew member will give Julie a hand signal that you're coming. All right. So I'm gonna have you actually come in again, it's very difficult for me to shift between how bright it is outside and then the lighting inside. So what I'm gonna have you do is come in again, I'm actually gonna stand over here, and this way I'm not competing with the light outside. We'll have you come in, same thing, you'll pretend I'm not here, come in, sit down at your desk and start working. Okay. Okay, thanks. All right. I would much rather be over there so that I'm not trying to adjust my exposure from outdoor light to indoor light. Okay so I'm gonna have him come in again did you hear why? Yeah yeah, I'm all set. Okay good, I'm gonna be right here so I will block your door a tiny but but I'll be here. Whenever you're ready! Julie! Yeah. Ah, man, this beautiful connection here, visually, of getting him with the slats. Oh pretty! But then I also was shooting through when the car came through, so there's like this repetition of, well you could kind of cut from the rail car going through the frame which I did already and then this. Nice, nice, this is beautiful. So teaching moment, so just this is an example of where this is something you don't plan for, I'm just observing, I'm using my senses I'm using my observational skills and I hear this loud rail car go by literally what is this? 20, 30 meters from where we are, so I did a shot, maybe a 20 second shot, still shot of just the car slowly going through and you hear the sounds and screeches on the railways and so I think whatever, I'm always thinking when I'm working with Julie, with any editor, but particularly Julie, you know, what's going to excite her as an editor? What visual or what element might I capture that, like, for me like Nirvana is when she'll call or e-mail and say that was such a great shot! You know, especially when I'm with her in the field. So then I happen to come here, I was trying to stay out of her way, and I was just looking, is there maybe an angle and then I see the reflection of the slats of the fence, in the window here, with David in the background working, and I'm thinking okay, there's a visual connection here. It might only be five, 10 seconds within the film, but it could be that little bit of accent or a little bit of magic that propels it along. Okay, so that's a little taste of us playing well in the field together. (laughs) So you can see we nailed down the basics, we got him coming in, it's a pedestrian kind of a shot, so you never know if you're gonna need it, use it, but it's good to get it. Transitional shots are valuable, so you just don't know if you're gonna need that moment of somebody entering a building, leaving a building, the beginning, it's that sort of wrapper transitional shot. So it's, quite frankly it's almost a shot you hope not to have to use, but you want to have it. And we ended up doing it later, again, which you're gonna get to see when we have the young violinist come. So it's just to have those shots that when you're editing, you're prepared, you know, should you need shots. What you got to see a lot of is this kind of prep exterior and this idea that Ed found this very beautiful shot through the window, which is quite frankly, one of the nicest shots in the whole finished film because it's an interesting shot, it's got layering, and so it's a testament to just, he's always seeing and thinking and capturing sort of surprising angles when he's out there shooting. And then, obviously, we were capturing this action of David arriving and starting his day at work. So trying to make sure that, because we had two people, interior, exterior, continuity of action, and it's easy to cut together. So that was like a freebee in terms of editing. It's like oh that's an easy one, that gives me that option. Again, you'll see, and I hate to burst your bubble, but we ended up not using the shot of him coming towards us and walking in because the framing was such that it's kinda interesting but as the closer he gets the more of his belly we got in the frame and the less of this context. So when I looked at it, it's funny how different footage looks in the moment you shoot it to when you're watching it on your screen. It's so funny how entirely different that experience can be. So we ended up not using it in the final edit after all. Uh, anything else you wanna say? Well you know, we talk about capturing action, but I something that I like to talk a lot about with B-roll is this idea of so often, and this happens with still photography as well, when you're doing a story about a person, let's say, you're constantly trying to get imagery that shows them doing. But really the most interesting work is capturing them being. Yeah. All right? I mean, how interesting, let's say in this case, in this case it actually is kind of visually interesting, to watch him work with the violin because it's a beautiful object, you know, there's some interesting details as we'll get into the next section, but in general, I want you to think about that, that the real magic, visually, and metaphorically, poetic, poetry, you know, all of those other areas where in a dream world we are hitting with our B-roll, is capturing people being, right? So that involves kinda putting on a different set of glasses in how you see the world, so it's not, so you're not making point pictures, you're not getting, and that's the problem with doing, like getting him walking into his place is exactly what I'm saying we shouldn't do, but there's certain habits or there's certain tropes that are hard to break and being with an editor and having done enough of this there are times you actually just need that. And always think for example, you'd think at this point, Hollywood, when they show a character going from New York to L.A., they still show an airplane taking off! You'd think boy at this point wouldn't we have advanced the visual language that we don't need to be so literal? Yet it works, right? Now sometimes it's done very pedestrian, and sometimes it's done in a very artful way, that airplane taking off, right? But we're always trying to figure out how can we not do that? How can we not deploy that trope? How can we come up with a different way of showing the passage or time, or showing transitions? Because these are things that, if you're not doing a linear narrative film, then of course it's different. You can be totally weird and out of sync and time doesn't matter and all that. But when you're trying to tell a story that is more of a linear narrative, then some of these things are required. So anyway, I just want you to think about that, is think more poetically, metaphorically, capture people being, not just doing. Yeah, and I'd love to give an example of that because we shared the boxing film. The opening of that boxing film. Now, boxing is this incredibly dynamic action. So even in a case like that film, it's dynamic, you got a lot of visual, but how much boxing footage can you really look at? It kinda grows old fast unless you're obsessed with boxing. So in the course of that film, my favorite scene, which you didn't get to see, is the coach and the kids in the car. And they're just having conversations in the car because he drives them back and forth to the boxing ring. Otherwise they don't show up. Or it takes them 45 minutes on public transit. So it's this great situation to get them being, as Ed says, and watch relationships unfold. So there's a dynamic established, they're very funny, and comfortable in the car because as everybody is, it's sort of this bubble of natural behavior, it's almost like a habitat in the car, like a terrarium. And so there's a conversation that unfolds between coach and student where the student is giving the coach, like, basically lessons about dating and girls. And it's a very funny exchange, and the coach drives this GT trans-am, like a suped up car, and the kid is saying to him this is not a cool car. Coach, you gotta grow up. (laughter) And it's so funny because it's just, these are the kinds of moments, though, that they've nothing to do with boxing, they have nothing to do with like, the success of an inner city kid to overcome his odds, but they're so relatable that those are the scenes that you will remember when you watch the film, and when you edit, they're the scenes that just buoy up, and you gotta work around them. Because some of the other stuff is far less important than that connection.

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!