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Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 26 of 35

Shoot: Detail Shots


Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 26 of 35

Shoot: Detail Shots


Lesson Info

Shoot: Detail Shots

Once you start to do details, then it becomes this incredibly absorbing and actually very exciting aspect of shooting video. It is that opposite of looking around and using my peripheral vision and saying, "I'm gonna look at just how does the light play off these glasses, and when you change angles, and then when a hand comes in, or a machine does something," or whatever it may be. It's that idea of going almost not microscopic, but so close, and there's a precision to it. There's a beauty to it. There's a visual beauty that in some ways is hard to replicate in other ways. So details, details, details. Can't express how important that is. And again, you need time. Obviously, you need time to do that. Where you're rushed, and you're trying to get the sense of play set up shots, and you have to do your interview, and so forth and so on, details might be the thing that fall by the waistside, but I would urge you to not let that happen. Take that extra time. Play with your angles, and just...

look for the graphic elements. So this next piece is gonna be some footage of us shooting details, and there's also no audio, I believe. So, we can talk about it. You get the annotated version. (laughs) Okay. I mean that's a good example quite frankly of I'm already focused getting details of the violin, and I allow him to enter frame, and start motion happening, and there you see. And in this case, Julie's choice was a 50 millimeter 14I nominal. We're not suppose to have our gear, but a very shallow depth of field. I find shooting details as I get more and more into it, I love working with, we have a 400 mil, but like a really long lens, where you, again, you know what details can do. They can be descriptive, like this is a case where you're achieving a certain amount of intimacy of the action, of his process, of the craftsmanship in this case. When you put a really long lens on and get even tighter, what you do is you show things that the eye doesn't see. So, you almost create a new world. As a viewer, I hope it's exciting, but as the shooter, it's thrilling. Yeah, this film I was just working on where I would say 80% of the B-roll was shot with a 400 mil lens, and I went to places I never been before, and then you just start to see how light plays off and little bits of movement change things, and then movement in and out of the frame with your characters or whatever it may be. So again-- I'd like you to take note actually just because I want you to see how long the shots are I'm shooting. They're really long. So, I'm doing that for a couple of reasons, one because I don't know exactly what he's going to do next, and I don't know which bits of this I might use. I've got a cut away that's tight on his face, so I know I've got a cut away, but it's also because I don't know how much I need to cover. So, it may be that I want longer shots to cover, and there's that shot that Ed got from outside, beautiful. If we weren't rushed, I would've spent a lot more time on this. And one thing I did was I used the ... I used my microphone, my shotgun mic against the window, (audience ahs) so that I could try to be as smooth with the sort of skit. So, you find all these different ways to look like Spielberg. No. (audience laughs) Not. You can see also that Ed is incredibly steady just handheld and using the icup also to stabilize, whereas I'm not. I shoot very differently than he does. You see I'm on a monopad. I've got it in a pouch. It's also because the weight of the camera for me is too much to hold steady. I just don't have the upper body strength, so I have to do that. I like a monopad because it gives me a lot of maneuvering space, so it's as close to handheld without being fully handheld that I can manage. And I know a lot of women, this is a challenge. If you're shooting, it is a challenge, and I don't like shooting tripod. I feel stuck when I have a tripod. But if you can work with a tripod, like if it doesn't hamper your style, it's obviously a great way to hold really steady. We don't do the shoulder rigs. That's obviously also another great way to hold steady. Yeah, so with details, you need patience, which means you need time. I think with all of this, time seems to be the biggest factor in our lives as filmmakers or as journalists, whatever, that the more time you have, the more you can take a breath and see more deeply and spend more time, try different things when you're in a rush. The practical side of it is it's important if you're gonna be doing client work, which I assume most people need to do, you also need to know how to work quickly and problem solve and make decisions on the run. Like in the case of this shoot, we had example amount of time within the day because we had to ... Takumi, the young violinist, was coming at a certain time, and then we had to go to meet him in the studio later in the day to record, as you'll see later. So, it wasn't like a free for all day, "Oh, let's just, you know relax." It was like we had to really be on target. Anyway, and a lot of the time you're working, this is how you're working, even with personal work because you're dealing with other people's schedules and they don't necessarily have the whole day to give you. One shot that we haven't mentioned at all that please add to your list is you've got to get some shots when you're out there that you could put titles over and credits over. It is so damn easy to forget that. So, you need that and it's got to be a tripoded shot because when a shot is moving, it is really obvious because the text is static. So, it's so easy to forget. I shot some stuff that I thought would work to put titles over in the afternoon shoot we did with our violinist, but it's just one of those things that is very easy to come back into your edit session and realize that you were so busy trying to catch the action that you forgot to get just a graphic backdrop for text. So, let's talk about that timing, length of a shot. So just to step back with the details, you were saying hold them for a while, what would you say, about 20 seconds? Yeah. A lot of that stuff I was holding, yeah, easily 20 seconds. Right, so just think about that 20 seconds. Then for the titles, what would you call that? Like a visual bed for titles. For titles, that's a-- I would also-- 30, 60 seconds even. Well, you wouldn't need that long. But let's say at least 30 seconds. Yeah. Right, better to go long than to go short. And yes, absolutely on the tripod, or you saw with one shot, I placed it on the table, or you place it on the floor, but the idea is absolutely steady. No movement. No movement at all-- Yeah. For the title shot. Minimal, minimal movement. You'll correct with a warp stabilizer in editing, but you would be better off not having a problem to correct, ideally. That's almost like saying you're gonna fix the exposure in post. Better to nail the exposure, than having to clean up your mistakes. On a short sheet like this, like you said time is kind of of the essence. So, I'm curious how you balance getting the essential shots? Him not walking, you may not use it, but you know it's good to have, balancing that with also allowing time for you to just be creative and kind of experiment and know that maybe you might be missing a couple essentials, but is worth it in the end to kind of have that, I don't know, great shot that don't is gonna exist because you didn't have that time to play around? Yeah. I think everyone works differently and thinks differently. I am someone who likes to schedule, even if it's just in my head, even if I'm not making it a formal announcement to the whole crew or my subject, but sometimes you do need to do that too. So for me it would be like, "Okay, we're gonna get there at 9 o'clock, 11 o'clock." The subject's arriving. Takumi, the violinist's arriving, so we have two hours. So, what do we need to do in those two hours? We need to do the A-roll interview. We want to do that first. How much time roughly do we think we're gonna need? I'm starting to plot it out. That doesn't mean that at 20 minutes, I'm saying, "Okay, we're done," but I'm trying to plot it out 'cause what it does for me ... And again, everybody works differently. For some people, it might be the exact opposite, that you don't even think about time. You just flow with things, but that would make me incredibly anxious because the mark of being a professional is you get it. Yeah. And even if it's uncomfortable for me, even if it's not the ideal way I'd like to work or think, bottom line is the end of the day, I need it in the can. And when it's my personal work, it's almost on a deeper level in some weird way, even if I'm not being paid for it. You know what I mean? Because often you only have one shot. So anyway, you need to figure out for yourselves. And everyone out there, you need to figure out for yourself what is your MO? What is going to work best for you? And then the other thing that's important is not to translate that, tension isn't the right word, but anxiety or stress that you might be feeling onto your subject. Right. Or even the people you're working with. You need to find a way to manage that, so that you're on track in the course of this day. You get your interview, you get your B-roll, you get your details, you get your scenics, you get your place setting, you get other subject coming in for that bit of time. You include travel time in that. That's how you have to be thinking. I always feel that doing this work, you're part logistician, you're part artist, you're part journalist or documentarian. You're wearing a number of hats. And some I think is understanding. I know I was thinking as an editor walking into the shoot. So, I was thinking if I'm going to make this have lyricism, I am gonna want to make those objects, the violins, as sensual as I can make them. So I know I walked in thinking a lot about details because I thought this is going to need to elevate on the beauty of the object. So I know that was my preoccupation when I walked in the door, which is also why I got immediately tight in with him, and tried to just get a lot of that intimacy with the object because I knew that I couldn't have too much of that. And even despite how much I shot of that, when I went to edit, I was still thinking, "Oh, I used that shot already." "I need another." "I wish I had two other shots." So, it's still never enough. You can't have too many details. It's impossible to have too many detail shots coming out. So to your point, many people will think about like a five shot rule or something where it's like I get the wide, the medium, the action, the reaction, and one over the shoulder, or one creative. So once you kind of do your five shot, then you play. So some of it is the more you shoot, the more confident you are that, "Yeah, I nailed it." "I got the wide." "I don't need to go back there." The less confident you are, the more you overshoot because you don't think you got it, and that's okay. That's part of the process, and better to overshoot than undershoot because it would be pretty lousy to get back and you really didn't nail. So the funny thing is, just to confess upfront, like we saw a preshoot video earlier where the creative live crew got this lovely pan with a very wide lens of his shop. And when I say that, I was like, "Damnit, I didn't get that shot." She has let me live it down for the last 48 hours. (laughs) So, I wish I had that, I wish I had that. So, you're still not gonna get it all. You're still gonna mess up something or wish you had or whatever. You do your best, and you can use the five shot just to feel like, "Okay, I know I have it." It was a little hard to get a truly wide shot in that little shop. So, that was also why I know to my eye, I wasn't seeing a really wide shot. And then when I saw the creative live crew shot, I was like, "Well, there it was, duh." You know? Cool. I've just got a quick one. Is there any kind of rule of thumb that you try and follow for how much time you want to spend shooting B-roll for a certain length of film? So if you want to cover three minutes or five minutes, how much time might you schedule for B-roll? That's a great question 'cause it has more to do with how many scenes are you gonna try to fit in. If you're working on a confined schedule such as a client job with a budget as I showed with one of these James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award videos, two days of shooting, and they are two very full days. We usually will have multiple situations because within that three, four minute video, it should look like you shot for several days. I always know it when I watch a video that is one situation and I think, "Oh, they shot that in one day, huh?" That's interesting. Because there's a redundancy of visuals. It doesn't take a lot. Somebody could just change their clothing and it feels like you shot on multiple days. So I know I'm thinking about having variety of scenes being very important to me. For example, we were rushed in David's shop, so I think we got a lot of great material for a limited amount of time to do an interview, exteriors, interiors. And then Ed and I split up, and he actually went and got some scenics of the Seattle skyline while I stayed and did details. He got a scene setter to place us in Seattle. So, we were able within one shoot day to cover the situation, but we were definitely rushing. Oh, then on top of it, we came back here to shoot a setup shot with the young violinist. So, that normally would've not happened within such a limited amount of time. You'll tell us whether it shows in the finished product. Normally, I would give at least two shoot days to a client job, unless the client says, "We don't have the budget for that." "You've got to do it in one day." "This is a nonnegotiable." I've even been know to go back and just put in a little extra time because I want it to look good, and I like clients who return. The bottom line is you want steady clients. You don't want one off clients. If you go that extra bit, they do come back 'cause they understand that you took it seriously. You cared about what you were doing. I can't do things that are less than my own standard, so I'll put in extra time. With finished films, it's not unusual that you will have something like 100 hours of footage for a 1 hour film. That is not unusual. So, that's a pretty acceptable ratio. I know people who do films that are more verite. You could have 600 hours of footage to get down to the 1 hour or hour and a half. So, it depends also are you trying to tell things through verite scenes 'cause that takes a lot more time. You have to shoot so much 'cause you don't know when the moments will happen. If you are ... Also, we end up going out and doing pick up shots. After I've done an edit, there may be some holes that I say you know we really need to go back and get the scenics now, or we really have to go back to David's shop. If we had two more hours with him, we could cover all of this. I know people that get hired by Nat-G or Discovery to produce films. They'll do all the interviewing, and lay down the narration, and then go out and shoot everything else. So, they are shooting to script as opposed to the way we work where script is built from footage.

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!