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Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 32 of 35

Transform Raw Content Into Finished Piece


Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 32 of 35

Transform Raw Content Into Finished Piece


Lesson Info

Transform Raw Content Into Finished Piece

So, in watching this cut, you know she's articulate, but we're have already helped her pretty far down the road in terms of getting tighter more succinct and then when you watch the final cut we actually really womp, we do that to her. Because right now this isn't something, you know, what you saw is so far from being ready to share with anybody. We have stayed very true to her message you know, this is really, this video she is the ultimate critic. Right, this is her organization they do really important work and we want to deliver something that she says you really got it. You got me! And how are we going to avoid the drags and excess detail cause they're still so much in there. You know, so how are we going to get this from what you just saw into, you know, this polished piece. Now we've already condensed, condensed, condensed but I want you to now see the transformation that happens So question, how long In this fine cut. How long was the radio cut? That should've been, I t...

hink about four minutes somebody can probably tell me, five, four, yes 423 423 wow, long. That's what four minutes and 23 seconds of talking feels like, right, it's almost like somebody screech the brakes on. By the way, I disagree, I would argue that if I just saw that she got her message across. Oh yeah. But she's exceptional. Right, but that wasn't a short doc. Yeah. You know. I agree she is exceptional and compelling and you like her. You know there all kinds of things about what's happening there that is great. But, I want you to now watch the finished piece where the visuals are doing heavy lifting. I want you to be very mindful of what the music and ambient audio is doing. We haven't talked about ambient yet in this course so maybe there's a really great time to talk about ambient audio and the pacing of the edit. Okay, so where's there's talk, where there's breathing room because in this instance again you saw one of the Irvine videos yesterday. They ask for all that text on screen that's something that the client has specifically asked for despite, you know, what we would choose to do. They just want to hammer home some of the nuts and bolts of what's being accomplished here. So that's, you know, sometimes you defer not because you think it's best for the film but because the client prefers it. So here's the fine cut with visuals. (upbeat music) In rural California when people cannot afford a lawyer. They don't have a lawyer to go to. They don't understand how the courts work. That promise of the rule of law really rings false for them. There's such a pressing demand for legal help and there's severe consequences for low income Californians who do not get the legal help that they need. (upbeat music) Our big focus is bridging that divide between rural California where there simply is not enough legal infrastructure to help and the metropolitan areas where there's an abundance of layers and law firms and law schools. Carrie, Carrie, so nice to meet you. Is this your first time on the Justice bus? Yes, it is. Oh, fantastic, welcome. We literally take lawyers and law students from the metropolitan centers, put them on a bus, take them out to rural communities use the travel time to train them. [ Lady With Gray Sweater] I'm just going to go over kind of the checklist that you all have in your training. Stand up these mobile legal clinics and deliver on the spot legal services. These are veterans, seniors, immigrants. (talking) They get legal advice, they get help filling out the papers that they need and most of the time they walk away well prepared to resolve their legal problem. I'm an emancipated foster youth. I just turned 25 and the last legal convictions was from when I was 20. I haven't had money or really time to be able to do this. I explain my current situation, having recently graduate University and being in graduate school. I'm being denied jobs. There is no possible way for me to really maneuver the necessary paperwork without this legal assistance. So hence, I was willing to drive a 1,000 miles to get this taken care of. One Justice works to transform the civil legal aid system in three ways. We engage the private sector in volunteering and giving back. We work to strengthen the States legal aid, non-profits. And then we represent the legal aid network of California in Washington DC. I see One Justice is sort of the glue that holds all of the legal services programs throughout California together. The funding available for legal aid programs in the Central Valley, is maybe, 15 to as compared to the large urban centers. With One Justice, we were able to make connections with the large law firms, with the law schools and they were able to help us bring resources to help out our clients. (Maria Gabriela Garcia speaks in a foreign language) You have to reassure people that the legal profession of California cares about them still deeply. And so, at macro level we're weaving threads back into that justice system and showing people that they can trust it and ultimately it's about making our democratic ideals work for them. (symphonic music) What a difference, right! I like the first one better, no. (laughter) All those pictures in the way this time. What a difference! So now I think that the radio cut neither were some sound bytes that were still on the end that we had been thinking about using because the client initially wanted to elude to this online system they're doing and that is we sat down to edit it was like we gotta lose that. It's too long, we don't have visuals of it, it's not happening. So, even as we winnowed down by the time we started picturing up. But think about the music. That music really kind of lifted up the spirits and there was kind of a symphonic quality to it, it had a grandeur to it that enhanced, if you remember the very opening shots throw you into rural California which was, you know, immediately placed you somewhere that visually you were there. Even though we are not showing anybody breaking the law or in prison, who has a record, like there certain visuals that you're not going to get talking about the topic we're talking about. But we placed you in this idea that you're in a rural setting where people are spread out and they don't have services. So immediately the visual language immersed you, the music elevated you, and you're sort of like I'm on that bus. When the lawyers get on the bus you're like, yeah, I'm on that bus, I'm ready to tackle whatever it is we're tackling. So, you know, if you think about the night and day in terms of like kind of peeling back the curtain and pulling those visuals off you really have to train your ear to hear what's being said and then you're ready to kinda do again that technicolor add the technicolor, right, but that spine was important to listen to because you really had to force yourself to concentrate on what it is she's telling us. Good editing is invisible. I don't want to know that somebody edited this piece. If I am noticing the cuts then the editor didn't do a good job. So, you know, I notice the cuts when they're not timed well. I notice them when there's obviously not continuity of action. I notice them when somebody cuts in and out mid-motion cause it's jarring like I want to see a gesture this is like if I'm editing and somebody puts a glass down I'm cutting right when it hits cut. But when you're not paying attention and you're aren't kind of fully in control of the rhythm of your editing, you know you, may start mid-motion and cut out. You know it's about motions, starting motions, completing motions. Are you allowing those things to play out? Are movements feeling continuous from shot to shot to shot? Or is it static and then moving and static? Are you playing with things? Are you using shots that are throws to a next shot? So if I look this way that might be a great moment to cut. So I look and you cut to a next shot. So are you allowing a gesture to throw to a next shot? You know, are you thinking about these things when you yourself are putting these visuals together and understanding how they meet. So, you've done that with audio as your trying to seamlessly place continuous thoughts and the flow of those thoughts. Are you doing the same thing now with that next layer of the edit? I would say as a shooter I am aware of a lot of those things as well you know, that allow actions to complete themselves or, like I'm again I'm always like in the piece we did here, where I'm always excited when I see something that I think, oh that would make really good edit and she actually uses it (laughter) very rare. No you're just tough, you're good. That's a good thing, you set the bar very high but it's actually quite, it's actually liberating and exciting as a filmmaker when you are aware of those things in the moment of shooting. So you're observing situations you're watching action flow and you're so you sort of know when to finish a shot but always leave six or seven seconds at the end of every shot if you can at the beginning and at the end of every shot if you can. Obviously if you're chasing after somebody you can't do that, but try to do that because it allows in and out points for the editing process. But I think there is a way, I know there is a way that as you work more and more with an editor or if you edit yourself as a shooter you will become better and you'll be more complete in that way instead of just shooting scatter shot and hoping that something would come together from it. There should also be a feeling when you're watching edit, we've got the note here, you still want more. One of the question I always like to ask when somebody watches a piece is how long was that because it might feel a certain length and you're hoping it feels shorter than it is. Because that's a good indicator that it was moving well pacing was good. If somebody says, oh that felt like a seven minute film and it was only four or three then you probably have drag. So how does it feel versus how long is it actually is a bit of an indicator when you share it with someone. Redundancy is also, it's funny when you're shooting you feel like you got so much material then when you go to edit, you're like, oh well I already used a shot of you know the lawyer helping the client and how many of those shots can I use. You think you have way more than it turns out you have when you sit down and edit. It's one of those ratios that never ceases to amaze me. No matter how much you shoot you're still are missing like the couple of shots you wish you had. You do your best you can't know that until you sit down and edit. It's just inevitable so don't beat yourself up over it try to close that gap between what you need in an edit and what you actually got. But it's inevitable, you'll come back and say damn, I wish I had just one more tie shut. Or I wish I had one more detail of something that was going on in that scene. And sometimes you shoot things that you're like I'll never use this and you know it's funny because I remember shooting the shot in there of the, all those papers on the table and it just struck me cause it was like man look at all those file folders I'll never use this shot but it took awhile to shoot it, just in case, then when she's talking about all of the paperwork and how hard it is for these people I was like, I got that shot. Now normally a shot of a bunch of file folders on a table is pretty deadly, right. But in that moment it was like, it's a relief because you're not looking at more people sitting at tables talking to each other. We didn't talk at all about sound ups. So a sound up in your edit is literally just like a sound byte that kind of rises up and comes down so there's a moment in this film we just watched where they're going to get on the bus and there's a sound up where, you know, it's whatever, she's like oh, welcome to the One Justice bus is this your first time joining us you know or something like that. So it may not be, hopefully it's a more critical piece of information, but sound ups also really help the pacing of your edit. So it's just a moment where like somebody's instructing and you get in that real time moment them saying something that again tells me a piece of the story the type of thing they're presenting to the group you know, what's going on in that scene, it's a moment between the lawyer and the client you know, whatever it is those sound ups are really, really valuable. That's something that's incredibly time consuming when you're going through your footage to find your sound ups. Because they really are just an audio snipet and you're hoping that its a good shot at the same time its a good audio snipet. You know, and you can't in advance quite know what those will be. As a rule of thumb when we're doing these kinds of things or anytime there's a somebody is going to address a group I always, always, always want to make sure we got the shot of the person presenting to the group as a lock down like, you don't want to be shooting details when somebody's giving the welcome comment. It's kind of one of those mindless things that you should always get. Cause that good be the sound up that transitions you into a next scene. So I always want to get the establishing comment the greeting, the, you know, the why we're here today comment. Cause I much rather have that as a sound up then have some narrative voice telling me you know the One Justice bus does this that and the other I'd much rather have that moment of introduction in real time. Is there example of a sound up in the film about David about the file and repairmen? Well, yes, because well, it's not a sound up so much as we're going to watch this scene with Takumbi and his mom. So it's not a sound up, it's more of a scene. Question from Michael in the UK who knows that you use some slow motion and is wondering when you think about using slow motion? Is it when you are low on real footage? Are there particular times when you would use slow motion for impact? Lush visuals. Slow mo usually again it's like all these little tricks there all these tricks in your bag and I feel like if I see one more time lapse of a sky I'm just going to like, it feels like, yeah it's great but certain things become just troupes that you see over and over and over again. So sometimes when I see slow mo footage I almost feel like slow mo can make almost anything beautiful. It makes the most banal stuff look beautiful. But ideally you're using it judiciously so it doesn't become just like yet another trick in your bag and its like there you go again, you know, playing that card. With the opening shots with the slow mo we did that, I think we did that partially just to stretch out some scenes and kind of have a languorous feeling of rural, you know, the rural setting. So the wide open landscape of California. Yeah, we don't use slow mo a lot quite frankly, it's pretty infrequent. I wish I had done a little slow mo actually I wish we had done some with the violins cause that would have been quite melodious. I think we could've really played with a little bit of slow mo to enhance, the visual lyricism with the violins. And again if we had more time and we didn't feel so pressured, that would be something I would go back and do. To watch that bow in slow motion would be quite pretty. [Woman In Audience] Is that something that you decided beforehand because you had to have the camera setting set for slow motion for that rural scene or did you film and it happen to be, you know, in the right setting, you said, oh this might be good in slow motion, when did you make that decision? Or did we screw up and did not realize we were shooting in slow motion. (laughter) I can't remember No we didn't shoot slow mo. So that we slowed down Yeah. And I think it was partly, quite frankly, it might've been that we slowed it down just to cover our because we only had a few shots and so that was a way of stretching that footage a little longer so that is also possibly what's happening. I remember seeing some footage it wasn't ours but we got some footage in cause sometimes we're using other people of covered topics we're covering and you know, it's been shot. And I remember getting in an entire hard drive of footage that we were suppose to go through and it was all slow mo and it was sort of like, what were they thinking why would you shoot an entire shoot slow mo and I had to believe that they just didn't know like they accidentally had the camera set wrong. Cause why would you shoot an entire situation slow mo. Made no sense to me. So, it's one of those like, you just own up I mean sometimes we also do stuff that is unintentional and then you're trying to figure out how to cover for it or you don't have enough shots. Sometimes when I'm editing we'll slow down a shot to 90 percent, 85 percent because it's imperceptible and I need that shot to go a lil longer. Sometimes it's because somebody was shooting and then they thought they got it and then they moved and you're like ugh, I just needed like another second out of that. So we do slow things down to a point where it's imperceptible, you know, with some frequency just to get milk a little more out of a shot. But then, you know, shots that are not filmed at a high enough frame rate, you can't slow down too much without them breaking down. I know I've shot stuff accidentally you know like where my frame rate and my shutter speed are not matching up properly and it gives you that kind a harsh look, it's a you know, it's got a very Like a stutter frame Yeah, it's not quite a stutter frame but it gives that like there is a jump or jerk a little bit, it's interesting. I did that by accident on the boxing film but what was cool is when there boxing and that happens it felt a little intentional cause it felt a little uncomfortable. So it had and edginess but I did not do it on purpose. It was completely like I accidentally shifted something. So the art of being a professional is covering your mistakes. One is from Alberto who says, "In your experience "what are some of the most common elements " that do contribute to drag "aside from cutting properly like when "you were talking about the glass on the table. "How do you suggest giving more life "to a short documentary?" Drag usually happens cause you are trying to put too much information in. There's too much talking. You know, talking can be just so dense. And often it happens when you get to attached to your material. You care too much about all the details and the minutia and you lose perspective. Where there's a really great experience that happens when you cut something and then you sit and watch it with someone who has never seen it before. And it's funny how you are suddenly able to see it through there eyes in a different way. And it can be really frustrating and if you're open to their feedback they might give you honest feedback, or maybe not, they might just say oh I loved it, it was great. Which is the worse feedback ever because it doesn't help you at all. But when you watch it through their eyes or when you try to watch with fresh eyes you can see your own drag spots I also try very hard to edit something and then not look at it for a few days or weeks because it's really hard to see with fresh eyes. So if you have that luxury, take a break, step back, don't look at it. Because you've already done this really hard thing which is taking this much material down to here. So you've already cut out all the excess and you can't see that other bit of excess that's there. It's like the last five pounds, you know. The last five pounds, it's so hard to lose it. So taking a break helps. And then the other thing is redundancy we've got that on here. There's usually redundancy. If you're going to be really tough on your narrative, spoken word, are people saying the same thing in three different ways. So you have to have that litmus test like is that a new thought, is that a new thought is that a new thought. If you really went down the line you probably if you're gonna be honest with yourself have a few things in there that you kinda said that already.

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!