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Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 31 of 35

Use Audio to Guide Narrative


Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 31 of 35

Use Audio to Guide Narrative


Lesson Info

Use Audio to Guide Narrative

We're going to talk a little bit about creating the narrative spine using audio, which is what you saw me demonstrating on screen. So, everything grows from there. The other thing I do is I'll build a scene or two, ya know this is a short video, but I would build a scene or two just to see if it can, kinda, hold up together. But, the audio interview that you've done is going to be the skeleton that everything else hangs off of. So, I wanna share with you a video where you can actually just watch a radio cut because I would like you to see how much cutting is happening. And, I think people who are new to editing are surprised at how cutty something is underneath. And the goal, always, when you create this narrative spine is that the information is moving forward. I always know that somebody hasn't fully listened to the narrative spine when information is, like, zigzagging and then going over the same turf later. Everything should be building and growing. I wanna see that there's a pathw...

ay. That if I traced it, it isn't a zigzag. Now, it's one thing if you wanna open with a teaser, which is pretty standard. Like, I'll look for an opening soundbite, like I did with David, that's about the character of the violin. I'm gonna look for something with a little poetry, something that opens a door, asks a question, leads in and captures my imagination. So, I'm always listening and, even when I read a transcript, I'm looking for what would be a good opener and what would be a good closer. And, a good closer has that final period on the sentence feeling to it. So, the hardest thing is finding a closer that doesn't feel canned and obvious. And, we're always tempted to, kinda, put in that final soundbite that's the, almost like, Ta-da! And, it doesn't resonate, really, 'cause it feels too obvious. So, sometimes the closer is the hardest thing to find. And then, the other thing is where you're going to insert other people's voices. And, trying to find that balance of other people's voices. So, what I would like to do is, now, we're gonna share a radio cut for a three minute video. And, I'd like you to watch, on screen, how cutty it actually is so you get a sense of what we had to do to get her to say what she has to say. You're going to be listening for the narrative spine. So, how does the information unfold in this radio cut? And then, how do we integrate multiple voices? So, let's watch this and then we can, kinda, talk through what was working. 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 are severe consequences for low-income Californians who do not get the legal help that they need. We have about seven poor people for every lawyer in the County of San Francisco. Compare that to a county like Merced, you have almost 390 poor people for every local lawyer. Our big focus is the idea of rural justice. And, 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 lawyers, and law firms, and law schools. We, literally, take lawyers and law students from the metropolitan centers, put them on a bus, take them out to rural communities and stand up these mobile legal clinics at a food bank or a church and deliver on the spot legal services. 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. These are Veterans, survivors of domestic violence, seniors, immigrants. To date, we've served over 6,000 Californians and we're doing about 70 clinics per year, all over the state. I see One Justice as, sort of, the glue that holds all the legal services programs, throughout California, together. A great number of people, here in the Valley, are undocumented and they need help with immigration issues. However, the only legal aid programs available are federally funded and because of the federal funding they are not allowed to assist people who are undocumented. One Justice is able to bring in resources to help the immigrant community here. Many of the legal aid organizations that are based in rural California receive funding that puts restrictions on the kind of law that they're allowed to do. So, if you are a rural Californian who has a question about your immigration status and you live where the only legal aid receives this funding you cannot get the legal help that you need. So, the most recent development is this idea about using technology in order to provide ongoing legal assistance. So those complex cases that we can't handle in a clinic, we can actually stretch through technology to deliver legal services. Most legal aid leaders, including me, are accidental executive directors. So we run a mini-MBA program to bring them the non-profit management skills they need to be able to thrive in this increasingly complex non-profit sector. Success for One Justice is that later, after the clinic, we hear that they became a U.S. Citizen and they voted for the first time. Or, that they got their Veteran's benefits and they're financially secure. Or, that they were able to expunge their record and they got the job that they wanted. We have to reassure people that the legal profession of California cares about them still, deeply. And so, at a macro level we're weaving threads back in to that justice system and showing people that they can trust it. That, ultimately, is about making our democratic ideals work for them. So, I wanted to share that because, so a few things. One, you see how cutty it is, right? She's very articulate, but even so that was an hour plus. I don't know, an hour and 15 minute interview that has now come down to, what felt pretty long, actually, because it makes you realize speaking is, five seconds of speaking feels a lot longer than it sounds like. So, that was still a lot of talking. We've condensed her down, we've hit all kinds of notes that, in this case it's the James Irvin Foundation, they wanted to make sure we touched on a lot of different things. We got in two other voices. But, still that's incredibly long. It feels like a protracted explanation, lots of explaining. There are some stats in there. It's interesting, her stories quite interesting but, again, we're talking about creating something that somebody would really wanna watch and, kinda, go on that journey. So, some of this, and I guess it's partly thinking about, like your question about, the patients it takes to go through all of this. And, this is where the heavy lifting comes. None of this media is compelling in its own right, unedited, to the degree it needs to compelling once you craft it into a finished product. And, that's where there's this incredible artistry and craftsmanship that needs to happen. Because, you can take a boring subject and make a fascinating film and vice versa, you could take a fascinating subject and make it kinda boring because you didn't craft, and condense, and really bring all the elements together. So, I don't know that there's an easy workaround for any of this. The post-production is your big, big lift. Ya know, it just is what it is. So, you've gotta embrace that. You've gotta embrace the creativity involved in molding this clay.

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!