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Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 4 of 35

Use Visual Language to Tackle a Theme

Ed Kashi, Julie Winokur

Making a Short Documentary

Ed Kashi, Julie Winokur

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Lesson Info

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.


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 Class Introduction Duration:13:55
7 Turn Failures Into Lessons Duration:13:46
8 Finding Your Subjects Duration:15:07
9 What is Your Motivation? Duration:02:10
11 Client Work Vs Legacy Work Duration:17:51
12 Translate the Idea to Reality Duration:16:25
14 Pre-Production Plan Duration:09:32
15 You Just Have to Dive In Duration:30:40
16 Time & Cost for Projects Duration:28:21
17 Writing a Strong Pitch Duration:11:38
18 Develop a Fundraising Trailer Duration:12:28
19 Identify & Approach Partners Duration:06:35
20 Define Your Desired Impact Duration:21:21
22 Shoot: Interview Set Up Duration:34:38
23 Shoot: The Interview Duration:32:08
24 Different Types of Interviews Duration:13:35
25 Shoot: Capturing B-Roll Duration:21:54
26 Shoot: Detail Shots Duration:18:09
27 Shoot: Capturing a Scene Duration:27:02
28 Shoot: A Set Up Shot Duration:24:03
31 Use Audio to Guide Narrative Duration:09:33
33 Building Scenes in Your Edit Duration:03:41
35 Final Thoughts Duration:03:01

Lesson Info

Use Visual Language to Tackle a Theme

We wanted to share something that was gonna be a little taste. That would fast forward to the present day since sandwich generation is now older. We've been doing a project now for three years called Newest Americans. Looking at immigration and identity. We're just gonna show you a two minute trailer because we have done, in the last three years I haven't even counted how many stories how many films we've created. But we publish an online magazine three times a year, called Newest Americans. We partner with Rutgers University, Newark which is named the most diverse campus in the United States, every year, by US News and World Report since 1997, I believe. We partner up with Rutgers, Newark and we tell stories that emanate out of Newark in some way, shape or form. Get a little taste. Some are in Newark. Some might have a musician who came from Newark and is now out in the world performing and that sort of thing. I would like you to just watch. Again, this is a trailer as apposed to a fu...

ll on story. You're gonna get a little dim sum of stories. I'd like you to also look at the visual language because we have been working across media. It's also entirely different visually than the sandwich generation. You're gonna see where we are now with our visual language. Media formats. We've been experimenting with everything from graphic novels, to stills, to video. This will come up over and over again story versus issues. We didn't really talk a lot about that with sandwich generation but I'm sure it resonates in hindsight. And then, pacing. This is a trailer. It's way more wiz-bang. It's a good juxtaposition to what you just watched in the sandwich generation. All right. Okay. We're in the shadows of New York. The thing with the Newark scene is there's so much good talent it just needs to be recognized. (violin music) (glass cutting) I'm an immigrant. I'm an artist, an organizer, and an instigator. A lot of their parents don't have cars. They don't have phones. They don't have all these basic things. (boxing jargon) I am my homeland, and my homeland is me. My love for you is fire in my heart when am I going to see you free? Every time I've said I'm going to stop, I can't. ♪ (singing in foreign language) ♪ (violin music) Whenever somebody uses the word illegal they're actively dehumanizing a person. Newark was a place of entry. If you come from some place else you're gonna stop in Newark first. For most of my childhood my father was all over the world traveling, speaking, writing poetry, doing plays. Their grandson is now the mayor of the city. (violin music) My family is from Pakistan. Egypt. Puerto Rico. India. Nepal. I'm the first one in the family to be born in America. (energetic violin music) Makes you wanna go to Newark, right? (laughs) Obviously, a far cry from the sandwich generation but you can see that visually there's all of this incredible camera movement lots of very crisp imagery. There's some drone footage. You name it, we got it all going on in that trailer. Character driven. Every single story we tell is character driven. Even in that little sampler you met a lot of different people and you heard individual voices. You need that human touch. I don't care if you're talking about pollution in the Passaic river. We did a piece about the river keeper. You have a human who gets to take you on this journey so that you can connect. Infinite options for tackling a theme. Honestly, there is no right way or wrong way to do any of this. You could almost pull it out of a hat and say, "Okay, I'm gonna try this." And then, in some way that limitation will give you incredible creative license to explore. We experiment all the time. With this project, we've done everything from an interactive story about a mural where you get to go off on these off-shoots where you can here the artist talk about their work. Or, you can take the drive the length of the mural. You can experiment. The more you experiment, the more you keep it interesting. Ed and I are both really big at breaking down the rules. Ed, more than I. (laughs) He's a total rule breaker, if you haven't gotten that. You clean it up, right? (laughs) Visual experimentation. Keep it fresh, keep it personal. We're all trying to find our style. You can learn something in a text book and say, "You can't break the wall." That kind of thing, where it's like, no, sometimes you gotta do that. People are very sophisticated visually now. They forgive a lot and they're very sophisticated. Play around. Partnerships and collaboration, equals opportunity. We collaborate with probably 30, different people on this project. We have faculty at Rutgers, Newark who have expertise in subjects we know nothing about. We have students who get involved. We have students who pitch stories and we end up collaborating with the students to then bring it to fruition. Partnerships really open up a lot of doors. You don't have to do this in isolation. It's created, for us, opportunity that's financial. It's created opportunity in terms of being able to tell a much bigger stories, than we could've otherwise. And, to grow constantly.

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


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!