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Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 15 of 35

You Just Have to Dive In

Ed Kashi, Julie Winokur

Making a Short Documentary

Ed Kashi, Julie Winokur

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Lesson Info

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.


  Class Trailer
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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

You Just Have to Dive In

You have to dive in. It's honestly, it's one of those things where it's just like we can talk, talk, talk, talk but you're not making a film while you're sitting here watching us talk, you know? So you do need to give yourself permission, nobody else is going to. I don't know if you're going to jump in and do the whole film yourself or gonna just do a little bit so you can wet someone's appetite but you do need to just get to the work. You know, you got nothing to lose. You've nothing to lose. You know what is the worst thing that can happen. You show up and you shoot and you screwed up because your settings where wrong and everything is overexposed, you got nothing. Oh dear, I think you're gonna die. Honestly, have a reality check with yourself. It's like, you can't lose by jumping in. You might screw up but then you're gonna go back again. This is one of those I remember when, this is many years ago, where there was some shoot and you'd forgotten to load the film into the camera. So ...

he does this whole roll of film and then realizes he doesn't have it and then he's like, " That was great. " You know that was so good, " I think we should do more of that. " (laughing) And it was such a brilliant moment cause I was like, but it's true, so it was a rehearsal. So you didn't get that bit and you are gonna have those time where you do something and you didn't do it well or right or whatever but jump in. Really, you don't ever have to show that stuff to anybody either. There's plenty of work also and some of which even we've shown you today where I'm seeing certain shots that I'm like, oh I can't believe that's in there but I know that was the only shot I had or I'm kicking myself even years later that I should have done better. If you don't do it and you don't put yourself out there you've got to be the risk taker, simple. Nobody's going to criticize you for having taken a risk, right? I'd like to talk a little bit about Bring It To The Table, which is project that is another one that chose me despite my better judgment. But five years ago I was very upset about hyperpartisanship and how dysfunctional Washington D.C. was. I was upset about how much pushback Obama had gotten. It felt toxic, it felt toxic on the national level but then I had an exchange with our son that made me kind of wake up to maybe it was toxic on the personal level. I was trying to figure out, it was time where I wanted to tell a story that I though would kind of reveal how this hyperpartisanship was making us dysfunctional. And then our son said to me, " You know mom," he said, " You're the most intolerant person " I've ever met when it comes to politics." He said, " The other side had a good idea " you wouldn't know 'cause you weren't listening. " And then suddenly it was like, oh wow wisdom from the mouths of babes. And it made me realize maybe the way I needed to tell the story was different than what I had though. So back to this idea of like how do you get started. It was gnawing at me, I was constantly thinking about this partisanship and how ugly it had gotten and so when he said that me then I couldn't let it rest and I was sitting with a friend and we're talking and I was like God I'd just like to be a fly on the wall at people dinner tables, so you could really hear when they when they let it all hang out, what it looks like. So I know what it all looks like at my own table but I'd love to be in like a conservative family's home and hear what they say about liberals when there're no liberals in earshot. This would be the truer version of what's going on in our inner sanctums. My friend and I get chatting and she's like, " Well why don't you bring your table to them?" And it was like, that's flippant brilliant. That's it. I'm gonna take my table out and just invite people to sit down and talk politics. Crazy idea, right? Pretty ludicrous and honestly, this is where you have to be obsessive to do this kind of stuff. Personal projects are about maniacally obsessive people, right. I though, okay let's go do it. Let's see is it gonna work? Sounds like a pretty cool, wacky idea. Let's try it. Just literally then went locally. Few places around where we live. So want to show this. (upbeat music) I don't know why it is we can talk about sex easier than we can about politics but people kind of feel that possibly they might be judged by what they say. Bring It To The Table actually started right here at this table at my dinner table and it's because my 17 year old son said to me, " You know mom, you're the most " intolerant person I've ever met." It just seemed the most outrages thing that I had ever heard because I see myself as being really tolerant. I realized he was referring to the fact that if people don't agree with me politically that I dismiss what they have to say. (background whispering) I had this crazy idea where I though if I could just invite people to sit down at my table and talk politics, and actually listen to what they had to say, then it would be the beginning of actually breaking out of that mold. What I think of Republican? Stereotypical. Hard workers. Free. Responsible. Devils worshipers When I think of Democrats, I think of old-fashioned, out-of-touch. Open-minded. They read liberal papers. I think they like common sense sometimes. Watch liberal T.V. Righteous. They think Fox News is nonsense. Everybody complains about divisive politics but whose doing anything about fixing it? So if I'm not listening to what other people have to say, then I'm part of the problem I'm not part of the solution. So Bring It To The Table is part of the solution. I don't wanna, to be labeled or put under I'm a Republican, I'm a Democrat, I'm an Independent. I'm just an American. This side is progressive, this side is liberal. Where do I fall ... This is conservative Oh this is conservative, where do I fall? Towards the middle. You said liberal, conservative. There. You're talking about a left-right paradigm. Doesn't work that way. It's holographic, it's multidimensional. If you're genuinely interested in breaking down divisive politics, then this is the platform to do it in. I hate the term, " They want to take their country back." Take their country back to where? Going back for me is not a good thing. Conservatives believe everyone is born with equal opportunity and the liberals think everyone should have equal outcome. If everything is given away, and if everything is handed-out, whose gonna pay? I don't understand why they feel that if you work hard and earn that money, why you should be taxed the more you make? With money from Kickstarter we're going to bring our table on the road and do a table tour and that tour will go to at least five communities across the country and then we'll also take the table to the Republican and the Democratic National Conventions. Bring It To The Table is also a web platform where people can weigh in with their ideas. They can have conversations online. There will be opportunities to upload video. We will be continuously feeding the website with videos from the field. I'm pro-life. Pro-life. I am not pro-choice but I believe that isn't not a political thing it's a person's own choice. We need support not just financially but we also need your ideas. So what we're really trying to do is build a community of people. This is about conversation. It's about you, it's about me, it's about all of us actually participating. I think political discussions should happen more often because I'm sure there's a lot of things about the Republican party that I have wrong, that I get wrong. I think a lot of it comes down to listening. We don't listen enough. It's obvious politicians don't listen. Bring it to the table. Well I'm at the table here. So I'd like to ask is where do you get your ideas? Where do you get your ideas? (soft upbeat music) That was the Kickstarter. That was the Kickstarter video. You can't script this stuff right? It's amazing Right? What regular folk deliver, right? So that's a perfect example of, alright got this wacky idea, is it gonna work? You're not gonna wait for somebody to say, hey Julie here's a check for $10, I think you should start shooting and we'll guarantee that we'll be able to broadcast this. It really was one of these crazy things I though okay, how do we do it, how many days would it take to get out there. The first one we did was at the barbershop down the street. Literally was like, okay what's around here that'd be kind of a cool setting. Okay, great. Then we went to the public library. We did it in a way that was gonna be really manageable for us, in the context of our infrastructure. And then said, you know this is kinda kooky and it's kind of cool and we came up with a visual look as well. This whole idea of the table. 'Cause this is a talk-driven concept and I did not know where it was going to go and I would recommend when you approach these things don't be so set on what the end product is. Allow yourself to experiment and take a day or two to start shooting, Especially, only really we're talking personal projects 'cause again client work is different. But on a personal project you need to try out your idea and then be flexible and see as you can see in this Kickstarter video that I'm asking questions, I'm saying we would love to hear from you, what do you wanna know? One of the things we started with is, I asked everybody what is a question that you would like to ask somebody on the other side. And then the idea was gonna be that we would take those questions and then pose them at the table to other people so it could have this kind of pay forward. I didn't really know exactly where this was going I just knew that I had to do it. So we shot a few days, I think this what you're looking is maybe four locations and after the first couple we though this is working, there's something here. So that's why we then though to get money 'cause you can see I had a crew. One of whom lives here now in Seattle that's who we saw the other night, Jesse Dearing who was the DP on the film. We put the Kickstarter ask together because we though well this gonna take money just to get on the road. We know there's a concept, we know the timing is good and so let's just dive in. And sure enough we raised over $30, from that Kickstarter video. It's not easy, I will not say that you put a video up and you send it to your list of people and suddenly the money pours in. I mean, we worked our asses off for a month. Stirring the pot and offering goodies and freebies, and you know it's a lot of work. A Kickstarter is a lot of work. We raised enough money to take the crew on the field and to go to the RNC, the DNC, to continue shooting to keep building on the concept and that also bough us time. What this film, this short Kickstarter video is doing is it's hopefully making you want more. When you're doing your initial shoot and putting together a teaser you don't have to answer all the questions being raised. But you do want to raise the question and you do want somebody to see, oh now I'm not having to imagine what you're thinking I see that there's a there there, there's a something. So it should leave you wanting more, and you can now impose your own idea of where this is going. Minimal shooting with maximum return. You do want also you want to put in enough time and effort to see if you think it's going to work but you also want to give up on certain things that if you shot a bit and it's not quite working or no one else seems interested. You know on some level you do also hit a point where you might want to say, you know that was interesting I learned the bits not quite right, so be prepared for that to happen as well. In this situation we did a lot of pre-production for what you saw there. So step one was figuring out where would we go. Then getting permission in advance. You don't just show up with your crew and your table and two cameras. We also came up with a visual look. So part of your pre-production ought to be thinking about that. If I'm doing interviews what do they look like? Is there a backdrop, are people walking and talking? Are they kind of looser? Are we gonna sit down, do formal interviewing? We came up, in this instance, with a visual motif with this table and flower pot. Which Ed had the visual, the vision for the visual. He said, I would absolutely do it this way. I would do a wide angle, I'd get right down on this level. So they're all filmed as though you're sitting at the table with that person. You are in my seat for everyone of these. Thinking through those kinds of things, so you're intentional when you show up for that first shoot. Do not show up just kinda, I have no idea what's gonna happen. If you have no idea, maybe you just wanna show up without your camera one day. Which is a really good idea if it's a local story, especially if it's a sensitive story. Show up one day just to hang out and be mindful of what's happening around you so when you come back you're very clear about your visual approach. Sometimes it can hard with verite shooting to have a unique shooting style. 'Cause you're chasing what's happening so some of it is thinking through your style in advance. I had a question about getting people willing to tell their stories to you on camera. If they're vital to the story and they say no I don't want to be on camera, I don't want to share what's going on in my life do you try a different route, how do you overcome that? Well, let's see, thankfully I haven't had to deal with that too much although, I recently worked on a feature film where because of the nature of it I had to do interviews where people could not be recognized but in that case you're just dealing with visually obscuring their faces but that's not what I think you're really asking. I don't know it's a tricky one, it can be a gut-wrencher 'cause it can like ruin an otherwise great idea. So you can assure them you won't show their faces. It depends on how sensitive they are about it. I have situations occasionally where people only want their voices to be recognized. Very very rarely but I would say it's a tough one to tackle because if we lose their visage, if we lose their face, then you lose so much in the story telling, in the power of their story. Sometimes you need to get someone else maybe to tell their story, that's one solution. Find a family member, or friend or someone whose familiar with their story. At the very least I would always try to record their voice if they're willing or record them in some kind of incognito way. Which could then become a more dramatic element depending on what the story is. Does that make sense for what you're, you know the specific, I assume you have a specific, maybe there's something specific you're working on where that is an issue? Yeah, the piece that you guys put together for Lava Mae. Was that what it was called? [Instructors] Yeah. You're dealing with people who are probably not in the best spot economically or physically. I'm dealing with a similar project where it's hard to gain trust quickly but do you have any ways of getting around that or maybe? I have a couple thoughts about it and some of it is understanding why someone wouldn't want to go on camera. And so shame, because they don't to be portrayed in a compromised situation. So I think that one approach for me is always that again if we're gonna tell this story together the questions is, will you sharing your story help someone else? I think that appealing to somebodies desire to make good come of their misfortune is important and valuable but you can only do that if you believe that. So if you go in and to some measure you're exploiting their story because people who are down and out are endlessly compelling characters as opposed to if I tell this story because it's gonna help in some way. So I think a lot of it is, at least for me, it's examining it in that way. Why do I need to tell this person's story and I'm I just gonna be sharing their misfortune or is that going to be applied in a pro-active, positive way. Because I think that sometimes you can convince people to share their story if they feel they can be part of helping others. 'Cause then you validate them. I don't know your particular situation but at least that is often, because it is uncomfortable, like you are filming people and Lava Mae is a great example. The homeless population, who wants to be shown online in that circumstance. I know that we worked from a place of great integrity and respect for people and if I'm going to show your image then I should have your permission to do that. We worked as hard as possible to honor that code of conduct. With Lava Mae it's a classic example of an organization that's helping the homeless population so everybody in that film signed a model release because they said, oh we're supporting Lava Mae. They take care of us, it's a great program and anything we can do to help this program. So I think that's a case where you're appealing to people's sense of agency also. As apposed to you know we're going to sneak up on homeless people and grab their images because we're showing how down and out and horrible the situation is. I think there's a really interconnectedness to everything we're talking about today. About why you're doing it, how you work in collaboration with people. The one I'm struggling with because we're dealing a lot now with immigration and identity and the question of undocumented people. So while before the election we had many openly undocumented people sharing their stories on camera. Now I'm a little reluctant to ask them to do that because I don't want to jeopardize their status, their security, their families. So you do have to decide what it's worth and what risk people are willing to take in a situation like that. I will never try to convince somebody to go on camera if it's not in their interest and they do not want to. It's not worth it. 'Cause you know common let's get real we're making films. Right? We won't get deported for doing it. This is their lives. You need to kind of keep your ambitions in check with people's lives and the consequences they might suffer. And also sometimes subjects, or people we're interested in interviewing, are naive to the process. They might say yes, of course you can do it and they haven't though out the impact it might have on them. It's a lot to ask of us but I try to be as mindful as possible especially because the internet. Before the internet, this wasn't as big of an issue. But the reality is now everyone can see it everywhere. You just have to go along with that premise. So there are times where I realize I'm asking for permission and this person will give it to me but they don't realize the risk they're taking. It's a lot of responsibility to take on but have we really answered your question. I mean again to recap, some of it is using visual or technical solutions. Don't show their face, mask them in some way. Film their hands while they're talking, or some element of their body that maybe says something. Right? Or interview someone else that can tell their story. That's really helpful, thanks. I do have a question from online and this is from Victor Osaka who is wondering, he is working on a project that he's kinda midway in this person's story and so it doesn't have footage before today of all the things in this person's life that has happened that the story is. So he's feeling a little bit lost. How can he go about visually telling the story without having that footage or without having things to go back to? Does any footage exist? I asked for some more, Victor for some more information. Need a little more details but. The subject is a founder of a psychological approach, he does workshops, her work spans 30 years. She doesn't have footage, I do have video footage of her workshop this weekend. Without some information that seems would be crucial to telling the story. The historical stuff is missing. Right. Boy I would got to, I don't know if there are other pictures maybe, even if there's not footage maybe there's still photographs. That would be the next layer. I mean depending on how ambitious ... Victor, that's his name? Ambitious is not quite right, but how deep he wants to get into it, you could ask that subject if they have friends or colleagues that have taken pictures. Basically scour the universe for imagery and even if there's not video footage still pictures can be used quite well to help recreate the past. And what else? I would also suggest thinking about motion graphics, titles of papers or if there where any articles written in journals so then creating some nice motion graphics using those titles Yeah. I would also say that sometimes you have to get creative and film just psychological imagery. So whether it's the place that these meetings took place, whether it's just imagery from whatever it is cities, or nature, or the weather. Maybe it's also video portraits of the subject that are just very psychological, very moody to buy you time. Right 'cause what he's trying to create is time but also this idea of using metaphor. If you don't have the literal try to work with the metaphor. The metaphorical. Yeah, perfect. That's great, thank you. Victor says, " I like that interview people " that do know the backstory, and thank you so much. " I can certainly weave that into the story." Good. Excellent. This question is, " When you're looking " for subjects to do a short documentary on" So subject theme, " is it realistic to plan ahead " and do several projects that follow " that same theme and then as a result you can " take five or six 10 minutes short documentaries " and later develop that into an hour long film? " Is that an appropriate approach? It can be, yeah. It could be. It could be, you know it's very very ambitious. It could be, I will say that I think Aging in America was a great example of as I said segmentitious. Where we had a bunch of separate stories and occasionally you'll see a film that suffers from this. It's like a disease, it's not communicable but what happens is they don't weave well. So really great storytelling usually there's this interaction between the story threads and it can be really hard to do when you produce them separately and they're not conceived in tandem. Also 10 is a lot, and so it gets a little overwhelming in terms of what you're following and how much information you're expected to process. Quite frankly now with online being what it is you might produce those 10 vignettes and that's it. Right. They are great as stand-alones, they don't need to mesh into one. Right, that's success story, that's the magic formula their is if there's enough distinction between each segment but each segment relates to the same theme or topic or issue then you create a series. I really do feel to pick up on what Julie's saying that sometimes that might be a more effective way to communicate and have impact today because as we said earlier how many people will see a 90 minute film. Even though you know that's dreaming and being Sundance and Cannes and win an Oscar and all that it's all great but there are Oscars for short docs by the way. You might have even more impact and reach by creating a series of short films that together can be and also that takes much more advantage of social media. And the kind of media environment we're living in today. You know where instead of one big splash, that maybe isn't a splash you can do these segments and lay them out over time. And create an even bigger impact. And to build on that too, if there's a theme that you're approaching and you come up with 10 great ideas. There's a good chance after you make three of them, that you can start to get some support to keep doing them because you're building an expertise on this theme and so grant makers love to see that you have a proven track record on this issue. The grants that we've gotten Talking Eyes Media until recently every single grant that I was able to raise was issue based. It was not a film grant. It was not a media arts grant. Every single one of them was issue-oriented. So it was people financing healthcare reform, financing aging professionals and raising awareness in that arena. Those folks and those grantors they're looking for ways to communicate the work that's part of their mandate and you're a unique commodity as a filmmaker. When you go applying for media grants, filmmaker grants you are not unique in any way, shape or form and you're competing with people who are the darlings of the grant world or the darlings of the festival circuit and it's very very hard to break-in. So you can be competing with 500 other filmmakers. No matter how good your idea is, unless you already have a track record, in which case you probably are not here today it's gonna be hard as hell to get that grant. Whereas if your issue is sex-trafficking and that's the topic you want to take on then you go to those people who are desperate to have the tools to communicate the importance of this issue and you say, hey I can help with that. And it might supply the seed money to propel your project to the point where then you can go for the Sundance grant or the more film media, art oriented grants 'cause it'll have propelled your project to this other level.

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!