A Step-by-Step Guide to Filming Like a Pro

February 24, 2020·13 min learn

Should your model learn the way to create its personal mini documentary movies? Learn why mini docs are highly effective, and the way Vidyard made one in regards to the Bandit Tour.

On my approach to Dreamforce this 12 months, I hitchhiked 1,000 miles in a painted caravan full of individuals with jackets that learn “Bandit Tour.” The working joke was that anytime strangers within the cities we handed via requested if we had been a band, we mentioned sure and made up a place we had been enjoying that evening.

There was a lot of laughing. But there was additionally a lot of holding again tears. As a part of the tour, we volunteered for nonprofits and did every part from stuff backpacks filled with clothes for foster children to rip out clumps of invasive scrub grass from the seashores of California’s Humboldt county.

I can’t recall feeling so touched. Or so shaken to my core by acts of uncooked human kindness. Or so grateful that Vidyard’s CEO Michael Litt, Community Engagement Program Manager Laura Galbraith, and I had been requested to be part of the tour, and I (because the Video Production Manager) to make a documentary in regards to the expertise.

This article is about how to make documentary movies, but it surely’s additionally in regards to the particular documentary I made in regards to the Bandit Tour for Good, and the way it got here collectively. It covers every part from what gear to purchase (love me that DJI Osmo Pocket Gimbal) to whether or not you have to be making a documentary in any respect. If it leaves you with one new thought, it’s that companies can create nice documentaries too, and use them to do good.

Watch the Mini-Doc

Watch the 18-minute documentary I made in regards to the 2019 version of the Bandit Tour for Good.

What’s a Mini-Doc?

A mini documentary or “mini-doc” is a 10 to 30-minute nonfiction video that goals to doc actuality for the aim of training. It’s shorter than feature-length, but additionally a lot longer than the everyday two-minute advertising video which the world appears to run on. Mini docs are time-consuming to make and to watch, however I believe they are often immensely beneficial.

What separates documentary-style movies from most advertising movies is that they goal to educate, encourage, and remodel for their very own sake. They join us as folks. While company documentaries could have tangential advantages, like permitting a firm’s message to piggyback on what’s in any other case pure leisure, they work finest once they’re primarily based on motives which might be pure.

Bandit Tour is a volunteer expertise organized by the founders of the Salesforce consultancy Traction on Demand and held yearly since 2013. On it, folks from the corporate journey from Vancouver to San Francisco for Salesforce’s Dreamforce convention. Along the best way, they volunteer for nonprofits like Teen Feed and A Better Life Foundation. In that collective act of generosity, I noticed a story about a tradition, about a crew, and about a group of individuals present process a transformational expertise collectively. That’s the stuff nice model documentaries are constituted of.

Michael, Laura, and I joined the bandits on a tour that took seven days. In that point, I captured six hours of footage (about 1.5 hours of interviews) which I lower down into an 18-minute movie.

How to Make a Documentary Film Step-by-Step

If you watch feature-length documentaries, you’ve in all probability seen a few similarities. First, the movie or trailer often begins proper in the midst of the story or the motion after which jumps again to clarify to viewers how they bought there. (Sort of like how I began this text—proper in the midst of the motion.) That out-of-order intro is your hook.

More broadly, the entire documentary usually follows a basic storytelling arc of battle, rising motion, falling motion, and determination. You see this in widespread documentaries like The Biggest Little Farm, This Changes Everything, Shark Water, and even in Disney Nature’s documentaries the place, for the sake of connecting viewers to prairie canines, they provide rodents personalities and narrate their struggles.

1. Start with Pre-Production and Planning

The planning part usually accounts for 50% of on a regular basis you spend on a model documentary (or any form of doc). It’s that vital. The higher you put together right here, the smoother filming and modifying go. For occasion, if you already know precisely what photographs you’re searching for, taking pictures them is fast, they usually require fewer edits.

For your model documentary, ask your self, “What’s the goal?” Don’t simply shoot blindly—have a thesis getting in. You don’t all the time know the complete story, particularly in the event you’re overlaying an occasion that hasn’t occurred but, however you often have an inkling.

On the Bandit Tour, I used to be given little or no course. I used to be merely requested to seize it and make sense of it. But I did know we’d be touring, so I’d want to seize secure footage of our automobiles on the street for B-roll. (That’s filler footage, extra on that later.) I additionally knew folks can be having emotional experiences throughout their volunteer work, so I’d want to be there and prepared to interview.

Sometimes topics have requests or preferences that you’ve got to respect. For occasion, the Traction on Demand crew kindly requested me not to seize evening time footage when folks had been unwinding and getting to know one another over beers. So, I solely filmed throughout the day, and that had surprising advantages.

2. Gather Your Equipment

The higher you already know your gear, the extra you’ll be able to focus within the second. Nothing’s worse than seeing the chance for a nice shot however fumbling to get the digital camera on the best setting.

If you’ll be on the street like we had been on the Bandit Tour, you’ll need a light-weight package. Cameras aren’t any good in the event that they’re large, cumbersome, and never with you when the motion’s occurring. On the tour, I introduced a DJI Osmo Pocket Gimbal, a tiny handheld digital camera that I might maintain in my jacket pocket. I additionally had a greater high quality Sony A7III which might shoot up to 4k video. Together, that was sufficient.

Don’t assume you want to exit and purchase a ton of costly gear. At the extent of kit I carried, it’s onerous for folks to inform the distinction between that footage and better high quality footage. The exception right here, nevertheless, is sound high quality. People will forgive grainy footage however they won’t forgive uneven sound.

My Bandit Tour documentary movie package:

  • DJI Osmo Pocket Gimbal
  • Sony A7III
  • Lenses
  • Lavalier microphone x 2
  • Monopod
  • Headphones
  • SD playing cards
  • Portable onerous drive
  • Extra batteries

a look at what equipment to take on a documentary production

three. Focus On the Story, Not the Gear

High high quality footage is good. But you’ve gotten to guarantee that the story you’re wanting to inform is in place excess of you want to use flashy gear. So, once more, stick to a light-weight gear package.

On the Bandit Tour, I used to be only one individual. In that state of affairs you’ve gotten to work out how to make a documentary by your self and you’ll’t be lugging a trunk in all places, or have sufficient time to set it up and break it down.

Would I like to have a RED cinema digital camera and seize these items in 8K? Definitely. But anyone that’s labored with a RED cinema digital camera is aware of how finicky they’re to arrange. It’s probably not reasonable for an on-the-fly shoot while you want a quantity assortment versus hoping to nail one good shot.

four. Collect a Variety of Shots

Documentaries are a collage of various photographs. You don’t all the time know what you want, to offer you (or your editor) plenty of choices. If you’ve gotten a robust sense of how documentaries are constructed, you’ll know what photographs to search for, and can have a psychological guidelines. For occasion, “Oh, I need a strong opener and a strong closer. Where are those pieces?”

On the Bandit Tour, I did have some backup. Sacha Vanhecke from Traction on Demand was filming their very own model documentary in regards to the startups we’d helped. Though we had been engaged on totally different tasks, typically we’d ask one another to seize B-roll from no matter we had been doing.

Common Types of Documentary Shots:

  • Talking Head: Someone talking to the digital camera.
  • Vlog: An casual shot of a narrator—presumably the cameraman—talking into a digital camera that they both arrange or are holding.
  • A-Roll: Your finest footage, usually of interviews, which narrate the central theme.
  • B-Roll: Contextual footage for transitions, or to lower to whereas individuals are talking.

Plus, within the chopping room, you’ll be able to add:

  • Animations: Watch The Biggest Little Farm and also you’ll see that they animated a lot of the introduction, in all probability as a result of they didn’t have all the best footage.
  • Text Overlays: Titles and subtitles assist viewers orient themselves, so that they know the place and when the occasions are going down.

Where ought to I take advantage of B-Roll?

B-Roll is great footage to present whereas individuals are speaking. A speaking head section can get monotonous, so lower to B-Roll of the encompassing space and even higher, one thing associated to what they’re speaking about.

During the Bandit Tour, I knew the street journey can be central to the theme, so I captured plenty of B-Roll of the automotive, the bus, and all of the branding parts on the automobiles. To get a few of it, we’d use walkie talkies so I might inform the opposite automobiles in our convoy, “Slow down the bus so I can drive past you and get a cool shot.”

How to Film a Great Interview

When you watch a documentary interview, you’re seeing simply a tiny fraction of all of the conversations had. If you’ve gotten a good sense of the place your documentary goes and what elements you want to flesh out, you should use your questions to information folks to talk about belongings you need to cowl. Here are some interviewing suggestions I’ve picked up through the years:

  • Choose settings which might be conducive to dialog
  • Choose interviewees who’re emotive
  • Choose good lighting
  • Test your sound beforehand
  • Go off-script—the query listing is your security internet, however the gold comes from the in-between stuff
  • Don’t look down at your notes an excessive amount of; you disconnect from the interviewee
  • Interview folks earlier than, throughout, and after occasions: Anticipate, describe, mirror

This is one in all my favourite interviews from the documentary. It was with Braden Ford, UX Design Lead from Traction on Demand, and I believed he had an fascinating story to inform. During the tour, he spent his birthday giving again to a corporation that actually wanted the assistance, which was a very distinctive expertise for him.

5. Each Night, Offload Your Footage and Organize It

Don’t lose footage you labored onerous to gather. Each evening, I offloaded my media playing cards onto a laptop computer with a cloud storage backup. That approach, a spilled drink couldn’t wreck all my work. Once it was on my laptop, I organized all of the photographs in chronological order for every day.

screenshot showing folder structure for a documentary production

If I’m being actually particular, I lay all of my footage per day on a video timeline in my video modifying software program. Then I comb via, trimming the fats and shifting the usable content material up one stage on the timeline. That approach, once I carry the nice footage in from the following part of my modifying (when all the times are spliced collectively), it’s already been meticulously picked via.

I’ll usually have every day clustered by itself group on my grasp timeline and if there are frequent parts like “driving shots,” I’ll cluster these collectively so I do know the place to pull from.

screenshot showing folder structure for a documentary production

6. Assemble the Story in Post-Production

The magic occurs in post-production. Sometimes you go into it realizing you’ve bought unbelievable footage and precisely the way you’ll assemble it. Other occasions, you don’t have any clue, and also you uncover these unbelievable, inspiring quotes that you just’d completely missed since you had been so centered in your listing of questions.

  • Re-read your pre-production targets. The folks you deliberate to have interviews with—had been these the best topics? Did you get sufficient time with them?
  • Conduct a first edit. Go via all of the clips daily and trim out the great things, leaving the remainder behind.
  • Conduct a second edit. Select one of the best clips from these remaining. Arrange them into an fascinating story. By this stage, I had the Bandit Tour down to 34 minutes of principally interviews.
  • Conduct a third edit. Add B-roll, which serves as added context to the story and likewise helps to cowl up leap cuts in your edit. That was my footage of sand dunes, of individuals laughing, and of automobiles passing. B-roll helps paint a image of what your audio system are speaking about.
  • Add transitions and animated chapter titles. You see transitions all through the Bandit Tour doc. Transitions and titles give audiences a second to breathe and assist set up the setting. They’re additionally helpful in the event you didn’t get a shot of a street signal, like I forgot to do in Tigard & Coos Bay.
  • End it on a philosophical observe. If the aim of your documentary is to educate, encourage, or remodel, depart folks on a observe that prompts them to assume. That could possibly be an interviewee asking a highly effective query or clips of everybody reflecting. In the Bandit Tour documentary, I ended issues on a shot of the crew all standing on a large seashore rock with the ocean breaking round them. (The footage, apparently, wasn’t mine. It got here from a DJI Mavic Drone offered by Greg Malpass, Founder and CEO of Traction on Demand.)
  • Build a trailer. Trailers are quick, two-minute teaser movies for the mini doc. Take your cues from Hollywood: Pack the trailer with essentially the most fascinating stuff. Try to convey how thrilling the documentary is with out giving all of it away.

a documentary timeline in video editing software

7. Share and Promote Your Documentary

You’ve spent a lot of time and vitality making a documentary, now it’s time to ship it off into the world so folks can see it. There are a ton of various channels you should use to share your video, so take into consideration who can be enthusiastic about seeing it and the place they’d be most certainly to come throughout it.

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Brand Documentary Examples

Now that you just’re excited about them, you’ll begin to see model documentary examples in all places.

1. Jabil

The manufacturing providers firm Jabil gave its crew the editorial freedom to examine the way forward for sustainable packaging and produce a documentary.

2. MailChimp

The e-mail software program agency MailChimp produced a sequence of mini documentaries about small companies and the passionate folks behind them.

three. Patagonia

The environmentally-conscious clothes firm Patagonia is a prolific creator of documentaries. Below, a Patagonia mini documentary in regards to the tales behind our clothes.


The cybersecurity firm NETSCOUT partnered with legendary documentarian Werner Herzog to inform the story of the web in “Lo and Behold.”

5. Volvo

Car maker Volvo filmed a documentary about a father and son crew who, regardless of having no farming expertise, bought into agriculture and reworked the trade.

6. Coors Light

In a play on its iconic mountain-shaped emblem, Coors Light despatched photographer Ruben Wu and his journey to seize the blue ice partitions of Peru’s largest glacier. (It’s a mini-mini documentary—simply 4 minutes lengthy. Of all of the documentary examples, that is my favourite.)

7. American Express

The credit score cart large American Express produced a mini documentary in regards to the 70 million Americans with out entry to conventional banking providers.

My Tips for Making a Documentary-Style Video

1. Find Your Overall Narrative

I’m a mid-tier planner. Some folks like to script a documentary to a T. Others do zero planning and wing it. I’m within the center.

If you’re capturing one thing just like the Bandit Tour, you’ll be able to’t script or storyboard it as a result of it hasn’t occurred but, and also you need to doc actuality, not direct folks.

Through my questions and the folks I select to interview, I’m continuously guiding them to reply what I contemplate are the massive questions the documentary considers. In the case of the Bandit Tour, that was, “What does it mean for a company to really give back? And how does that enable some pretty amazing nonprofit organizations to be even more impactful?”

Traction on Demand sends 110 of their 800 workers to Dreamforce annually and people who go on the tour dedicate a complete week to volunteering. How fascinating is that? How usually do you’ve gotten a chance to unplug like that? I requested folks to mirror on that theme, and we bought plenty of nice stuff.

2. Earn Your Interviewees’ Trust

Vidyard CEO Michael Litt, Laura Galbraith, and I bought dropped into the Bandit Tour probably not realizing anybody. In that case, you’re ranging from zero belief.

As it turned out, Traction on Demand’s request that I not movie at evening ended up being actually useful to me as a result of it gave me this excellent alternative to get to know everybody off-camera. Then, on digital camera, they trusted me and had been a lot extra open.

three. Stay Fresh

Filming on a regular basis is exhausting. Take breaks, set down the digital camera, and keep sharp so when fascinating issues occur, you discover and seize them.

four. Be Present

There are occasions in documentary work the place you’re a part of the expertise you’re recording. There was a second after we had been all in a forested space close to the grass-covered dunes and everyone was advised to shut their eyes and take a breath. Well, if I did that, I’d miss capturing the shot of everybody doing it. My job is to convey that visually, so I had to shoot as an alternative of breathe.

5. Obsess Over Your Audio Quality

Bad audio bothers folks a lot worse than unhealthy high quality video. I extremely advocate that in the event you purchase no different piece of documentary gear, you put money into a microphone that clips to your interviewee’s shirt. Decent ones may be as low cost at $50 on Amazon.

Excellent audio comes from simply in regards to the high of the speaker’s chest. Lavalier mics sit there and supply for nice resonance. They additionally cut back ambient noises from getting into the microphone so that you keep away from a popping P’s or hissing S’s, which might occur when the microphone is true in entrance of the speaker’s face.

6. Don’t Forget the Wrap-Up

Once the occasion you’re recording is over, maintain the digital camera rolling. Get everybody’s tackle what occurred, their expertise, and their in-the-moment reflections. Are they thrilled? Disappointed? How does what simply occurred change them?

7. Remember That Not Everything Has an ROI

If you’re being requested to create a documentary with an ROI, counsel one other format. In the case of the Bandit Tour, what’s the return on doing good? Or on making a documentary about doing good? There had been plenty of prices concerned, however I’ve to imagine they had been far outweighed by the expertise of the crew doing good. But simply because you’ll be able to’t affix a greenback quantity to the result doesn’t imply it wasn’t worthwhile.

eight. Close Your Documentary on an Expansive Note

The bus we used on the Bandit Tour, in addition to the airstream and the Trans Am, are all packed away in storage now. Dreamforce is over. The crew has returned to on a regular basis work. What are we left with? Just the residual emotions of realizing that in our ultra-busy fashionable lives, a group of us took a week away to volunteer and actually sit with the concept that we will all make time to give again if we would like to. And by giving again, we study all of the superb folks doing unbelievable, heartfelt work day-after-day, and we develop nearer to these round us.

I’m grateful to have been invited. I received’t neglect the Bandit Tour, and I hope others study it and select not to neglect both. I hope individuals are impressed and join to change into bandits. And if this documentary does something, I hope it spreads that message.

Corporate Documentary FAQ

Can I point out my product?

Try to keep away from it, except it’s crucial to the story. For occasion, if viewers received’t perceive what’s occurring with out you clarify it, go forward. But the main target must be on the topics and their experiences.

Is making a mini doc costly?

It doesn’t have to be. Lots of nice documentaries are made with gear that prices lots of of fairly than 1000’s.

How ought to I promote my documentary?

Just since you make it doesn’t imply folks can discover it. Work together with your advertising crew to create a touchdown web page (just like the Bandit Tour one) and a promotional technique.

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Mathew King

Mathew King

Mathew is the Video Production Manager at Vidyard. He has spent practically 15 years producing movies of every kind for patrons world wide and has introduced his ardour and expertise to the crew at Vidyard since 2015. He spends most of his time exterior of Vidyard planning home renovations together with his spouse and enjoying development together with his son.

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