How To Work On Documentaries – A Basic Guide To Documentary Filming

If you are in filmmaking, you might have already heard about documentaries. Documentaries are not long and therefore; a majority of amateur filmmakers think that documentary filmmaking is an easy task. The truth is that it is not.

Documentary filmmaking is one of the most challenging genres of filmmaking yet one of the most rewarding experiences that a filmmaker will have. A lot of work goes into documentary filmmaking. Would you like to find out the basic steps on how to work on documentaries? We will help you with that.

This blog will focus on the basic steps that a filmmaker follows when producing a documentary and other elements that he or she should focus on in documentary filmmaking.

What Is a Documentary Film?

What Is a Documentary Film | Sujo Twenty-Two

A documentary film is a genre of filmmaking that contains non-fictional video content. The main intention of a documentary film is to capture realistic situations or to document the realistic aspects of a topic.

Earlier, documentaries primarily focused on filming instruction, education, or historical events, and such documentaries were limited to one minute or less. However, their purpose changed with time. Now, documentaries are longer and new categories have joined this genre of filmmaking.

One of the main characteristics of documentaries is that these short videos are very informative. In recent times, documentaries have grabbed the attention of many filmmakers and social media platforms such as YouTube. This entry of documentaries into YouTube has helped this film genre to grow day by day. 

Important Aspects in a Good Documentary?

Important Aspects in a Good Documentary | Sujo Twenty-Two


The subject refers to what the documentary is all about and it is one of the aspects of a good documentary. Before you even start filming you should have a clear idea of what you are focusing on in the documentary.

In general, documentaries focus on specific and factual subjects rather than on general human conditions. In most instances, you might have come across documentary films focusing on public matters. Social issues, politics, crime, and history are some of the topics or subjects covered in documentaries that focus on public matters.

The inclusion of actual and contemporary places, events, and interviews with people is very important for a documentary film to be one of the best.


Apart from deciding the subject or the topic of the documentary, it is important to be aware of the purpose of the documentary. The purpose means what the filmmaker wants to say to the audience about the subject or the topic.

The purpose of a majority of documentaries is usually to enlighten the audience about the actual events, issues, and other subjects that are realistic.

Production Method and Technique

How the documentary film is put together is referred to as the production method and technique of a documentary. This includes the way how the shots are taken, the sounds are recorded, and how both the shots and sounds are edited.

One of the main features of a documentary is to cast actual people and not actors to represent real people. Filming in the actual location is also a must in documentary filming.

Basic Steps to Make a Documentary

Find a Story

Basic Steps to Make a Documentary | Sujo Twenty-Two

First and foremost, you should come up with an attractive subject or topic for the documentary that is also interesting to you. The subject can be anything that can grab the attention of your desired audience.

When deciding on your subject, you should also pay attention to the purpose of the documentary that you are making. Being aware of the audience that you are targeting is very crucial. The platform in which you are hoping to broadcast your documentary, the filming location, and your expectation on how popular your documentary should be are some of the other aspects that you should consider when you are trying to plan the story for your documentary.

Hence, prior research is key in documentary filmmaking. After you have decided on the subject, learn everything about the subject. Refer to other documentaries that fall into the same category as yours. Never forget to take notes and carry out initial interviews with relevant people. 

Selection of Essential Camera Equipment 

Selection of Essential Camera Equipment | Sujo Twenty-Two

Choosing your essential gear for the documentary would be the next step you have to follow. Before you start working on the project, you should assemble all the camera equipment that you think might be useful to you. Cameras, microphones, and a tripod with a video head or a gimbal are some of the basic equipment that you should have with you.

Nonetheless, deciding which type of lighting to use in the documentary is also essential. Lighting can indeed bring forth a lot of differences to your documentary.

Learn more about film lighting types by visiting our page “Types of Film Lighting in Video Production”.

Story Structure and Production Planning

Up to now, you might have a better understanding of what your subject is and also you might have assembled all the essential equipment that you need for the documentary. Now is the right time to start planning the production and the story structure.

First of all, you must think about how you are going to present your story in the documentary. 

When attempting to plan how you are going to present your story, always start by highlighting the key points of the story, compelling elements of the story, and the primary characters, and then decide on the structure and the general outline of the story.

When you have all those important elements listed out, you will understand when and where to use original footage, interview sessions, existing footage, and other materials in the documentary. 

Attention to the Budget

Attention to the Budget | Sujo Twenty-Two

Creating a budget is one of the most important steps in documentary filmmaking you should do once you have planned the story structure and production. This step is crucial for you to understand how far you can go to create an interesting documentary.

If you have the right kind of connections in the industry, it is best to seek sponsorships for your documentary. If you wish to increase your budget, you can always plan some fundraising activities.

Come Up with a Shot List

Come Up with a Shot List | Sujo Twenty-Two

When compared to movies, documentary projects are shorter in length. Although there is a difference in size, documentaries also require a script to follow. Having a general outline of your project is very important. In addition, the process of documentary filming can be made more fruitful if you have the following ready:

  • A list of preferred locations, 
  • A list of prior interviews and interviews you hope to take 
  • Interview questions, and 
  • An outline for your intro clip and concluding clip

No matter what you decide to do in your documentary, it is essential to follow the legal guidelines for documentary filmmaking. It is important to follow copyright laws and obtain rights for the use of original footage, music, and other third-party materials. Taking legal permission to shoot in locations that require such permission is very important. One piece of advice that can be followed in this case is to use your music as much as possible. 

For instance, if you wish to use a drone for filming purposes in Thailand or any other country, there are some rules and regulations for you to follow. 

Find out more about the topic: Thailand Drone Laws: Are They Legal?

Shoot Scheduling

The next step is to start scheduling the shoot. It is important to make a schedule that can help to minimize unpredictable issues as much as possible. It is because any sort of delay in shooting can directly affect your budget as well.

Some of the things to consider when planning your shoot schedule for the documentary are to aptly schedule interviews with respondents, obtain permission for locations beforehand, and be strict with shooting timings. Do not be discouraged if any sort of issue occurs, and always have a backup plan when in need. 

Time for Shooting

Time for Shooting | Sujo Twenty-Two

An important fact to remember once you have started shooting for your documentary is that be mindful to conduct interviews with respondents in a way that can provide maximum credible support to your subject. Ensure to capture all the essential details and moments in real-world footage. These can indeed evoke the interest of the target audience.

Video Editing

Video Editing | Sujo Twenty-Two

In filmmaking, editing is an important step that should be followed with much care and attention. The editing part can make or break your dream of a documentary project.

It is important to have the right type of editing software to work on the editing part. First, you should put your shots into sequential order and match the timeline of your documentary. Never hesitate to eliminate unnecessary clips that can harm the flow of the documentary. You must remember that you are making a documentary and not a film. Hence, unnecessary length in your video can bore your audience. 

Sharing and Promoting Your Documentary

Sharing and Promoting Your Documentary |Sujo Twenty-Two

After you are done with all the planning, filming, and editing parts, it is high time that you showcase your outcome. Sharing and promoting your documentary is essential. You do not want your hard work to be wasted in any way. You must put your effort into finding ways to share and promote your documentary at any cost.

Free screening of your documentary is the best way to start with. Their feedback and reactions can also help you to reconsider the editing part as well. In addition, social media platforms such as YouTube and Facebook are perfect platforms for you to share and promote your masterpiece.

Finally, if you think your creation needs more exposure and should be marketed further, just go for it. Consulting professional social media influencers or TV stations can help you with promoting your documentary to a larger audience.

A Documentary About Your Company | SUJO TWENTY-TWO

Now you might have some idea of how to make a documentary on your own. One final tip that can further help you in creating a masterpiece is to explore the various types of documentaries that you come across.

There are thousands of documentary movies that you can explore, and these will belong to different categories as well. There is a lot that you can learn from them. To add up, always keep looking for new ideas for documentaries. And rather than using old technology, try to incorporate new technology such as drones when you are filming any kind of documentary. That will help you to stand out from other documentaries. 


What Is a Documentary Film?

A documentary film is a genre of filmmaking that contains non-fictional video content. The main intention of a documentary film is to capture realistic situations or to document the realistic aspects of a topic.

What Makes a Good Documentary?

To be honest, there is no secret recipe to follow in documentary filmmaking. A good documentary is determined by its subject and how the audience perceives your documentary. Hence, it is always smart to come up with a subject that is very much interesting to a larger audience. This way, you can come up with a good documentary.