Produce a Documentary Show

Edited by Jan Margery Castillo, Anonymous, Lynn, Eng and 1 other

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Documentary shows are far from the stellar and big-ticket movie productions that we see in cinemas today. They feature a reality-based slice of life that will either catch the interest of the viewer, or bore him. Most of the time, those who sit for hours watching documentaries are people who are more curious and sensitive to people, things, and situations around their existence. It is a challenge to create these types of programs because there are a couple of responsibilities a producer has, from the pre-production to the filming itself, and after the show has been produced. You must be wondering how the producers were able to pull off a great show despite the limited budget and resources. Read on to learn more about documentaries and how to produce a documentary show.

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Pre-Production

Every story starts with a good research. Research is a test of a good idea. Story pitching is the most difficult part because almost every topic has already been presented in television. It takes both creativity and diligence in pitching a story.

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Basic Sources of Ideas

  1. 1
    Daily experiences.
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    You can obtain many ideas and much inspiration from your surroundings. If you think that your normal and regular routine is boring, consider looking through the environment around you. Some of the great documentaries recorded are inspired from everyday activities of certain groups or communities. Traditions, different beliefs, weird practices, and illegal businesses are among the things you can discover if you closely observe the society around you.
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  2. 2
    Ordinary people.
    They are the common people you see every day while on your way to work, while leafing through newspaper and magazine stands or as you go out for a run. People you seldom notice like cab drivers, street sweepers, village security guards, vendors, front desk representatives, hotel bell boys, or the lifeguard at the beach could be a good source of story idea.
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  3. 3
    Government data and agencies.
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    Browse through government files on the web and you'll discover a lot of possible proposal. Controversies, unresolved cases, government officials' issues, and anything that could stir the interest and concern of the countrymen are worth a documentary.
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  4. 4
    Non-government advocacy groups.
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    These groups always have an important issue they champion. Look at their platform and see if their platform could be extended with a supporting documentary. Documentaries are often more convincing because they usually are less biased. The advocacy group may even help fund your documentary. Be careful if you are only getting donations from one only source because your journalistic integrity may be compromised by the donors agenda.
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  5. 5
    Social media.
    The trending topic locally and worldwide can easily be found on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Today, these sites are utilized for news, rage, craze and fad dissemination.
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  6. 6
    Other media.
    Foreign shows like those on National Geography, the Discovery Channel, and Bio, and Hollywood and Bollywood movies, along with many other shows are great sources of inspiration. Even books and music can help you land a good pitch.
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Developing Contacts

Having your own network is a must for every researcher or any media practitioner. Not even the best and most established producer depends only on himself. The following are tips on how to develop contacts:

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  1. 1
    Talk to people.
    Treat everyone you meet as a potential friend and teammate. Talk to anyone you could spend at least a good five minutes with. Engage a conversation with taxi drivers, janitors, the guy next in line with you while waiting for the bus or trains, the pizza delivery boy and basically anyone whenever you have a chance.
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  2. 2
    Build a network.
    Most, if not all the time, your friends and acquaintances are not enough help for certain topics you need. Building a network means knowing the right people who can refer you to people who can help.
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  3. 3
    Speak their language.
    Learn the art of adapting to one's culture. Associate with them or learn to speak the way they do in order for them not to hesitate sharing or opening up with you.
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  4. 4
    Earn their trust.
    The best way to earn their trust is to keep your word. No one wants to get his hopes up for nothing.
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  5. 5
    Keep contact numbers and renew ties every now and then.
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Once you already have an idea, the next step will be to make a thesis statement. This is where the discussion of the whole story will evolve. Every documentary should have a point. It is vital to know and understand the point of the story you are about to produce.

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Putting Elements Together

Elements are the series of points you want to address in your story. Each element is composed of case studies. Case studies are individuals who are to be interviewed. They have stories to tell.

  1. 1
    Find the perfect case study.
    There will be many candidates that you will have to choose from, but the key here is to look for the most compelling case study. Make sure he or she is credible, honest and knows many things. In doing background interviews, ask questions that you think the masses also want to know. Always remember the five W's and one H (What, Who, When, Where, Why and How).
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  2. 2
    Elaborate on a topic or story.
    Seek advice and input from analysts and experts to further elaborate the story. Be extra diligent in acquiring background data like historical data, and the latest news on the subject. Get all sides if it is an investigative documentary. Take note, however, that for documentaries, it is okay to follow or show just one perspective.
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  3. 3
    Show something new.
    Almost every topic there is has already been tackled on national or international television. Make sure you show some new angle to your story.
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Practical Aspects of Research

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Research has to be complete, even to the minute details of the shoot. The basic responsibility of a researcher is to know the following:

  1. 1
    Weather.
    Check the weather in the area of the shoot on the day or days of scheduled taping.
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  2. 2
    What the team should bring or wear to a shoot.
    The team should be at their most comfortable state when shooting.
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  3. 3
    Directions, exact location, estimated duration of travel between locations.
    This will save a lot of time for the team.
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  4. 4
    Facilities available and not available in the area.
    Being prepared is the key to a smooth flow of film production.
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  5. 5
    Language barrier.
    Have a local translator accompany the team if necessary.
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  6. 6
    Cultural differences.
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  7. 7
    Permit from government agencies.
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  8. 8
    Permit for shoot locations.
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  9. 9
    Dangers that the group should prepare for.
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Qualities of a Good Researcher

  1. 1
    Nose for stories.
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  2. 2
    Eyes for details.
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  3. 3
    Gossiper.
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  4. 4
    Always curious and suspicious.
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  5. 5
    In touch with the world.
    A good researcher can relate to people and speak their language.
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  6. 6
    Charming.
    Being able to be sweet and kind to anyone has its perks, and one of these is to get the necessary help for a film production.
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The result of research determines if a certain documentary is doable or not. If it is doable, then the research becomes the basis of he story flow and outline of the documentary

Shooting and Directing

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Shooting a documentary means capturing the real-life elements of the story using a video camera. It is different from other shooting formats in several ways. Documentaries are low-profile production with limited budget. Shooting is a field work and no pre-meditated storyboards. Anything goes, and you must expect the unexpected. Shooting a documentary is a team effort and everyone on the team should know how to do what everyone else does.

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Preparing for a Shoot

Here are the things your team needs to prepare prior to shooting:

  1. 1
    Camera.
    Bring a high definition video camera and a lot of tapes. A digital SLR camera is also a plus gadget.
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  2. 2
    Draft a working outline.
    Decide what angle you want to pursue and keep it in mind.
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  3. 3
    Schedule your shoots.
    Create a list or thing you need to shoot once in the area. Strategize in order to save time and energy.
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  4. 4
    Review the research to know where to shoot.
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Actual Shooting

When your team is already on the location, keep in mind the angle of the story you want to pursue. Use basic shots like wide establishing shots, medium shots, closeups, extreme closeups, pan from left to right and right to left, tilt from up to down and from down to up, and zoom in and zoom out.

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Shooting Techniques

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Shots used in documentaries are the basic and simple ones. Compared to large-production movies, there are less artistic shots used. But there are shooting techniques that could add emphasis and depth to the story.

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  1. 1
    Tripod versus handheld shots.
    Tripod shots are steady, while handheld shots are shaky. The reason videographers use handheld shots is that they create tension and texture. It's also more intimate because it depicts a real-time face to face conversation.
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  2. 2
    Importance of shot length.
    It takes 7-10 seconds to establish a shot.
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  3. 3
    Importance of having a steady hand.
    Moving subjects are best captured when you have a steady hand.
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What to Shoot?

Two of the most important things that a videographer should tape are the interviews and "situationers" or "sitners". These are the outside situations of the story and the case studies like the environment. Things that have a strong connection or influence with the interviewee could give a huge impact on the audience's sympathy.

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Capturing Audio

It is very important to capture natural sound or the so-called "natsot". These are the outside noises around the element of the story or around the case study. Examples of natsots are the humming of the bird, the sound of crickets at night, the honking horns of public vehicles during a heavy traffic, the noise from a construction site and many more. The natural sound adds credibility and truthfulness of the shots taken. It also appeals to the viewers' senses and imagination.

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Clear audio during interviews is also essential. The very words of the case study are better understood and felt when the audio is perfectly clear.

Directing Shots

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The director's main role is to direct the shots on case studies. He gives instructions on what shot should be taken on certain circumstances, what particular sitners to use and what shooting technique to implement. The case study is also being told where to look or how to maintain eye contact. He also keeps the case study at ease for a free flowing interview.



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Ethics in Shooting

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There are sensitive subjects that should not be included when shooting. There are guidelines that the videographer and the director should follow. It is not allowed to shoot extreme close-ups of children that are suffering. There are religious groups too that prohibit the filming of some of their own practices. The team should respect such regulations to avoid issues.

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Post-Production

Post-production includes the writing of the script, preview of shots taken, listing all the shots gathered, voicing, and editing.

Script Writing

Before writing the script, the writer should have previewed all the shots and arranged them, according the angle of the story. He should also prepare all the research materials for more in-depth information. Here are some tips on how to write a good script:

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  1. 1
    Revolve the script around the thesis statement.
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  2. 2
    Talk to your audience.
    The script is the translator or the story to the audience. It has to speak as if it is being told by a friend.
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  3. 3
    Use simple words and phrases.
    Your main agenda is to relay the information to the viewers. The simpler the words, the better.
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  4. 4
    Be direct and to the point.
    Long introductions are unnecessary. It will only bore the audience. Use succinct sentences.
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  5. 5
    Make a substantial script.
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  6. 6
    Challenge the viewers.
    The last part of the script should carry a challenge for the audience. Think about what they should start or stop doing after watching the documentary.
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Editing

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Editing is a craft and art. It is a craft because it involves skills and working with hands. It is an art because it's the creative use of skills and imagination. Shot is the basic unit of editing. The language of editing is better understood this way: If word + word + word = Sentence Then shot + shot + shot = Sequence Sequence + sequence + sequence = Documentary

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Shot Selection

The primary task of editing is to know the story well. The editor must know the plot, characters, mood, visual style or treatment of the documentary film. With that knowledge, he will be able to choose the shots properly and with proper sequencing and sound.

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  1. 1
    Scan your raw footage.
    The editor should familiarize himself with all the shot taken.
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  2. 2
    Take note of the most telling, interesting and proficient shots.
    Editors have the eye for details and body language.
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  3. 3
    Think of the ways on how to use the best shots for your story.
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Shot Sequencing

Ask the following questions when sequencing shots:

  1. 1
    How should you order the shots?
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  2. 2
    What is the point of the sequence?
    The most common point of sequencing is showing the action and then cutting to the reaction.
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  3. 3
    What is the mood?
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  4. 4
    What is the pacing?
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These questions will help you better edit your documentary. These are guides to remind you of your main purpose of the story.

Elements of a Good Edit

  1. 1
    Smooth change of pace.
    When there is a cut to cut edit of two people having a conversation and it seems like there's not a single lagging, then it is a good edit.
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  2. 2
    Variety of Angles.
    Maintaining a variety of angles is important to avoid dragging sequences.
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  3. 3
    Element of Surprise.
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  4. 4
    Transitions.
    Common transitions used for editing a documentary are cuts, dissolve (which implies a passing of time), fade to black (means moving from something that is totally different) and fade in.
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  5. 5
    Graphics.
    Graphics add entertainment value and color.
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  6. 6
    Montage.
    Every documentary has a montage. This is the creative sequencing of shots usually without voice over. It is used to establish a theme or subject. The montage has to complement the audio and soundbites.
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  7. 7
    File Footage.
    This adds production value to your documentary film.
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What to avoid when Editing

  1. 1
    Too loud of sound.
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  2. 2
    Jump shots.
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  3. 3
    No natural sound.
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  4. 4
    Wide to wide cut.
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  5. 5
    Pan to pan shots.
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  6. 6
    Bad music.
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  7. 7
    No continuity.
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  8. 8
    Blank cuts.
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Audio Editing

Get a good music or scoring that will fit the mood of the film. Make sure that the music you are using is non-copyrighted or free. Include the natural sound always, as it adds real drama to the story.

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Editing Ethics

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The TV industry is not for everyone. Some are given the privilege to live their dream or passion in working behind the camera and produce great shows. However, if you can edit well, you can use it for livelihood. There is a growing demand for editors. You can also become a shooter or videographer, or a writer.

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  1. 1
    Editors have great power, and thus, great responsibility.
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  2. 2
    Always be fair.
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  3. 3
    Provide context for soundbites.
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  4. 4
    Guard against sensationalism.
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  5. 5
    Be careful about accidental incrimination.
    Blur faces of children or victims if needed.
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  6. 6
    Protect or hide identities of particular subjects, like child suspects, sex workers, people with controversial diseases and other sensitive visuals.
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  7. 7
    Secure copyright permission for music and video you did not produce such as YouTube files videos and DVD footage.
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Categories : Business & Management

Recent edits by: Eng, Lynn, Anonymous

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