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Guidelines on how to produce a documentary without filmmaking experience.

Start by finding a subject, event, person or situation you are passionate about, without real interest you won’t be able to drive your documentary through distribution. Filmmaking is not just about the “the film” but marketing and distribution as well.

The development phase of documentary making is time-consuming, research places like: Documentary Channel, Discovery channel, Current TV, and public television for inspiration before creating the aesthetics of your project.

Formulate the basic idea of the film in 2 to 4 sentences, if you are not able to edit your thoughts in this manner about your subject or topic, you might not be ready to begin pre production of your film. Become an expert on the issue, person or situation you are concentrating on by researching everything that you might be able to find on the matter.

Be clear about the point you are trying to make and in what voice do you want to move this idea forward to your audience.

  • Create an outline, think about how you would like your film to look.
  • What do you want to happen first, second and last
  • How or what is connecting the different segments
  • What questions is your film asking and answering
  • Create a list of experts and locations you wish to showcase and why

Use your outline to prepare the treatment before creating a shooting script. Treatments are very important tool in filmmaking. Most of the time 2 to 3 pages containing the essential information of your film. Think of a treatment this way, the reader should be able to understand your vision in 2 to 3 pages. This is the breakdown of a treatment: Synopsis, Main topic/character, structure, style, production details and production organization/schedule.

Organize a pitch before you begin the organization of experts and crew. The goal is to pitch your project under 5 minutes.

Production organization: Here is where you organize your locations, experts, producers, director, crew, post production, marketing and distribution. Create a budget and add everything you might need to produce the entire film. Also add a contingency line of 20 to 30% to make sure you are covered in case something goes wrong.

Secure: Funding, your crew and equipment.

 Prepare: Talent and location releases as well as permits if need it. In addition, built web-site and social media profiles and start collecting emails to build potential audience.

Distribution: Is your project for TV, web or DVD? If the answer is yes to all, then you need to cut different versions in post production. For TV 52 to 57 minutes, for web 60 to 80 minutes, same for DVD. Make sure you have an entertainment attorney and a photographer in the set for promotional stills of your project.


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