Things you need to know about documentary films

documentary films

A documentary film is a nonfictional film that is intended to document true events, mainly for the purposes of education, keeping a historical record and instruction. The documentary tells a true story, in which the narrative and expressive elements are based on real facts. This is the definition given by almost all dictionaries. A documentary-style film has the duration of a narrative film, and embraces more challenging themes at times, but also tells, in greater depth than the TV, the characters that made history.

The phases of the documentary

STEP 1: Information search

Obviously, knowing well what you intend to tell is the first consideration to make. Have you thoroughly analyzed the topic to be discussed? Do you know the theme of the story in-depth? If this is the case, you can go to the next step; otherwise, we advise you to carry out as many researches as possible.

The sources are varied: the Internet, library, contact subject matter experts. Probably in your researches you will certainly have already identified some contacts. Create a list, with name, surname, contact, outcome, notes, etc. Start to understand his availability for a possible comparison or interview.


STEP 2: The story, the fact

Once the subject is outlined, a small script (or plot for a documentary) is drawn up. History should fascinate, amaze, attract the attention of the wider public, but all these factors are closely linked to your narrative and sensitivity. There is no need for very detailed arguments in this first phase. 


STEP 3: Interviews, actors, or extras?

The documentaries, for the vast majority of cases, adopt the "interviews" system. Not too long ago, the "actors" in the documentary genre are entering forcefully, which could sound bad in the definition par excellence of the so-called "cinema of the real."

This genre actually brings an extra emotional involvement to the narration. The inclusion of the actors, however, is not a trivial matter; it is necessary to know the dynamics of the conduct of the actors to insert them at best in history without exaggerating. Evaluating this aspect carefully is certainly a good pre-production standard.


STEP 4: The budget

The economic question is certainly a fundamental question. You can consult organizations, individuals, companies, and calls for tenders. Last but not least, crowd funding, a very useful resource in the world of small and large productions, was firmly established. The budget challenge is certainly intriguing as an argument, and more often than not, just a few simple rules are needed to get what you want.

The equipment to make a documentary

Leaving aside the preparation phase, which includes the study and research of essential information to talk about the subjects and to know their traces and habits, let's see what equipment is needed to get to work.

Choosing and organizing the right equipment to film a documentary is perhaps the most important step to take. Whether you are in places and situations where supplies are rare or even impossible, or that you place yourself in the park, it is useful to prepare material for any eventuality because nature, and especially animals, do not always give time to get ready.


First of all, we must think of camera; you must have at least two battery packs. Of course, if you are supposed to work exclusively on battery power, it is useless to carry too many ribbons. If you have the possibility to charge the batteries, the charger for the power supply and possibly for the car is indispensable. 

Camcorders rarely give the possibility to interchange the lens, but it is often possible to mount some additional lenses on the existing lens. This opportunity can be verified from the manual or from the presence of graft on the lens itself. Depending on the subject to be shot, it can be interesting to have a wide-angle lens (focal length 50 mm, generally from 19 to 24 mm for landscapes). It reduces the focal length of the optics to obtain wider frames but with some distortions to the image margins, or an additional macro, which reduces the minimum focusing distance (useful for shooting small objects). Some lens filters can also be a valuable aid during shooting. 


The tripod is absolutely essential, for two reasons. The first is, of course, the stability of the shots that often provide for highly magnified shots that are, therefore, more susceptible to frame vibrations. Then the tripod is very useful to realize a free installation of shooting that does not require the presence of an operator. There are also evolved trestles equipped with an electric motor whose movements can be controlled remotely. In any case, the remote control of the camcorder can be useful to start recording at the most opportune moment without touching the installation. The tripod is, therefore, a very effective tool, especially to make the shots stable and elegant. It is also useful if shortened and placed under the camera as additional support.


Regarding clothing, there is no doubt that camouflage is the most effective weapon for approaching a subject, especially if it is a wild animal that therefore has no daily relations with humans. The aim is naturally to blend in with the vegetation in order to film the animal without disturbing its habits and behavior. You don't necessarily need a camouflage suit, just as long as the clothes you wear are not in contrast with the colors of the vegetation or the surrounding environment. A jacket of the type commonly used by photographers, full of pockets and strap holders, can come in handy to carry with it the spare and cleaning accessories of the camcorder, avoiding to always moving with a bag.


The audio component can be important to document a natural subject. First of all, you need to wear as much sound insulation headphones as possible. This is to increase the knowledge of what is captured and verify more precisely the presence of external disturbances. As for recording, the microphone integrated into the camcorder is not always the most effective weapon, and it is, therefore, advisable to have an external directional microphone, with the ability to change the coverage radius according to the zoom value. Even an environmental microphone, of those placed on the ground, can be used to record-keeping at a safe distance. Naturally, it must have a fairly long cable and must be camouflaged and positioned in the area of ‚Äč‚Äčinterest during the preparation phase. For more complex positionsdocumentary films, radio microphones that do not require a wire connection can also be used. They are more expensive but undoubtedly more comfortable.


1084 Words


Jan 09, 2020


3 Pages

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