Free training

The Ultimate Guide to Starting Your Documentary Filmmaking Journey

cinematic documentaries documentary filmmaking editing filmmaking storytelling
Sebastian Solberg - Documentary Filmmaker

Have you ever watched a documentary that left you inspired, informed, and itching to tell your own story? Have you ever wondered, "How do I start making a documentary?" If so, you're in the right place.


How To Make a Documentary: Step-by-step

In this blog, I'm going to run through the key steps involved in creating a documentary, from finding a compelling story and conducting research to choosing the right equipment, shooting interviews, and editing your footage for the final cut. My hope in sharing these steps with you is that it will give you an overview of the entire filmmaking process and inspire you to make your dream documentary.


1. Find Your Story

Every great documentary begins with a compelling story. It's the heart and soul of your film. Whether it's a personal experience, a social issue, or an intriguing character, the key is to find a story that you are passionate about and believe needs to be told. Look for unique perspectives, consider the story's relevance, evaluate its potential for visual storytelling, conduct preliminary research, and reflect on the story's impact. For more guidance on finding a powerful documentary idea, check out this blog that I wrote on: How to Find and Develop Great Documentary Ideas. Remember, the right story can be the foundation of a compelling and impactful documentary.


2. Do Your Research

Once you've found your story, it's time to dig deeper. Research is a crucial part of documentary filmmaking. It helps you understand the context of your story, find potential interviewees, gather facts, explore different angles, plan your narrative structure, and be open to new directions. As you learn more about your subject matter, be prepared to adapt and refine your narrative.


3. Develop a Plan

Before you start filming, it's essential to have a plan. This includes a budget, a shooting schedule, a script or outline, a crew and equipment plan, consideration of legal and ethical issues, and a post-production plan. A plan is not set in stone. It's a guide that can help you stay organized and focused, but it's also flexible. Be prepared to adapt your plan as you learn more about your subject matter, encounter unexpected challenges, and discover new opportunities.


4. Gather Your Equipment

You don't need a Hollywood budget to make a documentary. At the very least, you'll need a camera, a microphone, and editing software. Consider your audio needs, think about lighting, don't forget accessories, invest in editing software, and consider your mobility. To help you get started with what kit to buy, I've put together a free documentary camera guide.

It's easy to get distracted by camera equipment. So remember to focus on telling a compelling story, and use your equipment as a tool to help you do that.


5. Start Filming

With your plan and equipment in place, it's time to start filming. This is where you'll capture interviews, b-roll footage, and any other visual elements you need for your documentary. Conduct interviews, capture b-roll, use visual storytelling techniques, and maintain ethical standards. Be patient, stay focused, and enjoy the process of bringing your story to life.


6. Edit Your Documentary

Once you've captured all your footage, it's time to edit. This is where you'll shape your story, add music and graphics, and fine-tune your documentary until it's just right. Organize your footage, create a rough cut, refine your narrative, add music and graphics, fine-tune your documentary, and get feedback. For a step-by-step guide to editing an engaging documentary, I've put together a blog where I share: 6 Steps to Editing a Powerful Documentary. Take your time, be patient, and don't be afraid to experiment until you achieve the result you're looking for.


7. Share Your Documentary

Finally, once your documentary is complete, it's time to share it with the world. Identify your target audience, submit to film festivals, utilize online platforms, plan community screenings, consider distribution deals, and engage in outreach and promotion. Sharing your documentary is about more than just getting views. It's about engaging with your audience, sparking conversations, and making an impact.


Making a documentary is a journey filled with challenges and rewards. It requires passion, patience, and perseverance. But with the right story, the right plan, and the right attitude, you can create a documentary that makes a difference.


Level Up Your Documentary Filmmaking

Ready to take your documentary filmmaking skills to the next level? Enroll in our Documentary Fundamentals course today. This comprehensive course will provide you with the tools, techniques, and guidance you need to create a compelling and impactful documentary. Don't wait, start your documentary filmmaking journey today!

Written by Sebastian Solberg

Sebastian is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose credits include One Breath and the BAFTA-nominated film The Eagle HuntressHis passion for fostering emerging talent led to the creation of the Documentary Film Academy, an online community and educational platform designed to empower the next generation of filmmakers.

Get Personalised Documentary Filmmaking Coaching

Unlock your documentary's full potential with tailored 1:1 coaching designed just for you.

Learn more

Our Courses

Documentary Fundamentals

A comprehensive introduction to filmmaking, covering everything from camera basics to editing. Perfect for beginners, this course will provide hands-on experience in all the key aspects of the film production process.

Learn more

Documentary Storytelling Mastery

Learn how to tell engaging stories, create characters that viewers will relate to, and navigate any moral questions that might arise during the process of making a documentary.

Join the waitlist

Our Recent Posts

The Complete Guide to Ethical Storytelling for Documentary Filmmakers

Cinematic Gimbal Techniques: Pro Filmmaking Essentials

How To Create a Call Sheet: Step-by-Step Guide

Documentary tips delivered straight to your inbox.


By clicking 'Subscribe' I accept and consent to receive email updates and tips from Documentary Film Academy.