Learn How to Make a Documentary about a Person | Newbie Film School (2023)

Makinga documentary about a person involves creating a factual, non-fiction film thatportrays an in-depth story about them or a topic they care about. If planningto develop one, consider working with those who are involved in things you arepassionate about. Also, choose your subject by looking at their charisma andability to speak on camera. Let them know what they are up for from thebeginning before starting the process.

How to Make a Documentary about a Person? There aretwo primary steps involved in making a documentary about a person. These are;gathering contentandshooting the documentary.

Making a documentary about a person requires you to inform, educate, and enlighten the audience concerning the real person they are not aware of through the subject.On the other hand, it can be a fulfilling venture when done right. All you need is the right script; include all the critical aspects, and great shooting while avoiding common production mistakes.

Let’sdig into it.

1.Gathering Content

Gatheringcontent is an essential aspect of the documentary. The script is whatdetermines the angle a documentary takes on the subject. Its pace, tone,length, as well as if it evokes the emotions on the intended audience. Here ishow to go about writing a documentary about a personality – whether famous,infamous, or unknown.


Tryto learn as much as you can about the subject in question. Unlike any otherfictional movies, documentaries are all about its truth. Take your time to getall the facts and chase any leads concerning your subject matter. It ensuresthat you do not bore the audience with apparent facts they already know.

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For reference, Lookout if there is any other documentary about the same person. Also, check-in all the records of books, publications, or the mainstream media. From here, you can come up with a unique and exciting angle that resonates with the audience. Some great anecdotes come from their friends, family, and coworkers.

Refine Your Content

Oncethe research is all piled up, it is time now to pick the turning points, theirstruggles, wins, loses, dramatic moments, fun moments, etc. Refine them all,and you will get a direction of the story you want to tell about the person.

Makea Credible Story

Always remember that you are making a documentary for an audience which is not necessarily made of experts. Therefore, create a storyline that they can easily follow through. Ask questions at the beginning to create tension and answer them throughout the documentary.

Building your story bit by bit ensures that the audience understands the intended information without feeling overwhelmed. One important point before writing about the person in the script is to have an unbiased approach. It should look like a propaganda film unless you are assigned to do that job.

Write the Real Character

Thechapters should flesh out moments which are real, and the audience can engagewith the character. Try to pick up points from their nature, which you do in afictional character. Give the characters an arc and the conflicts theyencounter. Our life is juicier than fiction that you will surely get thosescenes for your plots and outline.

Donot Fear trouble.

Themain reason for making a documentary about a person is to give the audienceinformation they do not have. Ask the person, even the most uncomfortablequestions that the audience might want to know concerning the topic you aretackling. Your documentary should not look like a public relations stunt.

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Themore internal you go into the person, the more unhidden gems pour out.Remember, we may not agree, voyeurism is what audience feeds on when you wantto peek into someone’s life. That is why you see the paparazzi media bloom withthe decadent gossips and festered controversies.


Getall the facts and numbers about the person right. You should have a source toapprove all the information the person is giving you. Fact-checking helps youto avoid rejection by the public, poor ratings and generally keeps you on thesafe side with parties involved.


Givethe audience spending time to watch your documentary the best time they canhope for. Your writing needs to take a unique approach and find a way to makethe film livelier. You can include elements like time-lapse, recreations, stopmotion, and several more you can come with.

2. Shooting the Documentary

Onceyou have your script and decided on the angle, tone, and direction to take withyour film, you are free to start shooting. Here is how to go about shooting thedocumentary.

Planthe production

Planall the aspects involved in production to avoid unexpected troubles.Communicate promptly to your production crew, and the interviewees. Draw abudget and ensure the transport and logistics arrangements are in place. Createand share with the all parties involved the production schedule.

Comfortthe Subject

Now,it is the filmmaker’s call, on how much you want to share the shooting withyour subject. If the person is a celebrity, they are quite aware of thefilmmaking process and its requirements. But, when it comes to a person who isfacing the camera for the first time, It can be overwhelming.

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So,with the first-timers or the introverts, you have to win their trust. They havea fear of getting skinned by the maker. They will try hard to hide their fearsand shortcomings. So, it is a tricky road to tread for a filmmaker. Once, youwin their trust; the path becomes smooth. But, it solely depends on you andyour interpersonal transactions to get the best out of the person.

Now,a completely diabolical situation arises with celebrities or famouspersonalities, say a politician. Giving interviews, facing the camera, knowingtheir best poses are second nature to them. A documentary has to go beyondthat. And, they have their inflated egos which can puncture your story. Youneed to win their trust too. Sometimes not sharing some things can make thedocumentary fascinating. It is entirely up to the filmmaker on how he doesthat. The primary purpose here is to comfort your Protagonist.

Shot Breakdown

Follow the documentary script that you had prepared earlier when shooting. The script guides you on how to shoot by identifying factors like; locations, the correspondents, interview questions, opening, and closing statements, and all the necessary documents or footage you wish to include on the set.

Remember,you are free to veer off the script from time to time. For instance, feel freeto ask – follow up questions, that come up during the interview.

Havethe Right Shooting Gear

Thequality of the video solely depends on the type of gear you use. It does notnecessarily mean that you must have expensive equipment to have the bestquality film. You can still use the regular ones expertly and have your greatproduction. Some of the essential shooting equipment you need are; video camera, tripod/shoulder mount rig, microphone kit, lighting gear, lens, headphones, file storage devices, and a computer. Check our article on the film equipmentlist

Youcan also include some accessories like video editing software to improve yourworkflow.

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Gatherall the necessary materials; video, audio, and digital to start the editingprocess. You can either work with a qualified video editor or work on ityourself if you’ve got sufficient experience. Use the computer and videoediting software to help you arrange the captured videos in the order that youwant to tell the story. Mix slow and fast parts for dynamic and excitingviewing.

Finally,eliminate any part that does not contribute to your original idea. Then polishwhile adding any other needed component like graphics, vice-overs, texts, otherexisting footages and digital materials, and graphics.

Releaseyour Documentary

Onceyou have executed all the plans to satisfaction, you are free to showcase yourwork. The audience you show it to depends on the initial reactions and yourbudget.

Thingsto Avoid in your Documentary:

  • Bad sound
  • A film with no conflict
  • A film without a story
  • Wrong music


Q1:What are some of the important elements of a documentary?

Someof the most critical elements of a documentary are narration, interviews,graphics, location shots, music and sound, and archive footage.

Q2:What makes a good documentary film?

An excellent documentary film is all about having a good story. A story that draws the audience both emotionally and intellectually. Check out our detailed article on what makes a good documentary.

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Conclusion :

Creatinga film about a person is an exciting and challenging task you should try fromtime to time. It requires your creativity and showing your audience that theyhave something to gain from watching the film. Have a well-written script,plan, and use the right gears to create the best movie.


Ensureto comply with all your country’s legal and copyright issues throughout theentire filmmaking process.


How do you film a documentary about someone? ›

10 Steps on How to Make a Documentary
  1. Conceptualize Your Topic and Find the Story. ...
  2. Select Essential Camera Equipment for Making Documentary. ...
  3. Plan The Production and Story Structure. ...
  4. Create a Budget. ...
  5. Make a Shot List. ...
  6. Secure Legal and Copyright Permits. ...
  7. Schedule the Shoot. ...
  8. Start Shooting.
Apr 13, 2021

How do you get a documentary made about you? ›

Employ the services of an agency like Crews Control or Crew Connection. Explain to them what you're looking for and they will match you up with the exact crew for your needs. Do a Google search for "video/film production companies" in your area. Read their company bio and see if they do documentaries.

How much does it cost to shoot a documentary? ›

Documentary budgets can range from $30,000 to $1.5 million, depending on the film's duration, scope, and experience of creative team/crew. In some rare instances deferments are essential to start filming or capture respective core elements of the story before the Production Company has received any funds.

What equipment do you need to make a documentary? ›

Low-Budget Filmmaker's Equipment List
  1. Canon T2i DSLR Camera. The whole film was shot with this camera at 1080p, 24fps. ...
  2. DSLR Viewfinder. ...
  3. Zoom H4n Digital Audio Recorder. ...
  4. Rode VideoMic Condenser Shotgun Microphone. ...
  5. Sennheiser Shotgun Microphone. ...
  6. 4TB G-Raid Hard Drive. ...
  7. Shoulder Mount. ...
  8. Tripod.

Do documentaries need a script? ›

Documentary filmmakers create non-fiction films (both short films and feature films) that present a truthful storyline in cinematic form. Much like a narrative film, any type of documentary you make will require its own documentary film script.

What does B roll mean in film? ›

B-roll is secondary footage, often used as cutaway footage, to provide context and visual interest to help tell your story. B-roll is a term used to describe secondary footage, often used as cutaway footage, to provide context and visual interest to help tell your story.

What makes a successful documentary? ›

A good documentary shows people from a different perspective than they're used to seeing in the media. It opens people's minds and hearts to the struggles of other people in the world. It makes people question the way things are and the way they should be.

Do you need permission to make a documentary? ›

You MUST have their permission and/or pay to copy their work. And if you have the dream of having your film seen on television, you will have to PROVE to those broadcasters you own all the rights to every piece of content in your movie.

How do I pitch a documentary to Netflix? ›

If you have an idea, game, script, screenplay, or production already in development that you'd like to pitch to Netflix, you must work through a licensed agent, producer, attorney, manager, or industry executive, as appropriate, who already has a relationship with Netflix.

Which app is best for making documentary? ›

Adobe Rush – Rush is the little sibling of Adobe's Premiere Pro, and a perfect app for editing video from your phone or tablet. Good for drag-and-drop editing, while also offering options like color correction, mixing in music or voiceovers. And the 'Starter' plan is free!

How long should documentaries be? ›

Feature-length documentaries range roughly between 45 minutes and numerous hours. The Academy Awards defines the line between a short and a feature-length film at 40 minutes, while the Sundance Film Festival places the cutoff at 50 minutes.

What is the documentary format? ›

What Are Documentary Modes? In 1991, American film critic and theoretician Bill Nichols proposed that there were six different modes of documentary—poetic, expository, reflexive, observational, performative, and participatory—each containing its own specific characteristics.

What kind of techniques are used in documentaries? ›

Top documentary filmmaking techniques.
  • The voice-over. The use of historical or recorded live video footage with a voice-over narration is a time-tested technique for documentary filmmaking. ...
  • The participant or observer interview. ...
  • The use of poetic expression. ...
  • The montage.

Can I make a documentary by myself? ›

The short answer is "YES!" You can most certainly produce a documentary all by yourself. Of course, there are limitations, but it's certainly doable.

How do you make a family documentary? ›

8 Steps To Making A Family Legacy Documentary
  1. Step 1: Choose Your Gear. ...
  2. Step 2: Interview Selected Family Members. ...
  3. Step 3: Gather Photos, Memorabilia and Old Home Movies. ...
  4. Step 4: Shoot Recreations. ...
  5. Step 5: Draft An Outline. ...
  6. Step 6: Upload Footage, Photos & Interviews To Your Computer. ...
  7. Step 7: Editing Your Documentary.

How do you shoot a documentary with one camera? ›

The three main techniques in filming a movie with a single camera are “Triple Take”, “Master Scene”, and “Camera Placement”. Triple take can only be used where the cameraman can control the action. “It is done by matching and overlapping the starting with the end of each shot.

What is a documentary about yourself called? ›

What is a personal documentary? A personal documentary tells a life story about ourselves, family members, or close friends on film or video. It is similar to a memoir, including meaningful photos, letters, and memorabilia, but goes further to add the excitement of sound and movement.

How do you make a documentary in one day? ›

How to Make a Documentary in One Day - YouTube

What are the challenges in making a documentary? ›

Students face enormous challenges during the filming of a documentary. As the coverage of unscripted footage is concerned, it is arduous to shoot for the first time. If it is a crowded place, the handling of cameras, deciding the camera movements, and getting interviews from people on the spot is quite challenging.


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