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So you want to make a documentary film? Here is a simple step-by-step guide for novices filmmakers who want to make a documentary film. 1. Watch documentary movies. Go see them on the big screen if you can. If not, then hit your local video store or join Netflix or Greencine to get movies mailed to your door. You can even watch them online at sites like FourDocs and the Documentary Film Network. Learn what makes or breaks a documentary film. Think about what kinds of documentary films you like. Learn the various genres and filmmaking styles. For example, Michael Moore's filmmaking style is very different than Ken Burns' filmmaking style. 2. Become familiar with technical equipment. Beg, borrow, steal equipment like DV cameras, final cut pro editing systems, cheap mics, flood lights. Experiment with lighting setups, audio recording, splicing clips together. Read filmmaking forums like IndieTalk to get sound technical advice from experienced filmmakers. 3. Choose a subject that you find fascinating and is accessible to you. Choosing a subject that is compelling & timely will result in a strong and relevant film. It is often better to focus on a local personality or local event so that you will have access to loads of resources for your film. Besides, it's much simpler & cheaper to shoot at home than abroad. 4. Become an expert on your chosen subject through research. Research your subject as thoroughly as possible. Gain knowledge through the internet, books, and word of mouth. Attend events pertaining to your chosen subject. 5. Create a structure/outline for your film through visualization. Close your eyes and imagine how you would like the final product to look. Think about how you want to structure your film. What do you want to start with? How are you going to build your film? Write down your ideas. This will give you a blueprint for shooting. But remember that in documentary filmmaking, unlike fictional filmmaking, the footage informs the final structure of the film. Your initial written outline exists to serve as a guideline for shooting. 6. Analyze your wants/needs for making the film. Make a wishlist of any people, locations, items, equipment you WISH you could have for your film. Cross-reference this list with any people, locations, items and equipment that you do have access to. Ask people. Check with local art centers, film departments at universities and colleges. Talk to the local film office. If you still can't find it then go to Myspace or Craigslist and see if you know someone who knows someone who can help fulfill some of the items on your wishlist. If you are looking for footage, check with stock libraries for material that is in the public domain and free to use. 7. Find finances for your film. Use Google or check with your local film office to find out what existing documentary funding programs are available to you. For example, the International Documentary Association has a great list of grants you can apply for. Hold fundraising events. Other options are to apply for credit cards, borrow from Ma & Pop or donate yourself to a pharmaceutical company and become a lab rat like Robert Rodriguez did. 8. Shoot! Don't talk about doing it - get out there and shoot your film. This is the step that differentiates the aspiring filmmakers from the actual filmmakers. 9. Post-production. Fast forward through all of your footage, and take printable screenshots of key scenes. This way you simplify the editing process by creating a visual map of your footage. Once this is done you should watch ALL of your footage and create an action log listing timestamps. This will help you to save time in the editing room. 10. Show your film! Upload it to the internet, four-wall it in a theatre, send the cut to distributors/networks to see if they are interested, hit the festival circuit. You can apply to multiple film festivals at once through the website Withoutabox. If all else fails, invite people to your place to screen. Burn multiple DVDs and get the film into the hands of family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, anyone you know who is in the film industry.
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