StudentCam - How to Get Started

StudentCam Competition Tips


Clifton Raphael, a video production teacher at Jenks High School in Oklahoma and successful Faculty Advisor in C-SPAN's StudentCam competition, has prepared a series of video tutorials featuring testimony from his students who have first-hand experience in creating documentaries for StudentCam competitions. We hope their shared experiences will prove helpful as you plan, shoot, and edit your own documentary.

Mr. Raphael was interviewed for C-SPAN's Q&A program. During the interview, Clifton talks about his film class at Jenks High School, shares some of the documentaries his students have made as a part of his class, and discusses the student learning resulting from their finished works.

VIDEO: Q&A Interview with Clfton Raphael

HANDOUT: Essential Elements in Documentary Filmmaking

01. Pick Your Topic

02. First Thing To Do After Picking Your Topic

03. Researching Your Topic

04. Who to Interview

05. Questions To Ask During Your Interview

06. Recording and Choosing Your B-Roll

07. Creativity In Your Presentation

08. Recording Yourself On Camera

09. Structuring Your Doucmentary

10. Revising Your Documentary

11. Possible Challenges When Making Your Documentary

12. Past Participants On Lessons Learned

13. Past Participants On What They Would Have Done Differently

14. Past Participants On Advice For New Entrants

Here are some additional tips that you may find helpful as you plan your StudentCam entry.

The Format
The contest calls for a specific format for your video--a documentary. A documentary could be described as a type of "non-fiction story." The video elements (content, editing, voiceover, B-roll, music, titles) should be combined to explore the topic. It may include entertainment, instruction, or news, but the end product should tell a non-fiction story.

Team Work
Before you get started, if you are working in a team, you should consider how the team is going to divide up the responsibilities. Typical roles may include: writer, editor, director, and videographer. Of course, one person can play more than one role.

Research facts and opinions on your topic. Brainstorm a list of potential interviewees and contact them to schedule interviews. Explore locations and events that you may want to include to illustrate your topic. Organize your information and properly cite your sources. Be consistent in your citation format.

At this stage you may wish to write a "treatment"--a one-two paragraph synopsis of your documentary's topic. You can refer to the treatment throughout the production process to keep the project focused.

Outline the Content
Before production, you may wish to create a script outline, including storyboards illustrating specific shots. It should include: locations to explore, people to be interviewed, events to capture, situations to show, documents or still photos to include, artwork, quotations, C-SPAN video clips to insert (Take a look at our FAQ page for suggestions on accessing C-SPAN video). **Be sure any copyrighted material is used sparingly under "fair" use guidelines.

Video Equipment
This is the production phase. If you do not have video equipment readily available, consider asking your school or public library, your school district's technology department, local cable provider (try their community relations or public affairs divisions), or public access channel for help with resources.

Shooting Video
There are some basic rules to follow when shooting video for use in your documentary. You should consider lighting, framing, positioning, camera steadiness, speed of camera movement, sound, how many seconds you hold a shot, etc. A note about interviewing--think carefully about the questions and answers, the preparation, position, location and appearance of the interviewee. Careful planning can lead to better video footage for your final product.

Editing is a critical phase of creating your video. Think of the editing process as similar to the writing process, and your finished documentary as the words you will use to tell your story. In what order will you arrange the story? What pieces work well together? What piece should be left out? How will it end? You may also realize you are missing some pieces and need to shoot more video. Determine your strategy of transitioning between scenes and which segments need voice-over narration.

Ask a friend, family member, or teacher to watch your video and give you feedback about what worked well and what needs improvement.

Former StudentCam Grand Prize winner, Matthew Shimura, has written a FREE book with his perspective and insight on the process of creating educational films. Downloads are available exclusively through iTunes, and require a Mac or other Apple products in order to view.

eBook: Filmmaking by Students for Students (iTunes)


Mark Farkas, a C-SPAN Executive Producer, talks about his experiences in creating documentaries for C-SPAN, such as our White House, Capitol, and Supreme Court series. He describes his process for creating an educational film, and shares some helpful hints for young documentarians.

Video Clip: Creating a Documentary (YouTube)

All eligible entries must be uploaded and received at C-SPAN by midnight on January 18, 2018.