Making a Documentary

Mark Farkas, C-SPAN's Executive Producer of History Programming, talks about the process of creating a documentary, and gives some helpful hints for young documentarians.

Your documentary may focus on any issue that you believe the U.S. Congress should address in 2014, and should explain why you believe the issue is of importance.

Looking for help getting started with StudentCam? Here are some tips 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 should "document" the most important issue that you believe the U.S. Congress should consider in 2014, and demonstrate why it is important to you. 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 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 under "fair" use guidelines. Click here to watch a video explaining "fair" use.

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 your video footage. 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 video footage 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.

All eligible entries must be uploaded and received at C-SPAN by midnight on January 20, 2014.