How To Make A Documentary (A Step By Step Guide)

Looking to make a documentary? Check out this 12 step guide! It will help you with the daunting process that is creating a film.

1. Give Your Investors A Taste

This step is only useful if you need to raise some money for your project. Make an awesome trailer. This will create buzz around your documentary while also establishing your much needed audience base. Do as best as you can do to make this trailer visually appealing while also getting the point of your doc across. 

2. Audience

Okay so you have this incredible idea for a documentary. It tells an interesting story and will surely be a hit. But who is your audience? Who will be watching this movie when it hits theatres? This is important to think about before the cameras start rolling. Write down who your target audience is, where you plan on screening your film, and how you plan on getting that film to that screen. This will help you during production when it comes to tone, style, and length. 

3. Start Building Your Audience Now

You need to start as early as possible. So why not now? This isn’t something that should be put on the back burner for a later date. Start social media accounts, create a website (or promote your project for free with us!), have an online presence anywhere you can. While your production is going be sure to regularly update these with behind the scenes photos, contests, articles, anything that will generate a buzz around your project. You can never start building an audience too early. Your audience base is essentially your customer base.

4. Distribution Plan

Whether it will be festivals or straight to Amazon Prime, think of the end game. It can be tough thinking that far in advance but trust me, it’ll be worth at least having a vague idea of where you’re headed. You can always hire a distribution expert if you really have no idea what to do.

5. Don't License Music

Getting the music rights for a specific piece of music can be a incredibly costly and long process. Try to avoid it if you can. Now, I’m not saying don’t put music in your film completely. There are plenty of other ways you can get a soundtrack for your documentary. You can create your own music, hire a composer, or use SoundStripe (FilmLocal Members receive 10% off SoundStripe!) just to name a few.

6. Funding

If you need some funding, I’d suggest checking out one of our past articles for an in-depth look into raising money for your film or applying to Genera Film Funding (Members get 25% off the application). 

7. Merchandise

Copies of your movie isn’t the only thing that you can sell. Get creative with various pieces of merchandise that can go along with your film. Shirts, stickers, and pins are typically the go to, but are also uninventive and boring. Try to think outside the box! This will help you bring in additional cash.

8. Sundance

If you plan on submitting your documentary to a huge festival like Sundance, keep in mind that they often have crazy requirements. For example, some festivals require that you premiere your film there. Check out the requirements of the top festivals you plan on submitting to in pre-production if possible.

9. Giveaways

You’re going to have to give away copies of your movie for free. Not only to friends, family, cast, and crew but to the press as well. Target people who you think will hit your target audience. I know it sucks giving away all your handwork for free, but trust me, it’ll be worth it in the end.

10. Plan Your Next Documentary

Get the ball rolling on your next project as soon as you can! Don’t wait around, keep your creative juices flowing. You have to keep that audience you’ve been building engaged. They liked your first film, so keep the momentum going and give them more. 

What Do You Want To Tell Someone Who's Making A Documentary?

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