Film B-roll.

In addition to establishing shots, I’ll also want to get secondary footage called “B-roll” – this can be footage of important objects, interesting processes, or stock footage of historical events. B-roll is important for maintaining the visual fluidity of our documentary and ensuring a brisk pace, as it allows me to keep the film visually active even as the audio lingers on one person’s speech.

  • In our documentary, I’d want to collect as much Story-related B-roll as possible – glamorous close-ups  as well as footage of the story in motion.
  • B-roll is especially important if our documentary will make use of extensive voiceover narration. Since I can’t play the narration over interview footage without keeping the audience from hearing what my subject is saying, I’ll usually lay the voiceover over short stretches of B-roll. I can also use B-roll to mask the flaws in interviews that didn’t go perfectly. For instance, if my subject had a coughing fit in the middle of an otherwise great interview, during the editing process, I can cut the coughing fit out, then set the audio of the interview to B-roll footage, masking the cut.

Case Studies

Here are two examples of projects where I utilize that narrative storytelling license. (It’s rather apropos that both happen to involve my daughter who as of this writing just went off to college).

Mixed in America

This is a personal project I’ve been slowly developing over the past two years. I want to tell the stories of biracial people, but do it in such a way where it feels completely like a scripted film. You will never see the interviewee. In fact, I purposefully recorded audio-only interviews with the subjects, thereby requiring all the visuals to be narrative and metaphorical re-enactments. Here’s the trailer for the first episode (still in production).

The Creative Process

This documentary short film was for a commercial client that provides B2C tools and community resources for professional photographers. This was part of the keynote address their new CEO gave at their annual conference that year. In it I interview four, non-photographer artists to talk about the creative process. Interwoven throughout is traditional b-roll, but also a narrative story of a teen girl writing a song she got in a dream.

Documentaries represent one of the most important and significant art forms of this and last century. They have the power to change the world. As makers of this medium, we should always strive to make their impact on the audience all the more powerful.  Utilizing cinematic techniques is one way to do that.

Week 6

Get live footage of relevant events.

One of the main advantages of documentary is that they allow the director to show the audience real footage of actual real-life events. Provided I don’t break any privacy laws, get as much real-world footage as I can. Film events that support my documentary’s viewpoint, or, if the subject of my documentary happened in the past, get in touch with agencies or people who have historical footage to get permission to use it.

Cinematic Techniques for Making A Documentary More Impactful

  1. Know the story: during the pre-production phase, I learn all I can about the story I plan to tell. Whether it’s a corporate promotional film, or a personal profile, I get as much information as I can about the people, places, and events related to the film.
  2. Create a shot list: as much as possible I determine ahead of time the shots I want to get to tell the visual story I want to tell. Naturally a big part of what I plan to shoot will be based on sound bites I get during the interviews. But the more I know up front what I will be shooting, the more shots I can plan ahead of time.
  3. Shoot it like a script: in much of the work I do, I’m NOT a journalistic filmmaker, capturing events as they happen, like an ENG news shooter might. Usually I’m directing the “talent” (i.e. employees, interview subjects, etc) and doing minimum production design (even if it’s just rearranging someone’s office to make it look just right). Where appropriate and whenever possible I also get good coverage (e.g. wide, medium and close up shots of the same “scene”; opposing angle shots; etc.)
  4. Mind the metaphorical: my favorite kind of narrative storytelling is metaphorical or allegorical imagery similar to the Nooma examples I gave above. Where I have the opportunity to shoot narrative scenes that have no literal connection to the soundbites, but have the strong emotional resonance.
  5. Music is key: when I get to the editing process, I put a lot of time into finding the right music. Music has almost as much influence in eliciting emotional responses to a film as the visuals do.

I’ve also been strongly influenced by other amazing documentary filmmakers utilizing cinematic techniques; filmmakers like Errol Morris, Werner Hertzog, and Alex Gibney.

Film establishing shots.

I’ve watched a documentary before, I noticed that the entire movie isn’t just footage of interviews and of live events with nothing in between. For instance, there are often shots leading into interviews that establish a mood or show where the interview is taking place by showing the outside of the building, the city skyline, etc. These are called “establishing shots,” and they’re a small but important part of the documentary. Always collect audio from the shoot including room tone and sound effects unique to that location.

Film the interview

While two-camera shoots are more expensive, today’s inexpensive HDSLR cameras make the two-camera interview an affordable proposition. Many interviews are not very striking visually so if interviews are a major portion of the film, the film can suffer. Take special care to make our interviews look great.

Finding great locations

It is an essential element in film. But great locations do not find themselves. On big budget productions, there is an official location scout. But if we’re on a small budget, I’ll have to do it myself. I’ll want to start by studying the script or outline to see what locations it suggests.

Choosing the background for a lengthy interview is an important decision. An interview may become most of the film so it must look good. I want a room that is large enough, quiet enough and one where I can control the light – a controlled environment to shoot in.

This eliminates shooting outside because the noises and lighting will change and could ruin the interview. Short interviews are filmed outside everyday, but a long interview like a story or biography must be filmed in a more controlled location which generally means inside.

Look for a quiet room. Listen carefully in the room. Do you hear noise from heat or air vents, airplanes, traffic, construction? Ask about what sounds one might typically hear in the room.Loud traffic noise or being in the flight path of an airport are real problems we should must avoid. Like when we shoot Angie on the boat at harbour, the sound of another yacht in the distance almost ruin our shooting.  In some interviews I can just wait for the noise to stop, but when we’re recording a life story, I don’t want that kind of distraction to disturb the rhythm of the shooting.

Go to the location before the shoot. Walk around. Take lots of pictures. Here are a few questions to ask about any location:

• Is there electricity?
• Is this location near an airports or railroad?
• Will you need someone to let you in?
• Where are the breaker boxes?
• Is the area or neighborhood safe?
• Where can the crew set up their gear?
• Are there events scheduled for the shoot day?
• Does the location cost money?
• Is there can set up the good light and kiddile?

Do Not Forget Audio

There are so many potential audio issues that can add time and expense to a shoot. Look and listen carefully to see what audio gotchas could be lurking. I got a lot of lessons from the audio issue during the shooting day.

Week 5

Organize, outline, and schedule the shooting.

I don’t necessarily need to know exactly how my documentary is going to come together before I start shooting – I may discover things during the process of filming that change the plans or offer new avenues of investigation. However, I should definitely have a plan before I start shooting, including an outline of specific footage I want to shoot. Having a plan ahead of time will give me extra time to schedule interviews, work around scheduling conflicts, etc. my plan for shooting should include:

  • Specific people I want to interview – make contact with these people as early as possible to schedule interviews.
  • Specific events I want to record as they occur – arrange travel to and from these events, and get permission from the event’s planners to be able to shoot at the event.
  • Specific writings, pictures, drawings, music, and/or other documents I want to use. Get permission to use these from the creator(s) before I add them to the documentary.
  • Any dramatic recreations I want to shoot. Search for actors, props, and shooting locations well ahead of time.

Interview relevant people.

Pick a selection of relevant people to interview and collect as much footage as I can from these interviews. I’ll be able to splice this footage throughout the documentary to help prove my point or convey the message. Interviews can be “news style” – in other words, simply sticking a microphone in someone’s face – but I’ll probably want want to rely more on one-on-one sit-down interviews, as these give us a chance to control the lighting, staging, and sound quality of your footage while also allowing your subject to relax, take his or her time, tell stories, etc.

  • These people may be famous or important – many of these people may not be famous or important. They may be ordinary people whose work has given them a familiarity of my subject or people who simply witnessed an important event firsthand. They can, in certain situations, even be completely ignorant of my subject – it can even be enlightening (and entertaining) for the audience to hear the difference between a knowledgeable person’s opinion and an ignorant person’s opinion.
  • Remember––a good interview should be more like a conversation. As the interviewer, I must be prepared, having done my research and informed myself to glean the most information from the interview subject.
  • Grab B-roll whenever possible. Get shots of  interview subject after the formal interview. This allows me to cutaway from the talking head shot.

Week 4

Directing the Documentary: Production

Ready to start shooting? Time for production!

A documentary is any non-fiction video or film that informs viewers about a real-life topic, person, event, or issue. Some documentary films provide us with educational information about things that aren’t well-known. Others tell detailed stories about important people and/or events. Still others try to persuade the audience to agree with a certain viewpoint. Whatever subject I choose, filming a documentary can be a serious undertaking.

StartUp  Outline

  • Synopsis: B-roll of Angie Wu’s company + background music
  1. Interview clip #1 of Angie
  2. B-roll: angled waist-up shot of Angie walking, bird’s-eye shot of Angie throwing ingredients on pies +background music #1
  3. Interview clip #2 of Angie Wu
  4. B-roll: detailed close-up of angie type on her laptop, wide-angle shot of Angie’s stuff talking +background music #2
  5. B-roll ofAngie Wu’s company exterior on harbor +background music
  • Eric Gao
  1. Interview clip #1 of Eric, close-up frame
  2. B-roll: close-up of Eric making the tea, bird’s-eye shot of Eric’s finger + Eric voiceover #1
  3. Interview clip #2 of Eric, torso frame
  4. B-roll: profile shot of Eric call his custmer, very tight close-up of Eric + Eric voiceover #2
  1. B-roll of Eric’s company interior + Eric voiceover
  • Locky Ge
  1. Interview clip #1 of Locky
  2. B-roll: wide-angle shot of Locky use his laptop, close-up of Locky’s finger+ Locky  voiceover #1
  3. Interview clip #2 of Locky
  4. B-roll: close-up of Locky +Locky  voiceover #2
  5. B-roll: interview shots of Locky +  credits


Week 3


Before I interview our actors, take a look at this list of things to think about when writing the questions to ask in those interviews. Asking open‐ended questions can help I avoid one‐word answers. I may also want to ask two questions together to get the most out of the answer.

  • Who? Whom will  interview? My interviews can play an important part in my film, so choose my  characters carefully. Choose people who are confident enough to talk on camera and have the knowledge to answer the questions clearly. I may wish to include information about the  characters in my documentary, so think about the questions I could ask to get this information.

  • What? Think about what I’ll ask the characters to get more information about the topic. I may wish to ask questions about their experiences and how they are involved in the topic to show their knowledge.

  • When? If I am creating a documentary film about an event or a party, then the date and time are quite important. I  may want to ask my characters questions about when they do something or how often they do it.

  • Where? I may wish to include questions about the location or venue of the topic, if it’s needed. I could film my interview in a place that’s connected with the topic.

  • Why? Using why in my questions is a great way to get more information out of a character or subject during the interview. Questions beginning with why are simple, but they’re more likely to give me longer and more emotional answers.

    Before I interview our actors, I also learned after lots of research.

  • Learn to ask open ended questions. “Tell me about . . .”  “How do you . . . “
  • Listen, listen, listen. Don’t even think about what I am going to ask next until my subject has stopped talking. Ask follow up questions: “I’m interested in what you said about ________..Tell me more about that.”
  • Make a checklist of questions (things I want to cover), but don’t be a slave to it. Follow-up is more interesting than going on to the next question on the list. Check the list before I wrap, to make sure I haven’t left anything out.
  • NEVER, EVER ask the subject to repeat the question before answering it. The reason is that, first, they forget to repeat it, then I asked them again, then they say,  “What should I say?” Then I asked the question again, they repeat it, and by this time they’ve forgotten what they were going to answer.
  • My purpose in interviewing is to gain information, not just sound bites. As much as possible, I  want my subject to forget he or she is being  interviewed and simply carry on a conversation with you. I can’t do that if I am asking the subject to repeat  the question. In my experience, most sound bites from interviews run very well without needing the wording of the question.

Just like painting, the prep work often takes much longer than the actual paint job. And in fact, it’s a mistake to rush into shooting without thinking everything through.

Here’s our pre-production check list for directing the documentary:

    • Thoroughly think through everything I’ll need for my film from start to finish
    • Think about music, interesting scenes, styles and other unique visuals that can help tell the story.
    • Create a production schedule
    • Write a clear synopsis and visual style description
    • Put together a budget and proposal
    • Create an equipment list (camera, mics, lighting, etc)
    • Gather existing footage & other production elements (photos, documents, etc) Read my review of Pond5 for stock footage
    • Create an interview and shot list
    • Write a script outline
    • Produce a video trailer
    • Set up a Website/Blog/Facebook page to start building buzz.

Week 2


At this point, I should think about how we’re going to tell our story. From the research, I found the documentaries can be told in different ways, such as through the use of a voiceover or through what the characters and subjects say. A voiceover is a popular way to narrate such films, but letting the characters tell the story can feel more natural.

If we using a voiceover, write the script before filming. This helps to create a shot list and to structure the film. Our voiceover should always present information; it should never have an opinion. On the other hand, if you’re using your characters to tell thestory, be sure to have a list of questions to ask them.

Depending on our project, I decided use our characters to tell the story, so we disscuss a number of questions to ask them.

In addition to these conceptual considerations, the screenwriter must ask a number of practical questions as well:

· Why is this film being made?

· What does the producer/client/financier want to achieve through the film?

· Who is the targeted audience and what should their reaction to the film be?

· How much does the audience already know about the subject?

· What will be the film’s technical conditions of use (Black & White/Multi-colour?


Every film, especially a documentary, has a ‘value’. This could be social, political, historical, philosophical, artistic or of some other kind. The amount of research a scriptwriter puts in is directly related to the ‘value’ of the film. In the rush to get started, many people often skim over the research process. Especially in films that involve subjects of a personal nature; for example: a person’s journey within his own family to explore social dynamics. A scriptwriter could be instructed to write a script on a live event that was shot some time ago, like a riot, or for a film on the thoughts and feelings of a celebrity already captured in detail on camera. He might ask himself, “How can I possibly add anything more to the subject information?” Even in films that seem straightforward and detailed information has already been given to the scriptwriter, there is always room for more research. There are simply no shortcuts that will provide the quality of a well-researched film.

As the scriptwriter, I must ask  some important questions:

· What have I not yet been told about this subject?

· Is everything I have been told the truth? How much do I need to verify?

· What would I personally like to know about this subject?

· If I were a member of the audience, what would I want to learn about this subject?

· What can I find that is little known on this subject?

· If the shooting has not yet started, what information can I gather that would aid the filming process?



Planning our documentary film is essential because I want to make sure I have all the information needed before we start filming. When I ’ve done the research and I have all the information about our topic I need, I  can structure our info film in a way that captures the attention and interest of our audience.

This is why I tell the story with our interviews, voiceovers, and video clips. It’s an opportunity to explore our topic and to pick out the interesting information or the moments I would like to present to the audience. It’s also a chance to get to know the characters and understand why they’re involved in our info film.

In our small crew’s documentary, the main section will include interviews from the cast and crew of the film, video clips to go with the interviews, and facts and information about how the film was made and what inspired the story. The aim  is all about to present information that the audience may not know.

When I make a documentary, I might want to make a list of all the information and items I want to include in the film and then create a list of character interviews. Then, put this list into an order that will keep our audience interested throughout the film. Imagining the way the audience feels and the questions they may ask helps I choose the information to include in the documentary. Use this list to create a shot list, which shows every shot to include in the film.


Working title: Startup Australia – come from China  

Genre: An interactive documentary.


The series will be uploaded to a dedicated Facebook and YouTube channel. The series with the interactive elements will be accessible through the interactive platform of Klynt. Chinese social media platforms such as weibo and Youku will also be used to target Chinese audiences.

The Premise:

Watch the lives and daily activities of three Chinese entrepreneurs from various education backgrounds in Melbourne that have accomplished outstanding achievements in their career field. The documentary will allow the audience to see the reality of business life and learn the process and methods in starting up a business of their own.

Target Audience:

The interactive documentary web series is aimed at young entrepreneurs aged between 18-35. People that are passionate to startup their own business especially new university graduates. The documentary is targeting audiences internationally, Chinese and English speakers from all over the world.

Main Characters:
1. Eric Gao is a CEO of a financial investment company.

2.Angie Wu is  a CEO of a Media company.

3.Gary is a CEO of a digital design company.

Story World :

The first season’s story will take place in the city of Melbourne. Our main characters all come from China. Most of the scenes will be shot in their company, and part of shooting will be outside. The main scenes will take place in the company’s meeting room, and also involves their personal office. You can see the real life for the business people. Depend on the different character, we will focus on their different story about startup to help people how to startup in Australia in different field.


At the beginning of the video, the audience will hear the narration of this video and see the elaborate Melbourne city and street scenes. After this, the screen will display the keyword of three characters. When you move the mouse over the frame gently you can choose to click on the different keywords you are interested in. Then you can choose the different characters to see the different story of the web documentary.


After research, we believe that the interactive documentary will always make the  audience participate with huge interest. Our project is not only to show the start up story about the success of young people but also to give more details and suggestion to young entrepreneurs on how to startup a business in real life.

Visual style:

Our project will be an observational documentary, the camera and the interviewer will never be shown or heard. We will rely on natural lighting and colors and only use lights during interviews or to light dark shots, to keep the documentary as natural, authentic and realistic as possible.
We have chosen a professional Sony camera that is more suitable for a documentary style shoot as it has all the features and buttons to quickly adjust a shot, the 5D3 looks more cinematic but is not a professional camera and does not capture high quality audio.

The audience will follow the protagonists to observe their life in a day. Most of the shooting will be done by hand-held camera style, which will also be more realistic. The choice of the narrative will be the audience’s decision, so the post-editing work is mainly about how to make all the clips match the various interactive options. Voice over of the interviews will be played in the background with subtitles, while interview and coverage shots are being shown.



We already have some footage of first characters, Eric Gao. Here is the footage link:


Eric in the car

Eric outside his house

Here is the flowchart of our project:


From the hard work for research, there are some familiar projects, such as the video on Youtube named ‘What’s it Really Take to be a Lawyer?’, they  are aimed at lawyers, attorneys and law students before they get into law, but our project has a different target audience, and uses a different angle to deeply present the topic, it is very novel, that is connected with the students before they find their dream job. Then, there is also one resource named the Journey To The End Of Coal (2008), this web doc presents the real situation using many interfaces, still images, environment sound, dialogues, etc. It helps us to get a different style in order to show our series using different techniques and styles.

According to Nash (2014), although the documentary should focus on the goal of the filmmakers, the audience can still have the chance to take part in and achieve their own goals in web documentary. Meadows (2003) presents that new media storytellers can create short, multimedia narrative by using the affordable equipment. Otherwise, Herrero and Gracia argue that the filmmaker has less control of the context of the web documentary. Instead, viewers have the opportunity to decide the trend of the story.

For the interaction type choosing, Bonino (2010) introduces 4 types of interaction: conversational mode, hypertext mode, participative mode and experiential mode. The author claims that the type of interaction chosen by the documentary maker shows their intention and it is very important for them to choose the suitable mode.

As the post-production section, one web doc named Fort McMoney (2013) uses repeated video clips in the choice of an interface, we believe that this approach is more suitable for the production of our project, due to this way we don’t need too much background sound to render the plot.

Hardware & Software :

Hardware Software
Sony video camera After Effects
2x Canon 5D MKIII Adobe Premiere
Stabilizer Klynt
2x Gopro Adobe audition
One set of lighting kits Final Cut Pro
2x microphones

Crew Role:

Ailee Ma Stacey Ma Ahmed Alsaady Jingwen Huang
Director Producer Cinematographer Sound Recordist
Camera Operator


Camera Operator


Camera Operator


Interviewer EP1
Video Editing Video Editing Video Editing & Color Grading
Social Media Transcript Lighting
Shooting List Photography Copywriting

Timeline :


The Peranakan story

During our winter holiday, I with ‘the Peranakan story’ team fly to Malaysia to shoot our documentary as a camera assistant and sound recordist.