Learn How to Make a Documentary about a Person

Making a documentary about a person involves creating a factual, non-fiction film that portrays an in-depth story about them or a topic they care about. If planning to develop one, consider working with those who are involved in things you are passionate about. Also, choose your subject by looking at their charisma and ability to speak on camera. Let them know what they are up for from the beginning before starting the process.

How to Make a Documentary about a Person?  There are two primary steps involved in making a documentary about a person. These are; gathering content and shooting the documentary.

Making a documentary about a person requires you to inform, educate, and enlighten the audience concerning the real person they are not aware of through the subjectOn the other hand, it can be a fulfilling venture when done right. All you need is the right script; include all the critical aspects, and great shooting while avoiding common production mistakes.

Let’s dig into it.

1. Gathering Content

Gathering content is an essential aspect of the documentary. The script is what determines the angle a documentary takes on the subject. Its pace, tone, length, as well as if it evokes the emotions on the intended audience. Here is how to go about writing a documentary about a personality – whether famous, infamous, or unknown.

Extensive Research 

Try to learn as much as you can about the subject in question. Unlike any other fictional movies, documentaries are all about its truth. Take your time to get all the facts and chase any leads concerning your subject matter. It ensures that you do not bore the audience with apparent facts they already know.

For reference, Lookout if there is any other documentary about the same person. Also, check-in all the records of books, publications, or the mainstream media. From here, you can come up with a unique and exciting angle that resonates with the audience. Some great anecdotes come from their friends, family, and coworkers.

Refine Your Content

Once the research is all piled up, it is time now to pick the turning points, their struggles, wins, loses, dramatic moments, fun moments, etc. Refine them all, and you will get a direction of the story you want to tell about the person.

Make a Credible Story

Always remember that you are making a documentary for an audience which is not necessarily made of experts. Therefore, create a storyline that they can easily follow through. Ask questions at the beginning to create tension and answer them throughout the documentary.

Building your story bit by bit ensures that the audience understands the intended information without feeling overwhelmed. One important point before writing about the person in the script is to have an unbiased approach. It should look like a propaganda film unless you are assigned to do that job.

Write the Real Character

The chapters should flesh out moments which are real, and the audience can engage with the character. Try to pick up points from their nature, which you do in a fictional character. Give the characters an arc and the conflicts they encounter. Our life is juicier than fiction that you will surely get those scenes for your plots and outline.

Do not Fear trouble. 

The main reason for making a documentary about a person is to give the audience information they do not have. Ask the person, even the most uncomfortable questions that the audience might want to know concerning the topic you are tackling. Your documentary should not look like a public relations stunt.

The more internal you go into the person, the more unhidden gems pour out. Remember, we may not agree, voyeurism is what audience feeds on when you want to peek into someone’s life. That is why you see the paparazzi media bloom with the decadent gossips and festered controversies. 


Get all the facts and numbers about the person right. You should have a source to approve all the information the person is giving you. Fact-checking helps you to avoid rejection by the public, poor ratings and generally keeps you on the safe side with parties involved.

Be creative 

Give the audience spending time to watch your documentary the best time they can hope for. Your writing needs to take a unique approach and find a way to make the film livelier. You can include elements like time-lapse, recreations, stop motion, and several more you can come with.

2. Shooting the Documentary

Once you have your script and decided on the angle, tone, and direction to take with your film, you are free to start shooting. Here is how to go about shooting the documentary.

Plan the production 

Plan all the aspects involved in production to avoid unexpected troubles. Communicate promptly to your production crew, and the interviewees. Draw a budget and ensure the transport and logistics arrangements are in place. Create and share with the all parties involved the production schedule.

Comfort the Subject

Now, it is the filmmaker’s call, on how much you want to share the shooting with your subject. If the person is a celebrity, they are quite aware of the filmmaking process and its requirements. But, when it comes to a person who is facing the camera for the first time, It can be overwhelming. 

So, with the first-timers or the introverts, you have to win their trust. They have a fear of getting skinned by the maker. They will try hard to hide their fears and shortcomings. So, it is a tricky road to tread for a filmmaker. Once, you win their trust; the path becomes smooth. But, it solely depends on you and your interpersonal transactions to get the best out of the person.

Now, a completely diabolical situation arises with celebrities or famous personalities, say a politician. Giving interviews, facing the camera, knowing their best poses are second nature to them. A documentary has to go beyond that. And, they have their inflated egos which can puncture your story. You need to win their trust too. Sometimes not sharing some things can make the documentary fascinating. It is entirely up to the filmmaker on how he does that. The primary purpose here is to comfort your Protagonist.

Shot Breakdown

Follow the documentary script that you had prepared earlier when shooting. The script guides you on how to shoot by identifying factors like; locations, the correspondents, interview questions, opening, and closing statements, and all the necessary documents or footage you wish to include on the set.  

Remember, you are free to veer off the script from time to time. For instance, feel free to ask – follow up questions, that come up during the interview.

Have the Right Shooting Gear 

Thequality of the video solely depends on the type of gear you use. It does notnecessarily mean that you must have expensive equipment to have the bestquality film. You can still use the regular ones expertly and have your greatproduction. Some of the essential shooting equipment you need are; video camera, tripod/shoulder mount rig, microphone kit, lighting gear, lens, headphones, file storage devices, and a computer. Check our article on the film equipment list

You can also include some accessories like video editing software to improve your workflow.

Edit Wisely

Gather all the necessary materials; video, audio, and digital to start the editing process. You can either work with a qualified video editor or work on it yourself if you’ve got sufficient experience. Use the computer and video editing software to help you arrange the captured videos in the order that you want to tell the story. Mix slow and fast parts for dynamic and exciting viewing.

 Finally, eliminate any part that does not contribute to your original idea. Then polish while adding any other needed component like graphics, vice-overs, texts, other existing footages and digital materials, and graphics.

Release your Documentary

Once you have executed all the plans to satisfaction, you are free to showcase your work. The audience you show it to depends on the initial reactions and your budget.

Things to Avoid in your Documentary:

  • Bad sound
  • A film with no conflict
  • A film without a story
  • Wrong music


Q1: What are some of the important elements of a documentary?

Some of the most critical elements of a documentary are narration, interviews, graphics, location shots, music and sound, and archive footage.

Q2: What makes a good documentary film?

An excellent documentary film is all about having a good story. A story that draws the audience both emotionally and intellectually. Check out our detailed article on what makes a good documentary.

Conclusion :

Creating a film about a person is an exciting and challenging task you should try from time to time. It requires your creativity and showing your audience that they have something to gain from watching the film. Have a well-written script, plan, and use the right gears to create the best movie.


Ensure to comply with all your country’s legal and copyright issues throughout the entire filmmaking process.

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