How to Make a Short Documentary for School

Documentaries present real-life situations more convincingly than feature films can. However, just like films, making a documentary for school is one complicated process that might involve a lot of creativity to convey a message effectively. Since student documentaries allow the learners to implement critical thinking and technological engagement around a particular topic, I decided to research more on how one can make a short documentary for schools.

How to Make Short Documentary for Schools

1. Define the main subject

2. Thorough Research

3. Make a Detailed Plan

4. Create a Shot List

5. Filming

6. Editing

7. Distribute

Documentaries are designed to deal with natural, social, and historical phenomena. They have become very popular on TV in recent times, but they can also be used as teaching material. In this article, you will get to understand a step by step dissection of how documentaries are shot and distributed, how long short documentaries should be, and a mini-school documentary structure. Read on to find out more.

How long is a Short Documentary?

A mini-documentary is an excellent way to share a story if you do not have the budget or time needed to create a full-length feature series. Typically, the length of a mini or short documentary should be somewhere between two and twenty minutes. Often,mini-documentaries are used to share the mission or story of non-profit organizations or businesses.

The way to create a mini-documentary is quite similar to how one would make a full-length feature documentary. The only differences are highlighted in time and the monetary resources available to the creator.

Mini-School Documentary Structure

There are a few types of mini-school documentary structure as detailed below.


Interviewees or a narrator will tell the whole story from the beginning to the end.


In such a structure, you will begin by stating a theory or hypothesis. After that, the interviewees or narrator will make arguments against and for the underlining theory. You can refer to it as the deductive method. Alternatively, the interviewees or the narrator will make arguments against and for the hypothesis. The audience will, after that, suggest a theory at the end. It is the inductive method.


The interviewees or the narrator will describe or talk about a particular subtopic at a time.


The interviewees or the narrator aims to evoke feelings as opposed to presenting specific facts or arguing particular points.


In this structure, the narrator will use different elements and styles. Most documentaries have adopted this model.

A Step by Step Process

1. Define the main subject

What idea do you want to engage with or show to your audience? Which subject matter intrigues or worries you? What is the central conflict or question that the mini-documentary will try to answer?

Ensure that you choose a topic that excites you. If you are not sure about what issues you want to address, the final creation will also be lukewarm.

 2. Thorough Research

Try to find as much as you can about the documentary’s main idea. In some cases, the storylines will be quite obvious, and sometimes they may not. The research includes finding out hard facts and reading past literature about the subject.

 After that, you should try to find knowledgeable people who can offer you some more information. It might require you to carry out interviews: probably in front of a camera. Ideally, it would help if you go for competent and interesting people who can speak fluently about the matter.

 3. Make a Detailed Plan

 This is when you create an outline. At this stage, try to think about how you will deliver your story. What style will you adopt? What structure do you think will work best?

 Ensure that you decide early on matters to do with the film’s length, what equipment you will use, and the general style of lighting that you will adopt.

 4. Create a Shot List

 The shot list encompasses a list of interviews and footage that you will need while making your movie. Depending on how complex your project is, you might need to come up with a budget as well.

 5. Filming

At this point, you will start filming the surveys, interviews, and other visuals that you might use. Ensure that you archive this material. Remember to shoot as much as you can while on the scene because circumstances might have changed the next time you visit the place. Additionally, double-check to ensure that the interviews have good audio.

 Keep an open mind while filming. Let the people and the story direct you, even if it will only take you to a direction you had not planned before. You will decide what to use and what to drop at the editing stage.

Moreover, it is always imperative to consider ‘public relations.’ Try to work in smaller teams so that you can be more flexible. Remember to be friendly, especially to those who are willing to help you achieve your goal.

Lastly, make sure that you get all legal stuff right. Consult any responsible authorities to obtain permission to capture and broadcast images of people and particular locations. You might also be required to get the rights to use audios and images produced by other people.

 6. Editing

Now comes the time when you will need to choose your ideal video editing software and computer. Once you are well equipped, you should start putting into place your shots one after the other in a pre-determined sequence. Organize the material as is required for the film’s narrative. Try to see if you have left any unanswered questions, or if you need more imagery.

The science behind editing is to come up with a ‘ride of emotion’ type of film: some parts will be slow others will be fast. This is how you create a dynamic viewing experience.

 7. Distribute

You will need more people to see your perspective of the subject matter now that you have completed all the work. Filmmakers, nowadays, enjoy numerous options to distribute and showcase their work. From the internet and theaters to television and DVDs, a whole new world of film distribution has been invented. Making mini-documentaries for schools and distributing such works has been made very easy.

Related Questions and Answers

 1. What equipment and tools do I need to shoot a documentary?

 You will need a camera and the right sound equipment. Additionally, you might have to purchase an additional microphone that will connect to another external audio-recording gadget or the camera. Additional lights and a tripod can also be quite useful.

 2. What advantages to documentaries have over feature films?

Documentaries may not need a large film crew and low budget boundaries. Therefore, they are excellent at presenting new topics.

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