Step 4: Communicate in a Documentary Video

Your goal is to create a documentary video production that communicates your thesis and supporting points.

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“Kodak sells film, but they don't advertise film. They advertise memories.”
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~ Theodore Parker
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About this step

Your video should include an introduction to your thesis, your main points, and a conclusion. Everyday we watch hours of television and surf web sites that include video, but how well do we understand how messages are constructed in the language of images and sound?

Every professional video is a constructed message. Producers and their creative and technical teams follow conventions that are well known. Even if this is your first video production, you can learn and apply some of the methods and tools used by professionals to create effective video messages.

As you proceed, remember to

  • Keep your focus on your thesis and supporting points.
  • Consider how you can persuade your audience using a combination of still images, moving images, special effects, text, speech, music and sound effects.
  • Keep your deadline in mind. Video production can take a lot of time and resources.
  • Keep it simple, but be creative with the time and tools that you have.

Most importantly, consider your audience and the purpose of your video presentation. Decide what you want your viewers to remember from your video and proceed accordingly.

This guide is intended to give you a sense of the tasks and timeline. Consult available resources (listed below) to learn the necessary technical skills.

Create a storyboard

Imagine how you will communicate your thesis and demonstrate your main points.

  • Visualize your final video and make drawings of the scenes, using simple stick figures.
  • Consider camera positions such as a close up, medium or long shot.
  • Make simple, stick figure drawings that help your team see what your final product might look like. For a simple video, you can include the script in your storyboard.

Write script and shot list

  • Write a script that includes dialog between characters, voice-overs, or narration.
  • Include camera instructions for shooting and/or a list of the visuals (still photos or other graphics).
  • Planning your video before your shoot will save you hours during the editing process—and will ensure that your have the video and images you will need in the editing room.

Create visuals

Obtain still images:

  • Download from web sites,
  • Scan from books,
  • Shooting with digital still camera.
  • Draw your own or ask an artistic friend to create for you.
  • Create other graphics (such as charts and graphs) and save as files that are compatible with your video editing software.

Remember that music and images created by others are subject to copyright rules. Obtain permission from the copyright holder or use resources from the public domain.

Rehearse and shoot

  • Assemble your talent and rehearse scenes before shooting to reduce the number of takes.
  • Know your camera.
  • Use a tripod if possible.
  • Do some in-camera editing, rewinding and recording over mistakes to simplify the next step.
  • Check your script and shot list. Do you have all the images and sounds that you need?


  • Gather your video, stills, and audio. (Remember that music and images that you did not create are subject to copyright rules. Obtain permission from the copyright holder or use resources from the public domain. )
  • Load your video from your camera to your computer software.
  • Order and edit the length of your clips and stills.
  • Add titles and transitions.
  • Record narration and voiceovers.
  • Add background music.
  • Save early and often. (Between major steps, "Save As" so that you can return to an early version if you encounter technical problems.)
  • Always keep your focus on your message and the goal of persuading your audience.
  • Include only the content and effects that enhance your message. Don't lose your message in excessive special effects.
  • Don't forget to give credit for ideas or information you have used in a Credits frame at the end of your video. Depending on the scope of your research, you may also need to include a list of resources used.


  • Watch your film from beginning to end. Expand to full screen if possible.
  • Screen the video with friends and ask for feedback.
  • Is your message clear?


Consult with your teacher regarding the format you will need to show the video to your audience. Your video may be uploaded to a web site or burned to a CD or DVD.

Resources for learning more about video production and guides for video editing software:

Creative resources:

  • Kids' Vid: Video instructions and samples
  • Atomic Learning's Video Storytelling guide: Introduction to film making; free preview section available.
  • Adobe Digital Kids Club: Digital Video Teacher's guide for creating documentary films.
  • Film School: A website for English teachers and their students. Lesson ideas and a glossary of filmmaking terms with video illustrations.
  • Listen Up! Network Filmmaking ideas and examples of student films from projects around the country
Schedule | Question | Gather | Conclude | Communicate: Essay - Electronic Slides - Video | Evaluate | Start Over | Printer iconPrinter-friendly view

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