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Digital Film-making How-To  

Last Updated: Aug 23, 2017 URL: Print Guide Email Alerts
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Choosing a topic

What makes a good topic

Topics range very broadly: from the explanation of the order of books in the library to the biography of an explorer, the process for writing a poem to the reporting on a natural disaster.

Most important for you to consider in choosing a topic is whether you can imagine how to present it visually. In other words, are there pictures which might tell the story of your topic? Will you be able to find them?

Think broadly about images. Consider using:

maps, photographs, charts, line drawings, paintings, cartoons, lettering, book or album covers, and newspaper headlines. You can also use clips of films, as long as it is fewer than 30 seconds at a time.

If you think you can find between 25 and 70 images (for a 4 minute film), then you should be able to create the visual track of a film.


A film has a thesis??

YES, a Film has a Thesis

Documentary films are built around a thesis - they are focused explorations of an idea. Though they may seem unbiased, a film-maker chooses to include or leave out information based on the purpose of the film. In other words, the film-maker is crafting an argument and incorporating evidence to prove it.

It may be helpful to think about the thesis of your film as the answer to the question "so why is [this topic] important?" More crudely, a viewer might ask "why should I care?" Your answer to this question is most likely your thesis.

Put another way, the thesis of your film is the lasting impression which you create for the viewer. Use the power of your film-making to shape the their opinions.


Image and Sound Sources

Image Source - Database

Select this link to access AP Images

Over 185 years of photographs, audio sound bites, video, and graphics from Associated Press.

Image Sources - Websites

Each of these sources allows you access to "copyright-friendly" images.

Sound and Music Sources - Websites

Each of these sources has "copyright-friendly" material you can use in your films.

Search for Images, Music, and Video

Creative Commons searches general websites for copyright friendly images, music, and video.

Read: Finding & Using Images

Here is a great Richard Byrne article on finding and using images.

Read: Finding & Using Music and Sound

Richard Byrne wrote about copyright friendly music and sounds on his Free Technology 4 Teachers blog. Read about it here.



Writing Your Script

There is a strong temptation to begin collecting images and adding them to your film project right away.

First, though, you need to know the full story you are going to tell.

This requires

  • researching the facts and
  • developing the arc of the story

Typically, films prove more cohesive and successful when the script is written before the images are arranged.

3 Minutes of narration is about 600 words or 1 single-spaced, typed page.


Recording Your Narration


Resources you might want to consult

Visual Storytelling: The Digital Video Documentary, from The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University

Curriculum for Digital Media Creation, sponsored by Apple, Inc. This is intended for teachers to use in planning classes, but it has some helpful explanations of the process of developing and making a film.


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