Tips for Making Documentary Films Based on Life

Tips for Making Documentary Films Based on Life

Tips on Documentary Filmmaking on Life By Dheeraj Sharma

Documentary film making it is not very similar to actual film making. Documentary film making has a different approach when it comes to capturing emotion. We firmly believe it’s all about asking the right question and then able to capture the essence of the emotion.

With the help of Dheeraj Sharma, I was able to make a list of a few questions that we have been asked several times. He has spent a decade making documentary films on life. He also is the director of the award-winning movie Nashebaaz- The Dying People of Delhi.


How to start as a documentary filmmaker?

The Art of Keen Observation

To become a documentary filmmaker and to opt it as a career, the first uppermost requirement is that you need is to be a “Keen Observer.” Being little emotional towards your subject always works. Documentary film making is a very wide subject. Especially, if you are not making a documentary on science or technology, but it’s more based on exploring lives as that has always been my genre.

Sensitivity Towards your Subject

Your Sensitivity towards your subject will help you in understating  – the pain, problems, and life. It can help you in developing a vision that is required especially for a documentary filmmaker.

A Good Team

Secondly, you need a really good team. Good cinematography and great sound. Thirdly, you require a hardworking research team. That can break down the subject and that way you can give a good dimension to your documentary film.

If you have all these three things, you can start your documentary film-making journey from anywhere.


How do you work?

Our work is mostly based on search and research. Covering all the dimensions of the subject becomes an important motive for us.

I believe that documentary film has ought to be a complete journey of someone’s life. And all the phases should be brought to light. Even is the phase is really clumsy, disturbing, touching, embarrassing – something that can make you as well as the audience embarrass – it should be a part of it.

This is our way of working. Something we have good faith in. A bona fide life!


Do you follow a storyline?

Most documentary filmmakers I know start shooting for their documentary based on a storyline. However, I don’t.

My motive is to make a freestyle documentary that goes beyond a script. My documentary follows the trail of narration, experiences, and life. And once it’s done – and it’s on the editing table- we connect the dots making a complete documentary that connects in a flow.

Even though, it takes way more time than expected. But we are always amazed at the outcome.

We work on people’s life and extract a story out of it.


What Should I keep in Mind While Shooting For A Documentary film?

Whatever you capturing, make sure that your footage has captured life in it. There is nothing more brilliant than capturing life.

When you are starting out, and you put a camera in front of your subject they usually hesitate. As a documentary filmmaker, you have to wait for a time when your subjects have forgotten about the camera and keep on saying things that they have stored. There comes a time where your subject will start saying the unsaid things. That’s one moment you should always wait for.

As a documentary filmmaker, you require an enormous amount of patience.

It is nothing like asking for a professional actor to say some dialogues in front of the camera. In fact, you have to wait for your subject to utter a quote – something that’s a maxim of their life.

documentary film cameras

Any best camera for making a documentary?

One thing that I know about documentary film-making on life: that camera is not the most important equipment used in it.
It actually doesn’t matter which camera you use. To be in the moment – when your subject is able to express their life beautifully, and that’s what your camera is capturing, it will do miracles.
Even if it’s your phone’s camera, capturing the life and emotions of your subject can do a much better job than Red Epic or Red Dragon camera.


What are views on sound recording for documentary filming?

Sound recording in documentary film making should not be compromised at all. What your subject is trying to say should be very clear and undistorted so that it can reach the audience.
You need to extra careful when recording sound. As you can still add a blur, or over/under exposed footage but low-quality sound always breaks the connection between the subject and the audience.

audio recording films

Does Documentary Filmmaking On life Have Any Rules?

Art Doesn’t have any rules. Art doesn’t have any restrictions.

Neither should you keep any rules in your mind while working. As when you are limited by the rules, you do not find the supreme freedom to work like your way.
Moreover, we should keep in mind that what we have recorded should to be clear to the audience. Still, there are no rules at all.


Is Documentary Filmmaking all About Interviewing?

An interview does play a very import part in documentary film making. A, it’s how your subject opens up in front of the camera.
Moreover, you also find some visually appealing shots that can be used in your documentary film that goes along with the interview.

editing documentary films

What Are Your Views on Documentary Film Editing?

If you have shot your documentary on a story line then the editing is not going to be that hard, as you already have a plot it can be easily done.
But the way we work. We don’t follow any story boards, and we follow the pattern of a guirrila shoot. And when the entire footage is done, we extract a story out of the footage.

In our case, the editor works like a story writer and he has to find the most compatible, suitable and beautiful (also the most important) story out of the raw footage. A collection of clips that can portray your subject’s real life.
Once you are with footage, you will notice that you have so many different stories of a single person. It’s an editor’s call, wisdom, and judgment to keep what’s the most meaningful.
I think this is the best way to edit a documentary film making. But let me warn you, it is a lengthy process

Documentary film making as a full-time career?

Yes, can always make documentary film making as a full-time career. After working for decades as a documentary filmmaker, I realized that it could be hard to make money through it. But if you believe in social services, humanity or charity then it’s going to be a great journey. If you just keep on doing what you love it’s really not hard to make sure that it pays your bills.

Documentary film making should actually be a full-time career.

Do you provide any course?

No, we do not provide any documentary film-making course. But if we are doing some work, we always require interns.
If you are are looking for some internship in documentary film making. You are most welcome. You can write here.

Can you give feedback on our documentary?

We would love to. Even to watch a documentary film is itself a pleasurable activity for us. It’s great to know a different aspect of someone’s life through documentary films. A life that was hidden somewhere.
We would love to share our honest feedback on that.

You can get in touch with the filmmaker, Dheeraj Sharma, through email.

Feel free to write me here.

Thank you for reading.

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