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How to Make a Documentary With Kids

Documentary making is a rewarding introduction into audio visual technology.

Making a documentary is a big job, requiring research, planning, filming and editing. It’s a suitable collaborative project for a kids’ media class or for a group of friends seeking a novel way of presenting their class project. Since the documentary makers are kids, it’s essential that you supervise and assist when they are meeting with their interview subjects and operating equipment. You may take charge of the technical aspects of the documentary process, depending on the age and ability of the kids making the picture.

Create a treatment, including three specific messages that the documentary will communicate. Decide whether to film in black and white, if the interviewer will be in shot and whether to use spoken narration or subtitles. If this is a school project, dedicate one class to the treatment. Have the kids come up with and vote on ideas.

Create the storyboard. The documentary can start with a question or statement, such as is “fast food is bad for kids,” or “do kids spend too much time playing computer games?” The storyboard should detail how the documentary unfolds and in what order the interviews and other footage is edited.

Make two lists of potential interview subjects. In the interest of balance, one list should contain names of people likely to support the opening claim and the other should contain people likely to disagree. For example, the manager of the local fast food restaurant and a dietitian may have opposing views on the subject of fast food being bad for kids.

Call up the interview subjects and arrange a suitable time for an interview. Explain you are calling for your class or children you supervise. If they are disinterested or suspicious, offer them the opportunity to view the edited footage before you show the documentary.

Film the interviews using a digital video camera. Take a minimum of three kids to the shoot: one to hold the camera, one to ask the questions and the other to direct the action. The director takes charge of the shoot, making decisions about where to seat the interviewee, camera angles and line of questioning. If you’re making the documentary with more than three kids, have them take turns fulfilling the various roles during different interview sessions.

Launch a video editing program on your computer. Windows Movie Maker and Apple iMovie are both free with their operating systems and are basic enough for students to use.

Connect the camera to your computer, then import the video into the editing program.

Drag and drop the video content from the “Imports” section into the “Timeline” section and arrange it according to the students' treatment. Use the “Trim” tools to cut unwanted footage.

Adjust the color of the video. Specific processes vary according to which program you use, but you typically select the color adjustments, including conversions to black and white or sepia tone from the "Colors" menu. Use the color selection tool to adjust the colors so they are consistent throughout.

Use the "Add Text" tool to add credits to the end of the film.

Tip

If needed, a high quality cell phone video camera can be used. While cell phone cameras are typically less advanced than video cameras, they are ubiquitous and typically have a simpler "point-and-click" interface.

The documentary need not exceed 10 minutes.

Warning

Never leave children unsupervised in the presence of strangers or electronic equipment.

About the Author

Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.