Want to shoot a high-impact personal documentary? While there is no rule book to documentary Film Making, there is others’ experiences that may help guide you. In this article, I am going to give you some tips on how to make a successful personal documentary. Some suggestions here relate to the project generally, and some relate specifically to filming interviews and shooting on location.


What is a personal documentary?

A “personal documentary” is a branch of documentary film making that focuses on one particular human subject, or sometimes a couple or a family. Commissioned by the subject in question or a family member, it is a bespoke (custom made) video biography which takes advantage of the immediacy and emotion of film to tell personal and family history stories that would otherwise be told in print.

Being “commissioned” doesn’t mean that the personal documentary is pure flattery or devoid of difficult issues. On the contrary, to be successful the personal documentary must contain objectivity and some real dark to balance the light. In my experience, subjects themselves have no interest in saccharine stories. But where mistakes were made, or wrong directions taken, a personal documentary will give the subject the opportunity for explanation, context and – desirably – understanding. Ultimately, though, editorial control rests with the party commissioning (paying for) the personal documentary.


A successful personal documentary will have feeling, humour and layers. It will cover the main “stations of the cross” in the person’s life without seeking to be comprehensive (an impossible task in any medium, at any time). It will also take a view. Film Making is the process of making a film. Filmmaking involves a number of discrete stages including an initial story, idea, or commission, through scriptwriting, casting, shooting, sound recording and reproduction, editing, and screening the finished product before an audience that may result in a film release and exhibition. Filmmaking takes place in many places around the world in a range of economic, social, and political contexts, and using a variety of technologies and cinematic techniques.

Depending on the time available, you can do historical research into the city or the state or the events recounted or the time period involved. Newspaper searches can turn up interesting material (you may need to join a library to get access to the best data bases). And some film makers even conduct Freedom of Information Act searches to bolster their research. The Media Development Lounge please visit here. http://www.themediadevelopmentlounge.com/