I’ve put a bunch of models of documentaries for people to study.  Here are two examples of the most basic style doc:

Vance Malone’s Axioms of a Dishwasher

and Heidi VanLier’s Politics of Preschool

These examples are very effective, but simpler to pull off because technically they only require photography and a voice-over track.  As sound is arguably the most important aspect of a documentary, the voice-over track makes the task easier because you have more control over ambient sound (you will presumably record in a quiet space) and you can do as many takes as you like to get it right.)  Where these two docs shine is in the quality of the writing and the photography.  No shortcuts here.

Another standard documentary technique involves recording sound and image on the fly, on location:

The challenge here is getting good sound.

Another documentary technique, the observational or verité approach was made famous by the Maysles brothers.  Pay attention to Albert Maysles camera technique for this 3min continuous take:

Another approach involves shooting interviews and then editing B-Roll (relevant video or stills) on top of the audio.  The challenge is to get the interview to flow together.  Asking interviewees to recount related stories is one technique.  Consider how Jennifer Lebeau has to conduct her interviews to get these overlapping sound bites:


Then there is of course the combination of all these techniques which can be seen in Dogtown and Z-Boys:

This video combines both sit down and location interviews, a voice-over narration, stock footage, live footage, re-enactment, animated stills, animated titles and of course music.

Then there is the genre-blurring style of doc like Delusions in Modern Primitivism by Daniel Loflin

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/32048378]

Here are some exemplary student documentaries:

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