Documentary Filmmaking Step by Step
4.3 (448 ratings)
Course Ratings are calculated from individual students’ ratings and a variety of other signals, like age of rating and reliability, to ensure that they reflect course quality fairly and accurately.
9,665 students enrolled

Documentary Filmmaking Step by Step

From a 3-time Sundance alum, learn to make documentary films and videos from production to distribution on any budget
4.3 (448 ratings)
Course Ratings are calculated from individual students’ ratings and a variety of other signals, like age of rating and reliability, to ensure that they reflect course quality fairly and accurately.
9,663 students enrolled
Created by Adam Bhala Lough
Last updated 10/2019
Current price: $139.99 Original price: $199.99 Discount: 30% off
5 hours left at this price!
30-Day Money-Back Guarantee
This course includes
  • 5 hours on-demand video
  • 17 downloadable resources
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Assignments
  • Certificate of Completion
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What you'll learn
  • You will learn how to make a complete documentary feature or short film, from beginning to end; conception of the idea all the way to delivery and exhibition of the final film
  • Examples and insight into the filmmaking process through the unique lens of my own experience making award winning documentaries
  • Secrets and "producer hacks" that I've learned along the way and that no one else will tell you
  • Where I failed, so you won't make the same mistakes
  • Going rates for nearly all crew positions on a documentary feature or short (low/mid/high budget rates)
  • As a bonus you'll also get many free templates for you to download and use: contracts, agreements, budgets, schedules, forms
  • This course is for anyone with a basic knowledge of filmmaking - narrative or documentary

Get filmmaking secrets, from finding (and securing) financing, through surviving production, through distribution and everything in between from me, Adam Bhala Lough, a Spirit Award nominated, 3-time Sundance Film Festival alum and one of Filmmaker Magazine's Top 25 Indie Filmmakers to Watch.

Who am I?

I'm an internationally acclaimed 14-year vet with four documentaries currently on Netflix and three that were the #1 documentary on the iTunes charts. I've had an incredible amount of success in my career but I have also failed many, many times. You will learn where I failed along the way so you won't make the same mistakes.

I'm also a mentor at the Sundance Native labs and Latino Screenwriting labs and was a mentor at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival mentor sessions so I know how to teach in a concise and clear way.

Why should you take this course and not another?

You will get secrets only a seasoned pro can reveal- from the beauty of not paying insane clearance fees by claiming "fair-use," to how to get into a film festival without any connections. It's all in this 5 hour course.

Other courses give general knowledge of how to make a film from people with very little actual real world experience. This course is taught directly from my experience making eight feature length documentary films, all of which have received worldwide distribution and been translated into many languages.

Who this course is for:
  • Beginning filmmakers needing a roadmap to navigate the confusing and often mysterious job of a documentary filmmaker (what is it exactly that we do?!)
  • Those who will benefit most from this course will be those getting ready to embark on their first or second short or feature length documentary film
  • Veteran documentary filmmakers who want to know my secrets, short-cuts and hacks, learned the hard way from directing 8 feature-length documentaries
Course content
Expand all 39 lectures 04:45:50
+ Development
7 lectures 57:30

Every great documentary starts with an idea. But where do ideas come from? And how do you know if your idea is good?

The Idea
Write 5 loglines for 5 of your favorite documentaries.
Logline Practice
1 question

You found the perfect subject or subjects for your documentary, now what?

Approaching the Subject

You've got some interest from your subject(s) now how do you get them to commit, and what if they want money?

Getting the Subject to Commit

You've got some subjects committed and/or interested in being part of your film. Now how do you get the money to go make it?


Your treatment, your deck and especially your log-line are essential to communicating the vision of your film. But how do you make them? And what do they look like?

Preview 11:54
A treatment is a loosely narrative pitch of your documentary. The treatment should highlight at least your story's hook, primary characters, acts and dramatic structure, setting, point of view / style, and themes. In this assignment you will practice writing a first draft for your film's treatment.
Treatment Practice
10 questions

Anyone putting money into your film wants to see a solid budget. And you need a schedule to make a budget. But how do you make them? What line items do you absolutely need? And most importantly, how much should you pay yourself?!

Budget and Schedule

Your film is a small business, how do you protect your business? 

LLC and Bank Account
+ Pre-Production
4 lectures 28:15

How many people do you need on set of your documentary? 2? 6? 10? Where do you find them? And how much should you pay them? (All rates given here are as of late 2018).

Hiring Crew

So, what are you going to shoot? Not sure? Here are some ideas that work for nearly any documentary.

Shot-List and Scene Ideas

Wether traveling across the globe on a shoestring budget or filming in your backyard, what gear is necessary to make a documentary? 

Travel and Gear
+ Production
9 lectures 01:00:44

So you've started shooting. But you've got a long way to go. How do you earn the trust of your subject(s)? And when should you put the camera down?

Preview 09:59

What should your camera and audio set-up look like? What does mine usually look like? 

The A/V Setup

I've interviewed difficult subjects from Julian Assange to Alt-Right leader Richard Spencer. Here's some tips for conducting a great interview (especially what not to do).

Interviewing Subjects

What should you expect a typical shoot day to look like? I break down exactly what one looked like for me, complete with video, so you know what to expect.

A Typical Shoot Day

For many filmmakers Cinema Verite scenes are going to provide the backbone of their storytelling. But what is Cinema Verite and how do you film it? And what about Direct Cinema?

Cinema Vérité

B-Roll is the secret weapon of any documentary. Nearly every documentary film is going to contain some amount of B-Roll. So how do you spice it up? Here's some secrets I've learned after shooting B-Roll for 8 different features.


The age old question: Do I really need to get releases? And in what cases do I not need releases? And what if someone permits me to film and then changes their mind after and won't sign a release? Can I still use it? Yes, here's all you need to know about releases.


"The Hiatus" is my secret weapon, learned, practiced and nearly perfected after 8 features. Plug it into your schedule and reap the benefits in the edit room.

The Hiatus

How do I know when it's time to stop shooting?!

Preview 02:23
+ Post-Production
11 lectures 01:08:21

How do you find an editor? How do you pick an editor? How much should you pay an editor? What software should you edit on? Prepping for your edit is perhaps one of the most important steps in the process of making your documentary. Pay attention!

Prepping the Edit

What's an "Assembly Edit" and how do you go about making one? Is this the job of the assistant editor, editor, or director? My answer may surprise you.

The Assembly

I share some secrets about what to shoot after your rough cut is done. I also answer the difficult question- How do you know when you have cut a rough cut that's good enough to show people? 

The Rough Cut

How much should you pay a music supervisor and a composer? And what does a standard music budget for a documentary look like? I get into all this plus share some of my experience working legendary composer Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream) and share some secrets to finding great, free music.

Music and Score

Think preview screenings are only for big budget Hollywood blockbusters? Think again. I tell you why preview screenings can be a great tool in the edit process. Also included is my personal preview screenings form you can edit to your liking.

Preview Screenings

The edit of a documentary can go on forever. So how do you know when it's time to lock picture?

Locking Picture

Do you really need to hire a team of professional sound editors and mixers for a documentary? There are no car chases and explosions. Uh, yeah, you do. Here's why and here's how much to pay them and how to save a ton of money during the mix.

Sound Mix and Edit

How did we get Academy Award winning actor Benicio Del Toro to narrate a documentary with a budget under $100K? I tell you how and share some secrets for how you can get world class talent on board to narrate your film. It's not as hard as you think.


Well designed titles and graphics can really raise the production value of your documentary. But how much is that going to cost you? The answer is lower than you probably think. I also discuss all different types of titles you could possibly throw into a film and show examples from The New Radical.

Titles and Graphics

Does a super low budget documentary really need a color correct and an online? If you want anyone to see it, it does. But how much is that going to cost? I give you some secrets to keeping the price down low and the quality high.

Color and Online

Nervous to screen the film for your subject? You should be. Eight films in and I still get nervous. Here are some tips I've learned over the years on how best to show your subject the film, make them happy and still get your way, and protect your creative control.

Screening the Film for Subjects
+ Exhibition
7 lectures 01:08:16

Getting into a big festival won't make or break your film, right? Actually it will. Here's some tactics I've used over the years to get into a great film festival even if don't know anyone on the staff.

Applying to Film Festivals

You got into a major film festival, congrats! Here's how much it's going to cost you, and how to save money. You're also probably wondering if you need a publicist. The answer is not necessarily "yes."

Film Festivals and Publicists

You don't really need a sales agent, right? You can sell the film on your own? I made the same mistake too. Here's why you need a sales agent, what percentage is fair to pay them and how to keep from letting them rip you off. The devil is in the details (of the contract).

Sales Agents

Awesome, you got an offer from a distributor. But are you getting a good deal, or getting ripped off? And what are your other options? Hint, you have a bunch of options, many of them potentially lucrative.


You found a great archival clip on YouTube but the rights owner wants more than your entire archival budget, for 10 seconds! Do you have to take it out? Not necessarily. "Fair-use" is a filmmaker's best friend, but it's also a thorny, complicated subject that I break down in 15 minutes.

E&O and Fair Use

You didn't get a distribution deal. And your festival run is over. Time to give up? No way, time to make some money! Here's a self-distribution crash course that will hopefully help you get some or all of your money back.


Thanks for watching, and stay in touch!

Final Thoughts