Short-Form Documentary: 7 Rules to Follow

November 30th, 2021  |  by maria

Short-Form Documentary: 7 Rules to Follow -

In 2021, content will be considerably decentralized; moving away from traditional platforms like film and television. Now, you no longer need to have heavy-duty equipment, a set, or a crew to create compelling video content. While high-quality content still performs well, what is considered “high quality” has certainly changed over the years.

For the most part, all you need is some good lighting, decent sound, and a smartphone to record and disseminate content. Plus, it’s easier to reach a large audience at once, thanks to the internet. This change has become evident across many film and video genres, but most prominently in documentaries.

Documentaries no longer need to be drawn-out, long-form productions that were shot in different locations and required a sizable budget. Documentaries used to be longer features, with powerful messages conveyed in great detail. Certain parameters defined a ‘documentary’ in the past, and fortunately, that is no longer the case!

Enter short-form documentaries.

If you’re thinking “wait...what are short-form documentaries?” don’t worry, we’ve got everything you need to know right here! Let’s begin!

What Are Short-Form Documentaries?

Short form documentaries are exactly what they sound like; short documentaries. They’re typically the length of a music video (2-3 minutes).

Short form video documentaries are preferred by creators and audiences these days. This is because they can still convey a powerful message with the upside of keeping the attention of viewers that may not want to commit to a longer documentary.

It's no secret that the current and emerging generations of people have short attention spans; especially when it comes to technology and content. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it simply means content creators need to adjust accordingly to retain a decent audience.

Now, if you’re a beginner in the film or video creation niche and are feeling a little lost about creating your own short-form documentary; worry not! Here are 7 rules you need to follow to get the best results!

7 Rules to Follow When Making a Short-Form Documentary

These are seven basic rules you need to follow for making a short-form documentary, think of them more as boxes to check off as you go through the different stages of content creation. Let’s get into it!

Short-Form Documentary: 7 Rules to Follow

1.    Create an Outline

The first thing you need to do before beginning any project is create an outline. Try to make it as detailed as possible so you’re clear about the direction from the beginning. Many creators enlist the help of vision boards to map out their ideas and see what works.

Ideally, you should have the tone, messaging, direction, and ‘plot’ mapped out before filming. Many creators make the mistake of taking raw content and editing it according to a specific tone in post-production.

While this may work for some, as a beginner it's better for you to have a general idea beforehand so it translates more clearly in your content. While we’re recommending an outline, we would also recommend creating a flexible one.

Not everything should be set in stone, create frameworks that can be improvised on and tailored. Many things become clearer as you begin filming, so always be open to change!

2.    Don’t Postpone the Exposition

Yes, traditional documentaries have always been known for drawn-out, slow-burn expositions. But with shorter documentaries, you’re also short on time! So don’t wait to give your audience the exposition, if you can, jump straight to the point.

Your audience should immediately know why they should care about your documentary and why they need to watch till the end. If you don’t grab their attention, they’re likely to click off.

3.    Pizzaz!

Don’t be afraid to add all the pizzaz you want to your short-form documentary! Add visual effects, cuts, and edits to make it as visually appealing as possible. Current technology gives us unlimited options when it comes to editing content, use it to its full potential!

Documentary making and documentaries can tend to look dull from the outside so an excellent tip is to treat it like somewhat of a movie. Don’t go heavy-handed with special effects or anything, but try to put yourself in the audience’s shoes and see how best to grab and keep their attention.

If you’re a beginner and have a tight budget, or simply don’t want to spend a ton on buying music and sound editing software, look no further than Filmstro.

Filmstro is one of the world’s biggest databases for royalty-free music.

What’s better?

It comes with its own sound editor as well as integration options for you to use your favourite editing tool. When it comes to documentary making software, this is an excellent one to have in your toolkit.

Filmstro has a simple, affordable payment plan that gives you unlimited access to its library. So as far as music for your short-form documentary goes, you’re all set!

4.    What Do You Want to Say?

Remember that outline we talked about? This is kind of similar except it focuses less on technical details and more on the content itself. Your short-form documentary needs to say something, it needs to have a point.

Figure out beforehand what you’re trying to say with your documentary, so while you’re filming or editing, your content reflects it accordingly.

5.    Tug at the Heartstrings

This is more of a tip but try to tug at the heartstrings if you want a short-form documentary that stays with your audience. Short-form documentary length is not that long, so you don’t have much time to reel in an audience, and there’s a high chance your work can become forgettable.

Tugging at the heartstrings doesn’t necessarily mean garnering a tear-jerking reaction from your audience here. It simply means invoking an emotional response, that emotion can sadness, happiness, or even anger!

6.    The Build-Up

While you’re short on time and you need to jump straight to the point, try to create a bit of a build up somewhere in your short-term documentary. This relates more to the story you’re trying to tell. Have the story unravel into some kind of resolution or exposition at the end. This helps your audience stay hooked and stick around till the end!

For example, perhaps there’s a case to be solved or some answers to be uncovered by the end of the short-form documentary, pose questions and present the mystery earlier on.

7.    Keep the Ending in Mind

Lastly, keep the ending of your short-form documentary in mind beforehand. Many creators often let the endings or resolutions reveal themselves while filming, but it always helps to have a general idea of where you’re going.

Ask yourself things like; what problem is my short-form documentary solving? What is it trying to say? How do I want this to end? Answering these questions will help shape your content according to your vision; and your vision needs to be as clear as possible from the get-go!

Final Takeaway

While long-form documentaries are still popular, short-form documentaries are excellent for the mainstream audience. Especially as a beginner, you’ll be hard-pressed to find viewers willing to commit to watching a longer documentary you made. But 2-3 minutes? You might have better luck!

Short-form documentaries are a great idea and can help you hone your skills as a filmmaker and editor. Use these seven rules to guide your next project and we guarantee you won’t regret it!

If you liked this article, you should also check out How To Write A Film Review.

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