Digital Media Design


Magazine – Make A Documentary

make a documentary

Make a DocumentaryCoastal Path

Why not have a go at making a documentary? It could be easier than you might think. There is generally no script just an outline, there will need to be a shot list, there are usually no actors and you can make one with the minimum of kit, in fact all you need is your DSLR and a Tripod to get started.

Where to Start? Research an idea; find a subject that you think will be interesting both personally and to a target audience. Alternatively find a client who needs to tell a story. Use your Networks to find a project.

At University we are encouraged to work with external organisations to get experience of working on real projects and briefs.  For the London Olympics 2012 I was lucky enough to be working with Southwest’s Inspire Programme filming an Arts & Sport festival. Thanks to the success of that project I had the opportunity to work on producing a documentary for another project also awarded the Inspire Mark the ‘Weymouth Bay’ Coastal Access Project.Waves at Swanage Beach

As this is a client driven project the first thing I had to do was to meet the client and ask a series of questions, for example what is the project, who is going to want to see the final documentary and what are the key points that they want to get across. In many respects it’s the answer to who will be the target audience for the documentary that is the most important as this sets the theme. An example would be if the audience is predicted to be young school children then you will need to keep the language simple so that they can understand it.

InterviewsCoastal Path Signage

Chances are you will be conducting a series of interviews. You’ll need to prepare a list of questions that you will ask the interviewee, remember to keep these simple and make sure they are not closed questions. I always get the interviewee to repeat back the question so that the audience knows they are answering a question otherwise this would be confusing. Conduct interviews in an environment that they will find comfortable but balance that with production value. By this I mean if you have the choice between filming them in a garden shed or a Cathedral choose the Cathedral.

Always pick experts as your interviewee rather than someone you just met on the street, we’ve all seen the news reports where they’ve managed to find a member of the public who has no idea of what is going on but happened to be in the area.

Keep it interesting, think about the backdrop behind your subject, try and avoid plain backgrounds but at the same time watch for inappropriate objects in the shot. Film whenever possible in natural light, DSLR’s are quite good at working in low light levels but watch for noise and colour balance in very low light conditions.Coastal Path Signage


The A Roll is usually going to be the footage from the interviews or of subjects directly related to the documentary. For example if your documentary is about local transport you should show footage of Buses and Trains. The thing about footage of interviews is that generally there is only a limited amount of time that you can engage your audience before they lose interest; this is where the B-Roll comes in.


Basically the B-Roll is everything else. Generally it helps if this footage is related to the documentary subject but not necessarily. While conducting the interview look for things to film that confirm their relationship to the subject. For example bookshelves filled with reference books on the subject, certificates on a wall or maybe just photographs. You can also use B-Roll footage to show the passage of time for example the Sun rapidly setting using time lapse. Time Lapse is a good way of showing something happening very slowly in real time, for example over a period of hours or longer in just a few minutes on screen.

Don’t limit yourself to images that are only relevant to the subject sometimes something just works, for example in my documentary I managed to film some dogs playing on the cliffs and this arguably is the most remembered scene from the documentary.

Location filmingDorset Cliffs

For this my first foray into documentary I had to shoot on location, in fact several locations along the Dorset coastline. As I was working on my own it was down to me what kit I carried and to make sure I had everything I would need with me. It would have been great to take everything but climbing up steep hills carrying a tripod and camera would be hard enough but carrying anything non-essential had to be avoided. So what should you take? A choice of lenses or at least a good Zoom lens, some filters (graduated filters for landscapes), backup batteries and most importantly take lots of water to help keep you going.

A Tripod is essential when filming in the open and probably a substantial one is needed, most of the Tripods, which are easy to carry are going to be too lightweight to remain steady in windy situations. Although I’ve found you can sometimes get away with this by keeping the camera low to the ground or position it on something off the ground so that you do not have to fully extend the tripod legs. Standing to one side to block the worst of the wind sometimes works but not it the wind is coming directly from the front. Remember to turn off lens stablelisation when the camera is tripod mounted, you can hear the lens constantly moving and this maybe picked up by the microphone.

Location soundPortland

When filming in the open, wind is your enemy when it comes to sound recording. Even the gentlest of wind can create that booming noise on your soundtrack so protect your microphone from this by filming from sheltered locations. This is even more important if like most DSLR’s there’s no way of monitoring the sound being recorded. My own personal experience is that the dead cat wind shield on your camera mounted microphone will have limited success, they help to limit the wind noise but they do not eliminate it. This is even more of a problem when trying to conduct an interview in the open, remember the golden rule have the microphone as close as possible to the subject. I use a camera mounted Rode Videomic but this struggles when recording interviews in open air on location. I’ve since had more success using radio microphones or if your budget will not extend to one of those buy a cheaper Lavaliere microphone and a 5-metre cable extension.

Editing & Titles

Editing for documentary in many cases will be simpler than for other genre videos generally there is limited reasons for using any special effects a simple dissolve fade between clips does the job. My preference is to insert B-Roll video clips for transitions between clips of the interviews or scene changes for example  different locations. For this documentary I used video clips of sailing boats moving from left to right to provide continuation between the clips even though they are not sequences of the same sailing boat, it still works well as a means of carrying the audience from scene to scene and location to location.Smugglers Inn Osmington

Use music where appropriate, it’s unlikely that a documentary will need a music soundtrack, an exception to that maybe a Wildlife documentary. You may also need to record a separate narration in order to explain to the audience the significance of what they are seeing on screen for those clips for which you have no soundtrack from the interviews to use for this purpose.

Generate the opening and closing credits, it’s surprising how important this can be, take particular care not to miss anyone out. I asked the client to produce the list of contributors but I still had to add people or credit organisations into subsequent edits.

Another use of titles is to use these as transitions between video clips, which will also have the additional benefit of introducing the next scene or location. Handy if you do not have a sound bite or narration for the upcoming video clip, using a title can be enough to inform the audience of what the following clip is all about.

Contemporary editing practices call for rapid cuts between scenes and transitions are usually instantaneous not even time for a short dissolve.Rufus Castle Portland

Audience Previewing

Preview your creation to an audience; in my case this was the client. The client wanted some changes made which meant editing out scenes, changing the order or dropping more scenes in, which may mean shooting additional footage. If there’s no client involved ask a group of friends to watch and then ask them for their viewpoints afterwards, or ask them to complete a short questionnaire. It’s surprising what you may have missed especially after all those hours staring at the screen when editing.


Do your research – getting this right is important to the success of the documentary and make sure you have proof from several sources before committing to film. Getting the facts wrong will effectively make the documentary worthless and damage reputations including your own.

When filming on location check the weather forecast, travel times and facilities at the location. Be prepared to re-schedule for bad weather.

Get help, really this can be the most important decision you can make, an extra pair of hands to help carry your gear, hold a photographic reflector or microphone boom can make all the difference.

For your first documentary keep it short 15 minutes is a good target but be prepared, as for even such a relatively short time you will be shooting hours and hours of footage for the B-Roll.


Download the orginal as a pdf – download Documentary


Magazine – The Student Perspective

the student perspective

The Student Perspective Ian F. Hunt

From Website Designer to Filmmaker

Two and half years ago I started at the Arts University College Bournemouth, which from 2013 became the Arts University Bournemouth as an undergraduate studying BA Digital Media Production. I was convinced at the start of my degree that I would concentrate my studies and project work on web related topics and eventually graduate some three years later as a website designer. But thanks to a chance meeting with a guest lecturer from the professional film industry; my studies, my project work and future career interests have taken a radically different path.Studio Film Shoot

This key first lecture had a very simple concept; divided up into small groups each group would write, create a storyboard/shot list and edit/produce a 2-minute short film by the end of the day using the lyrics of a song for inspiration. Our group had the chorus from KT Tunstall’s, ‘Black Horse & A Cherry Tree’. For the production the technical parameters were set as follow, we were restricted to using a mobile phone to film, but we would have access to a suite of iMacs all running Adobe Creative Suite CS5 for editing, which meant we could use iMovie or Premier Pro CS5. I remember my only concern at the time was ‘where are we going to find a horse’ but of course we found one in the end.Green Screen Filming

I wondered about the mobile phone restriction for the project when we had access to several Sony HVR-Z5E Camcorders, but now I can see that this limitation was put in place in order to generate creativity. It would have been so easy to use the camcorders with their zoom lenses to capture the image of a horse from afar. But with just a mobile phone we ended up sneaking up on a horse in a damp field armed only with a recently purchased apple from the University Refectory to tempt the horse close and so get the shots we needed. By the end of the day I was hooked, in less than a day we had created a short 2-minute film, filmed in HD (on my Sony Ericcsson W995), edited in Premiere Pro CS5 and which was also a faithful representation of the lyrics from song chosen to be the soundtrack for our short film.

We are extremely lucky at the Arts University Bournemouth with access to a large number of cameras and film/video equipment including DSLR’s consisting of several Canon 5D MII’s, Canon 550D’s, 600D’s and 650D’s. This switch to DSLR’s has revolutionised the way we students approach projects, for example you can work individually or in much smaller teams on a project. Video clips are captured directly onto Flash or SD memory cards, no more capturing from tape. Another bonus of capturing your footage direct to SD cards means it is so much quicker to get video clips into the computer ready for editing.

As a creative University, students cannot help but be inspired and to be creative; this is helped by collaboration between the courses. I have worked with Acting, Makeup and Costume courses to make films, in fact all the essential resources and skills that a filmmaker needs.Canon 60D Green Screen Filming

Student Films – the approach (Not just for students)


From the very early days of the short film unit and throughout the course it has been instilled into us that preparation that is pre-production is the key to the successful production of a film. But I’m getting slightly ahead; the process actually starts with the idea development. Student films tend to default to films about the Homeless and most recently Zombie films, I’ve made or been involved in the making of both. So how do you come up with an original idea for a film? There’s the mood wall, or a scrapbook of things that interest or inspire you. This can be anything; examples could be photographs of people, materials or just ideas for colours. The social networking site Pinterest has updated this concept recently, Pinterest lets you pin images of things that you like and/or inspire you. You can share these Pins with your collaborators and hopefully out of all of this pinning and sharing that unique idea for a film just pops out at you.

Sometimes a client sets the subject for the film and so the challenge then becomes how to interpret the brief and come up with a unique and interesting way of fulfilling the brief. Again the mood wall can help, as will a brainstorming session either with team members or your friends.

Now that you have your idea for a film its time to start pre-production, which means everything that you need to do before you start the actual filming process. Included in that list of things to do is to first create an outline of the film, a script if there is any dialogue, storyboards/diagram and a shot list. You need a film location and almost certainly actors unless the team/crew are also happy to be on camera. For some locations you will need permission to film particularly if it’s in a public area. You may need a risk assessment; we produce one of these for every film production in fact without one of these you will be unable to book equipment from the stores. How long is the film is it a short or feature length? Finally or maybe this should be the first thing to consider, where is your film going to be viewed? Online YouTube and Vimeo, on a self-hosted website, DVD etc.


To give you an idea of what is involved I produced a short film with another student of a Team GB athletes evening training session for the Long Jump. The pre-production, including the recce of locations took at least 10 days but the actual time filming was less than 2 hours. Most of this pre-production time was spent creating storyboards, shot lists and trying to come up with a unique way of producing a film that would make it more than just a video of an athlete training.

The key concept in the end was to try and capture the drama in the sport by showing the build up, the explosion of effort required to be the best at their sport. The filming took place on a very cold and dark Winters evening under stadium floodlights; this is where the DSLR’s low light abilities make it the ideal camera for the job. Having researched the key elements of the Long Jump, the dramatic build up at the start where the athlete psyches themselves up before starting the approach the run up to the launch point. These would be the scenes to capture and for dramatic effect using close ups and different angles.

During the filming process we decided to film additional shots not in the original shot list. This is always a good idea and this proved true for this film as we used most of these in the final film. Additional shots could include those taken at different angles and distances of the scene planned shot list but they could also be of anything. That is anything that adds to the films interest, for example a full Moon, wind in the trees a Sunset or Sunrise.Green Screen Setup

Don’t forget the importance of Sound

As important as the visuals are the sound has equal if not greater importance. Many problems with visuals can be fixed in post production but sound usually cannot, so this has to be captured right at the outset. This highlights a problem with DSLR’s most of which do not have a headphone socket and the means of monitoring the sound being recorded. There are ways around this e.g. using Magic Lantern but the only way really is to record using a standalone sound recorder like the Zoom H4N rather than record sound direct to camera. I personally use Magic Lantern on my Canon 60D which means I can monitor the sound being recorded from my cameras hotshoe mounted Rode Videomic.

Post Production – EditingStudio Shoot Canon 5D MKII

Premier Pro is a non-linear editing program and it is the preferred editing tool for our course although we do have access alternatives including several Avid editing suites in the University used by the Film Production course.

Remember those additional shots? I used these so that I could create rapid cuts to match the music soundtrack. Cutting to a different shot for each beat of the music. Modern editing trends mean rapid cuts especially in an action film, these cuts add to the dramatic effect, the quicker the cut the faster the pace of the film.

The choice of music is important to, I’d already researched the perfect soundtrack with a beat to match the movement building up to a crescendo at the end perfect for this type of on screen action.

Towards the end of the editing process is the time to add special effects (if required) and colour grading.

Get Feedback

It is always a good idea to preview your film to a group of friends before going public with your latest creation. I usually upload my film to YouTube as unlisted and then send the link to friends for their comments. Typically I fully expect then based on the feedback to have to do several changes to the final edit before the film is ready to go public. For University assessment we present our films to our peers for critique, this is when you find out if its good, could be better or it’s a real stinker. But no matter what the feedback is positive or negative learn from it, this can only help you to be a better filmmaker.


Download the original article as a pdf – download Student Perspective



Short Form Video – Green Screen, scale/perspective and locations

Saturday 26th February 2011

Tramp Short Form Video

Scale and Perspective

Using the green screen video footage shot on Wednesday and additional video footage which I shot using my Canon EOS 60D DSLR. I began experimenting with positions, the scale and perspectives for the live footage and the video footage which would form part of the dream sequence.

Group discussions in conjunction with a meeting with Tony the idea was put forward to make the video image behind the live footage of the Tramp on the bench to be oversize, dominating the screen.

I thought it would be a good idea to see how this would look so I set up my camera at home and wearing the revised costume I acted through the drinking idea we’d had.

We’ve yet to decide on the final look of the dream footage whether it’s going to be in colour, black and white or other effects but for this test I just used ‘Threshold’ (Premiere Pro) to separate the live footage from the dream.

I’m quite pleased with the overall look of the footage but I am now thinking that it will be hard to show all the ideas that we have had for the dream sequence in just 2 minutes and I’m thinking we should just show one or two ideas and do these very well rather than do four or more but do them badly.

Also I think we should given the opportunity shoot more footage than is required say an additional 4 or more minutes so that we have enough for a short film of 6 minutes duration and cherry pick from this footage for the 2 minute version required for the overall project.


I storyboarded the short dream sequence but as you can see in the final edit, changes were made to the scale and position of the background images


A useful tool for rapidly identifying locations for filming is Google’s Street View. This allows you to view locations across the whole of the UK and indeed the World although as the name suggests only if there is a street and one which Google’s camera car has filmed.

I used it to view a number of locations in the Charminster area which will need to be followed up by an actual visit but they appear to be good possibilities for filming the Tramps dream sequence.


Short Form Video – The Pitch Tilt Shift

Thursday 27th January 2011

The Commuter

This is going to be a Short Form Video shot in a Documentary Style inspired by Koyaanisqatsi .


I’m going to be using Tilt Shift effects to add an additional perspective to the video. Where it would be used to film groups of people; cars, trains and bicycles in the daily commute. The addition of tilt shift effect adds an element of fun to the video. The scenes of the video will take on a model like appearance, the people will seem like ants scurrying around an unreal environment bright with colour.

I’ve picked the daily commute as the theme primarily because this is the most active part of the day, the time where most people cars and trains are in motion which is needed for the tilt shift effect to be most effective.

Time Lapse

The sequence will start ideally with a Huge Faked Sunrise to set in the audience minds that it is the early part of the day, we then cut to  people waiting at a Bus Stop using Time Lapse.

  1. and as the Bus Pulls up we cut to a Tilt Shift of lines of cars headlights as they stream into Bournemouth.
  2. The next scene is another Tilt Shift view of the trains coming into the station.
  3. This is followed by a Tilt Shift scene looking down onto the Square in Bournemouth watching the people scurry around the shops.
  4. The penultimate shot will be a Tilt Shift of a line of cars tail lights as they leave Bournemouth (Shot at the same time as the morning shoot).
  5. Finally we have the scene of a commuter on a Bike with a Huge Faked Sun setting with a final close up of the rear bikes spinning wheel.

I would also like to shoot the video using a variety cameras, for example a Digital SLR, GoPro, Flip and of course Sony Z5. The GoPro might give the best result because of its wide angle lens and the HD cameras would give the best quality images for the start and end sequences which are not to be Tilt Shift. But the DSLR might work the best as this has a time lapse function which would be ideal for these sequences and they would also have the benefit of being in HD as well.

I’m still considering whether apart from a music soundtrack whether a voice over would be appropriate as well as any other soundtracks for example one of the videos above starts with an extract from a Radio Traffic Report which I think really sets the scene by establishing the time of day and that it’s the morning commute. It might be a good idea to do something similar and also at the end of the video add the evening traffic report again setting the time of day into the audiences mind that a day has passed. NB: Not 24hrs but a working day say 7:00am to 6:00pm.

Storyboard – Photographs

Ice Cream Boat - Poole Harbour

Ice Cream Boat - Poole Harbour

Customs Boat - Vancouver Sound

Customs Boat - Vancouver Sound

Street - Las Vegas

Street - Las Vegas


Short Form Video – Idea Development (Part 2) Tilt Shift

Tilt Shift, Time Lapse idea development.
Thursday 20th January 2010

Tilt Shift Video

Tilt Shift and Time Lapse video has become front runner for my idea for the Groups Short Form Video. I’ve looked again at the assignment brief and its parameter’s and how this will effect the work of our Group 2. I now realise that my first idea of the small drama titled ‘Gangland’ could be made to work but its potential could be wasted firstly by the limitation of duration of just 2 minutes and the loss of creative control by having its beginning and end scenes pre-determined.

For these reasons I have decided to consider alternatives and one in particular which is very much a personal interest would be the filming of a sequence using the Tilt shift method. Having seen some examples of these in lectures at the end of 2010 I have become fascinated by this photographic/video effect and would welcome any opportunity to produce my own version.


“Tilt-shift photography” refers to the use of camera movements on small- and medium-format cameras, and sometimes specifically refers to the use of tilt for selective focus, often for simulating a miniature scene. “Source: WEB Definitions”

Ok that’s not that helpful it’s probably best to look at an example and then describe what’s happening.

Tilt Shift example 1

This is a great example and ties in well with the brief title ‘a week in the life of’.

How does it work? well starting with videoing from a high vantage point seems to be the way to go  in this way your subjects are already in miniature. Next you need to decide in which area of the scene you are going to focus on and then in post you mask this and then blur the rest. In photography this seems to have the same effect as changing the focal length of the camera. There are special lenses produced to give this effect and they seem to work by moving the lens away from the sensor (Digital SLR) and they also give some lateral/tilt movement hence the term Tilt Shift you are literally tilting the lens.

I’ve seen an example of a home modified camera/lens setup where the camera lens has been moved a small distance away from the camera body by using a black flexible pipe. Changing both the the focal length and giving some flexibility to the camera body/lens angle.

Anyway back to the point in post we can simulate this effect by blurring the image outside our area of interest which is safely masked. Then to add to the Toy like effect you ramp up the saturation to give a very unnatural colour to your subjects (Primary Colours) and then up the speed of the video sequence making the subjects move across your screen at a rapid rate.

The big idea ‘A day in the life of Bournemouth’ Tuesday ‘Bus Stop to Bike Wheel’

My idea is to start our 2 minute sequence with a close up of a Bus Stop in Bournemouth’s Triangle and rapidly zoom out manually blurring the entire scene seemingly in one movement refocusing the scene from the  high vantage point from where we would be filming from. This would be ideally from the roof of one of the buildings overlooking the Triangle. The best day I’d suspect would be a Saturday just so that we maximise on foot traffic.

We’d have to experiment to see how much footage we would need to give the desired effect but I’d say we’d need an hours filming for each minute on the screen. My idea would most probably be more effective if we then moved to 2 more vantage points to vary the scene avoiding the audience losing interest.

My first thoughts would be filming the beach from the top of the BIC or the now defunct Imax building or Pavilion and then onto a 3rd location overlooking the Wessex Way during commuting time and maybe include the trains coming in and out of the station. In fact there are so many interesting locations to film that we would almost certainly have more footage than we would need.

The final sequence would be zooming down to a cyclist again seemingly in one movement to an extreme close up of a bicycle wheel.

What’s Next?

Assuming my pitch is successful and the rest of the Group are on board with the idea then we will need permission to film from one of the possible location sin the Triangle. A site survey would be needed to work out the best location but my immediate thoughts are Debenhams in the Tirangle, The BIC and ASDA’s or a Bridge across the Wessex Way. I think there maybe a Bournemouth University building overloooking the Wesex Way which maybe a possibility.


We’d have to try what is available to us to see what works, that is the Sony Z5 and it’s Zoom but if possible I think an SLR with a good quality Manual Zoom lens would be the best choice for this application – can we get access to one of these?

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