Documentary Filmmaking Production, Costing & Distribution Process In India.

Watch the full video based on the documentary filmmaking process article here.

What’s up guys. Topic of today’s video is documentary filmmaking process. What is a documentary film, the process of making a documentary film, the costs involved in making one & finally it’s distribution. Before we begin, I would request you guys to hit that subscribe button. More subscribers will motivate us to make more videos that guide budding filmmakers.

So what is a documentary film?

A documentary film or documentary is a non-fictional motion-picture intended to “document reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction, education or maintaining a historical record”.

Documentaries are documents of information which are factually portrayed through the medium of cinema that is audio & visuals. Documentaries provide subjective information to the viewers in an objective manner which allows the viewer to experience the true story, fact or information in its actuality i.e. providing in person perspective to the viewer by showing real space, real people & real time documented on film.

In fact, documentary films were the earliest films to be made on the discovery of camera. In the absence of fictional stories & scripts, earliest cameramen took the camera to the streets documenting people’s life which now serve as the pictures of bygone era. 

Documentary Filmmaking Process.

Pre -production

To make a documentary film, first you need, a subject followed by a unique angle that portrays that subject’s life & all its facets as honestly as possible. The subject of your film can be a person, a real event, a historic or scientific fact, a place, any act rare or not can be documented with a camera & is theoretically a documentary film. 

Once you have your subject, start researching more about it & unearth as much information you can & make script like notes based on the information. Then review it. See what interests you, share this information with your colleagues & strangers & see how they react to it. Discuss your subject matter in length with them. See if they like the direction you have taken on the subject. Take their feedback. If they like what you tell them, then they would most probably watch it as well.

It is advised to put your subject research down in the form of a case research or script & submit it to various forums & film festivals that provide professional feedback for a fee on your film’s proposal. This will help you understand where you stand with your research & how the prospective market views it. 


Once your subject matter is decided, next step is to decide how you are going to film it. 

Most of the documentary filmmakers operate camera on their own. So do you want to shoot it on your own? You definitely can, if you are familiar with the camera & its techniques. But if you are not, please consider collaborating with a documentary filmmaker or a documentary cameraman. This will not only make your film look & feel professional but will also enable you with a partner brain who will guide & support you in your film’s journey.

Professional sound recording is of utmost importance in documentary filmmaking. It is as important as the camera itself. So make arrangements for proper sound recording & its related equipment. Work with a sound recordist who captures the realism in sound that elevates a documentary scene. Do not skip professional sound recording, it will be detrimental for your film.

Your crew size should actually depend upon your technical needs. In most of the cases you do not need a lot of crew on a documentary shoot. Mostly it’s a team of the filmmaker, cameraman, sound recordist, assistants etc. You are actually advised to keep the crew size to only essentials especially if your subject matter is new to the camera.

The choice of camera & the format you will shoot on is very important. Along with the quality & resolution it will provide, do check for the file sizes it creates. Since documentary filmmaking cannot be entirely planned, you will end up shooting a lot more footage than you had actually planned for. In that case you do not want to record in large sized RAW format unless you have budgeted for a proper post production.  

Work with the subject & plan your shoot in advance. Decide what specific aspect on subject matter & content you will target each day. Chase your story aggressively & objectively. Be subjective in post.

Post Production

Post production for documentary films is a tiresome work therefore do schedule enough time for the same. You are perhaps dealing with months or years of footage, that needs to be seen, logged, trans-scripted & then edited. Many people skip the transcript part but can be very handy to edit your transcripts & see how the narrative is shaping up. In a documentary the relation between words is more important than the image. In a documentary, we hear first & see to believe later. What is being told has to be in unity with what is being seen and not the other way around. 

For documentary film’s editing, you definitely need to work with a proper editor, who understands the technicalities of his trade. A documentary film’s editor usually has a lot to do with the film like managing layers of sound, reviewing footage & transcipts, managing resolutions & frame rates along with of course editing the film. I say again, work with a professional & experienced film editor, otherwise your entire project will enter a limbo which will give you nightmares. Review & discuss your footage with the editor, give them insights & let them edit & show your cuts. Guide them on each cut, this way you will most probably get a working film that will resonate more than what you had initially planned or hoped for.  

Again sound works are integral part of the documentary post production process. Such is the uncontrollable nature of documentary filmmaking that you will end up with a lot of shots with stary sounds on very important bytes. You need to collaborate with a sound engineer, who will make your film the professional dub it deserves.

Costing For Documentary Filmmaking Process.

Till the time you have invested a great deal in subject matter’s research & presentation, you can make a good documentary even if your budget is low. In the end it all depends on what you are making & for whom? If you are just filming your grandpa & your audience is your friends & family, then even some footage shot from a smartphone will serve the purpose. But if you are filming an aspect of your grandpa’s life & how it affected him & the family & find the story human enough to resonate with all of humanity? Then please invest in the film by filming with professional equipment & working with professional crew.

Following factors will grossly influence your film’s budget:

  1. the number of days you are planning to shoot for.
  2. The total crew size.
  3. Your equipment.
  4. Transport, food & accommodation for crew if it is an outstation shoot.
  5. Total size of your footage data
  6. length /duration of your film. 
  7. Quality of post-production.
  8. film festival distribution costs.

Many filmmakers nowadays prepare a professional looking small pitch trailer with their own funds & then look to raise money for further film’s development.

Share your subject pitch trailer with as many collaborators as possible for feedback or funds. Many documentary filmmakers try & raise funds from famous documentary grants like world cinema fund (Germany), Docage (France), Sundance (USA), PSBT (India). If your Subject matter is local, try & approach a local broadcaster for funds.  If you believe in your film, do not approach it with less resources. It will be a painful experience.


To be honest YouTube has become the biggest distribution network for documentary films after Tv, with producers & distributors like Nat Geo, Discovery streaming their content on YouTube as well, for its outstanding reach. If your film is professionally made & has a unique story matter you are most welcome to take your film into several important film festivals like Sundance, Raindance, Iffi (India), Cannes etc. & approach several OTT & network distributors. The more exposure your film will get in respected film festivals, the easier it will become for your film to get picked up for streaming. 

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