Documentary Filmmaking
Task 1: What is a documentary?

When creating a documentary, we aim to represent the facts and tell stories that are grounded in the truth. Documentaries usually include real world footage and interviews with experts. Of course, it’s important that the story of the documentary is entertaining for the audience and that’s where storytelling and editing comes into play. 

In nature or wildlife documentaries, hosts of the show usually go out into the field, into the environments they are sharing with the audience. Creating a documentary requires teams who work together collaboratively. It’s not just the host, but a whole crew working to capture the unique ecosystems featured in the show.

The Australian Content Standard defines ‘documentary program’ below: 

“Documentary program means a program that is a creative treatment of actuality other than a news, current affairs, sports coverage, magazine, infotainment or light entertainment program.”

Teachers may like to learn more about the definition of documentary through the below resources:

Task 2: Filming using greenscreen backgrounds from Built to Survive

When creating a wildlife documentary, we usually explore animals in their natural habitat. That may not be possible in your classroom. 

Ask students how we might transport ourselves into the worlds of Build to Survive? Why don’t we switch on our imagination to visit some of the locations in Built to Survive using green screen technology. 

Below are instructions for inserting a greenscreen background then recording a segment using Zoom.

Documentary production teams will need to set up a studio in the classroom. This will need to include:

  1. A quiet space with even light.
  2. A laptop with web camera and microphone
  3. Stable objects such as books to adjust the height of the laptop 
  4. The greenscreen backgrounds saved on your laptop (you can download these from each of the lesson pages)
  5. A green screen. If you don’t have a green screen, a piece of matte green fabric hanging over a portable whiteboard or pinned to a wall will work well. 

Remember if students wear green or reflective fabrics, this will be picked up by the green screen and make them disappear!

Once documentary production teams have set up the studio, follow the steps below to record their segment on Zoom. We suggest teachers log into and monitor Zoom recordings and the studio with support from students.

  1. Open Zoom and start a Meeting.
  2. On the bottom left of the Zoom window, there is an icon of a camera. Next to the icon is an up arrow (^). Click on this arrow and select “Choose Virtual Background…”
  3. A window will pop up. Tick the box at the bottom that says “I have a green screen”. Then click to plus (+) button, select add image, find the greenscreen background in your files, select it and click open. Your green screen background will appear. 
  4. Do a few practice runs of your segment. Click the Record button when you are ready to begin recording, and press Stop Recording when you have finished.

  5. You can stop and record for each production team to make separate files, or simply pause between each production team / takes for a continuous recording you can trim later.
  6. To view the recording, end the meeting and Zoom will convert all your recordings to video files. Make sure you wait patiently for this to convert then save your recording by naming the files and moving to a location like a storage device or the desktop.

Other tips and tricks for presenters

  • Use a clear voice at a reasonable volume when presenting.
  • Find a standing position that is comfortable for you and try to not move around too much. Some people find it helpful to stand with their feet shoulder-width apart; it helps to keep a strong posture with less movement. 
  • Make sure you are facing and talking to the camera. Sometimes you really want to look at yourself on the screen but try to look directly into the camera and pretend your audience is watching from the other side.
  • Presenters remember what they say and practice it! Avoid notes or reading from paper because this will make the presentation less impactful and engaging.
Task 3: Editing and cutaway footage

Students can download cutaway footage for each animal on the lessons page. To learn the basics of editing and how to insert the cutaway footage into a segment, teachers may like to watch the following online tutorials:

Movavi - 

iMovie -

Extension Task: Opening credits and end credits

If documentary production teams finish editing early, they can add opening credits sharing the title of their segment and end credits with the names of all the students who worked in the documentary production team.


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