How To Make A Documentary Online That Will Spread Like Wildfire

Saikat Basu 02-10-2009

TNailDocumentaries are meant to be eye-openers. Three adjectives underline any documentary – insightful, informative and illuminating. It is entertainment of course, but usually of a more sober kind. It may not have the glamour of a soap or the razzmatazz of a music video, but be assured that documentary lovers have given the medium a niche of its own.


You just have to recall a few of the pathbreaking documentaries to realize that a well made one can give a blockbuster big studio film a close run for its money. Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004, An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, Man on Wire in 2009 made us sit up and take notice.

Did you know that Fahrenheit 9/11 grossed nearly $220 million plus worldwide?  The budget that went into its making – a shoestring $6 million. The documentary did spread like wildfire sweeping a lot of awards in its wake.

Michael Moore, its director was also ranked amongst the world’s 100 most influential people by Time in 2005, all the controversy notwithstanding. That’s a serious wallop from an art form that doesn’t receive so much of the limelight. Or just think of The Inconvenient Truth and recall what it did for the image of Al Gore as a champion for the environment.

The World Wide Web is perfect fit for documentaries. The documentary format lends itself to the apolitical, censor free and free nature of the web. The web is a great place for the beginner to not only watch but also to host and spread a documentary.

So how does a beginner begin learning how to make a documentary that will not only be popular but also would be a rage?


Frankly, I don’t know.  All I can do in this post is hash out some of the ways to make a documentary. Art is magic but there isn’t an off the shelf magic wand. What’s available are some easy to get first steps to learn about how to make a documentary. Let’s take step number one.

Feel the passion

Do you have that fire in the belly? If you don’t, don’t even bother reading ahead. A good documentary is reworded passion. The good thing is that if you are really gung-ho about a subject, you can make a documentary out of it. Even if you love washing elephants, you can make one on that – call it “˜A Day in the Life of an Elephant‘.

Watch good documentaries (and also the bad ones)

That’s natural. We learn by watching those who have done it before us. Everyone has a different style and it’s always wise to observe what works and what doesn’t. Like movies, documentaries also look better in big screens. But then, like movies, you can watch them on the internet too.

Aibek’s post on The Best Places to Watch Documentary Movies Online The Best Places to Watch Free Documentaries Online Everyone loves a good documentary! Here are the best places to watch free documentaries online. Read More gives you sites like PBS Frontline, Surfthechannel, FreeDocumentaries and torrent sites like OneBigTorrent [Broken URL Removed] which has a documentary category.


Some other worthies to check out ““

Check out these three lists for some best mentions ““

IMDB’s Top 50 Documentary movies by average vote’s 10 Top Must-See Documentary Films’s Best Documentary Films Ever Made

The Homework

Here’s where all the fun ends and you will have to roll up your sleeves. You have decided to make a documentary”¦but on what?

The first golden rule again is to choose something you are passionate about. An interesting theme and your passion will take care of the matter behind the chatter. Choosing something which you are familiar with is also a shortcut to reduce time spent on research and thus saving on costs.


The second golden rule is to offer a unique viewpoint”¦something which is not run of the mill. Making a great documentary is not only about telling an interesting story but telling it in a standout way.

Perhaps, an idea will gradually start to take seed and germinate. So now it’s here where we start to look at a few online resources which will tell you all about the basics of making documentaries. After going through the nitty gritty, it will be left to your vision and craft to add ‘Great’ to your documentary.

A Few Online Places to Learn About Documentary Filmmaking

how to make a documentary

Jennifer Merin’s documentary guide is a good starting point for beginners. Here’s what her bio says,


As a dedicated film journalist, Jennifer Merin watches all current documentary film releases and continually revisits the classics. Having worked on documentary films, Jennifer is aware of the ways in which different directors handle the genre to reveal the truth about the world around us, while her experience as a news reporter and editor gives her an insider’s understanding of media spin.

The guide covers what’s hot in the world of documentaries, goes over the basics like documentary terminology, lists the who’s who of the documentary filmmaking world and recommends what to see.


how to make a documentary

Why not? The YouTube documentary playlist features about 45 how-to videos from professionals about aspects of documentary filmmaking. You can start on how to prepare for a documentary and end on an instructional on the distribution rigmarole. The videos are short (about 1min to 3min) and could give you valuable insights from experts.

The Independent Magazine

how to make a documentary

The link is the online data bank of nearly 30 years worth of The Independent Film & Video Monthly magazine. The digitizing is still in progress but you can still access a lot of relevant articles on documentary filmmaking. Then there’s Doctor Fernanda Rossi helping out with sage advice on independent filmmaking.

The D-Word

how to make a documentary film

It’s not the dirty word but just a worldwide community of documentary professionals. Registration is free and it gives you a look into point of views expressed on the business, creative, social, and technical aspects of documentary filmmaking. A meeting place of 2,000 documentary professionals makes it a good platform to learn about the craft.


how to make a documentary movie

The online documentary resource site has been created by lovers of the genre. It has a kitty of information on documentary films and articles covering various aspects of documentary films. Directory listings of films are festivals give ready info. The community forum is also worth the effort of joining as it has loads of advice on all aspects of the craft.

how to make a documentary film

This one is a message board that deals with the visual part of filmmaking. It’s a meeting place of nearly 22,000 members from amateurs to professionals who speak light and camera. You can seek answers to a lot of your technical questions here.

Taking the Documentary Online

You have made your film, polished it and now it’s ready for a debut. Even ten years back you wouldn’t have been able to get your video off the ground without a professional pitch and cash. The internet has been a game changer. A sea of free hosting options (even if you think beyond YouTube), free ways to create a viral promotion campaign, online submission to film/documentary directories are just some of the ways to launch your documentary.

Here are a few ways to spread the word and hope for a wildfire”¦

    1. Use a teaser trailer

To create interest, create teaser trailers with high production values which are long enough to pique interest and short enough for rapid streaming. Teaser trailers are perfect for sites like YouTube, DailyMotion and MetaCafe. It can also be embedded in social profiles and passed around.

    1. Submit to online documentary channels.

Most online documentary hosting sites (including the ones mentioned earlier) make submissions as easy as a log-in and upload. What’s important is putting it in the proper category and tagging it exactly. There are also sites like IndieGoGo which gives an online platform for fundraising, promotion and discovery. Kevin Spacey’s TriggerStreet tries to showcase fresh filmmaking and writing talent.

    1. Socially use online video channels

We forget that most online video hosting sites are social sites too. Most of them like YouTube allow contact with other users and lots of mutual appreciation.

    1. Enter documentary contests

Watch out for sites like which have monthly competitions for the best submissions. Disposablefilmfest is another one you can try out if exposure and a Nokia N95 phone as a prize aren’t too little for you.

    1. Don’t underestimate a targeted email campaign

Define your audience and design a catchy email with a pointed subject line and relevant info. Ask for honest feedback and request for the good word to be circulated.

    1. Post your documentary in relevant discussion boards and forums

Message boards of online movie sites like IMDB have long threads on specific genres and documentaries is one of them. Talk away and plug your film. Here’s a Google Directory listing of online film communities in PageRank order.

    1. Tap into social networking

Film lovers are probably the entire world population and every social site has its own dedicated group. Facebook has about 20 with the largest having 2,400 plus members.

    1. Create a blog or website around the documentary

A blog or an interactive website can serve as a permanent home for the documentary (and your future projects). You can document the behind the scenes making and your ideas behind the documentary. Don’t forget to look into keywords and SEO for the website so search engines can index it.

    1. Share it through P2P torrents

If you just want to spread the fire around for free, P2P networks like BitTorrent are viable alternatives.

    1. Film festivals anyone

Indie film festivals offer a platform for the enterprising filmmaker. An online service like Withoutabox from IMDB could be a great promotional vehicle.

That’s it! This was a pretty long post but in the end it’s far from a formulaic approach; because the art of making a film can hardly be condensed in 1,500 words. Though, if you are really enthused about making your documentary there’s no better place than the web today”¦to watch”¦to learn and to promote. And if you have already taken the leap, let us know how you approached it. Did your documentary spread like wildfire?

Image Credit: Artshooter

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  1. Gabe Toney
    February 9, 2016 at 4:19 am

    Hi, My real name is Gabriel Toney and I started documenting this street artist named Carl Quintiliani just over a year ago. I always thought it would be a cool thing to do having met one. It has proved to be one of the most difficult things I have ever worked on. However, it has been a lot of fun getting to spice things up for him, with his life and all. I would never beforehand imagined this artist lives on the street. I just spent a year of my life doing all this work. I wanted to ask if it could be heart worthy to promote it. Here is the Channel link the las video I burned a piece of his artwork because I wanted to make a statement about oppression.