We live in a post-truth world where educating ourselves on crucial issues and looking for reliable sources of information is important.
Documentaries are a great way to share and dissect important topics captivatingly and often spark important conversations. It’s great that you are looking to make one, but you have a lingering question – how long should a documentary be?
There is no requisite length for a documentary video. Great ones can be 2 minutes long, just as viably as 2 hours long. That said, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the Screen Actors Guild, have minimum length requirements of 40 and 75 minutes, respectively, for a documentary to be considered a ‘feature film.’
With such diversity, let’s look at some of the must-have elements to make a documentary a success.
How long is a short documentary?
A mini documentary can be anywhere between 2 and 25 minutes long. It is a great way of sharing a mission or any other information on the web. Though shorter than a ‘feature’ documentary, production can still take several weeks. Between research, script development, and other pre-production, shooting interviews, and editing/post-production, even a ‘short’ documentary can take 6-8 weeks – or even much longer – to produce.
What is the best length for a documentary?
According to the Academy Awards’ strict definition, the distinction between a feature-length documentary and a ‘documentary short subject’ is drawn at 40 minutes. Sundance Film Festivals caps short films at 50 minutes. For the PBS documentary series POV, the broadcast length is 51 minutes and 50 seconds.
Essentially, determining the ‘best’ length will depend on your outlet and distribution.
What are the five elements of a documentary?
The elements of a good documentary include purpose, subjects, form, audience experience, and production techniques. To make a documentary matter to your audience, you need to learn to understand these elements.
- Subject – this is what the documentary is about. Usually, the producer doesn’t focus on private matters but on human relationships and actions and how they affect crime, politics, social issues, and other public matters.
- Purpose – this is what you are trying to say about the subject. The main purpose is to educate the audience about the place, event, institution, people, or problem.
- Form refers to the creation process and includes the original concepts, sounds, and sights used and the structures you fit them in.
- Production technique and methods – these refer to how you put the film together. How you shoot images, record sound during interviews, and blend them in editing affect the documentary’s
- Audience experience – the goal of a good documentary is to affect audience attitude, trigger action and give a great watching experience.
What qualifies something as a documentary?
According to the Academy Awards, a documentary movie is a theatrically released factual film that creatively deals with artistic, cultural, social, economic, historical, or other subjects. It might have footage of actual occurrences or include reenactment, animation, and other elements provided it emphasizes fact rather than fiction.
What makes a documentary successful?
The secret to a documentary’s success is in the story. The audience must have an emotional and intellectual tie to a documentary’s story that engages them to the end. Unfortunately, finding a story for your movie is not easy. And once you find it, it is critical that you write the script accurately and effectively. Reaching out to professionals who have the necessary experience, equipment, research means, filming, and interview skills, like Braun Film and Video, is a great place to start.
Can I make a documentary myself?
Yes, you can. However, there are a lot of limitations and variables to consider, and chances are your final product will not compare favorably to something professionally produced.
Want a short film done?
To shoot a documentary, even a short one, you need to dedicate time to production and learn the necessary skills to capture and edit clear and quality sound and visuals. The production and editing process takes weeks to complete.
And even then, you are not guaranteed a good final product doing it yourself. At Braun Film, we are all about video production. We have decades of experience shooting documentaries for different clients.
If you’d like a professional filmmaker to create a documentary that will intrigue and educate your audience, reach out to Braun Film & Video, Inc. at 703-293-9350 for a quick, free consult.