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Free Templates, Forms, and Resources for Documentary Filmmakers

Here are four simple tips to help documentary filmmakers complete their projects—including FREE assets and resources.

Creating a documentary usually means a lot of work for very few people. Here, we share tips to help documentary filmmakers finish their projects. FREE assets and resources included.

1. Don’t Forget the Release Forms

Paperwork
Make your life (and job) a little easier—stay on top of any paperwork. Image via fizkes.

New documentary filmmakers tend to forget crucial documents when starting a project. The type of documents that can make your life a nightmare if you forget them. It’s important to always have the proper release forms or licenses for any subjects you’re interviewing or locations you’re filming.

Worse case scenario, you get footage or interviews and forget the release forms. This either makes the interview unusable, or you have to go through the process of getting back in touch with the subject, which can prove to be an extreme inconvenience.

You always need written consent from your subjects. Preferably, obtain something that grants you permission to edit the footage and audio as you please, as well as distribute the footage wherever you need.

Free filmmaking and photography release forms:

Free Shutterstock Model Release Form (Multiple Languages)Free Shutterstock Minor Release Form (Multiple Languages)Free Shutterstock Property Release Form (Multiple Languages)Free Location Release FormFree Talent Release Form

2. Keep Your Footage and Audio Organized

Interview
Make sure your subject is comfortable at all times. Image via LightField Studios.

Once you have permission from your interviewee, start recording video and audio as soon as possible. Often, the best material (or, at least, the most natural-sounding) comes when the subject isn’t worried about being on camera. Making sure the subject is comfortable might be the single most important aspect of shooting interviews and making documentaries.

Set up the microphone on your subject as soon as possible, and start the audio recorder once you get levels set. Don’t stop recording unless you must—or unless your subject asks you to.

Now, the reason I’m saying this, in relation to keeping your footage organized is, if you go into your shoot with a set system in place for media storage and how the on-set workflow will . . . flow, then the footage and audio you get on the day will be that much better because you’ll be able to dedicate your full attention.

Camera Setup
Audio is a key component to any project. Image via bombermoon.

Once the shoot is over, you need to keep your footage well-organized. Whether you’ll be editing the project yourself or passing it off to an editor, having a clear system in place is a necessity for the project to reach the finish line.

An organized media folder structure is crucial. You can organize the footage by the subject’s name, the date of the shoot, or even the location. Here are some resources to check out for organizing and storage.

How to Edit a Documentary14 Editing Tips for Cutting Documentaries

Check out this post on organizing your folder, which includes links for free apps for project file organization.

3. Start Editing Footage and Audio with Insert Graphics

Documentary films require a massive amount of footage, audio, images, and various assets. To help manage your film, you really should start cutting the project right away. This will not only help you find gaps in the story, it’ll also keep your project well-organized with your most recent footage.

This will also help you remember small details in conversation that you may forget days, weeks, or months later when you’re editing the project full-time. One of the fastest ways you can build these segments out is to have pre-made lower third templates incorporated into the project.

While you’re cutting through interviews, this is a good time to create lower thirds for each interviewee. You can simply use the text tool to put names in the footage, or you can use some animated lower thirds that you create or download.

This will also help give the director (whoever it is) some idea where you are, generally speaking, in terms of the edit and what coverage they need to get. It’s not always practical to do this, especially if you’re working on other, better-paying client work. But, if you can slowly start building the edit as you shoot the documentary, it’ll exponentially help the remainder of the shoot.

Free video editing assets:

Over 280 Free Sound Effects for Videos, Apps, Films, and GamesDownload 13 FREE Cinematic LUTs24 Free 4K Lower ThirdsFree Video Editing Assets: Lower Thirds

4. Use Watermarked Images and Temp Music in Rough Cuts

As you edit your documentary, you’ll find places to insert photos to cover rough edits or add music to lend emotion to the story.

Since the project is a work-in-progress, a cool trick is to download watermarked images from sites like Shutterstock or temp tracks from places like PremiumBeat. The benefit is knowing the source of the watermarked image, so if it works for the documentary, you simply need to license the image and replace it in your timeline later.

MacBook Pro
Download images and music to reference back to at a later date. Image via Aleksey Khilko.

You can use watermarked music tracks the same way. Simply replace the tracks with an original score, or license the track you used and replace the file.

The best part? Shutterstock has extensions for certain editing programs, where you don’t even have to leave it when looking for images or footage. Once you find something you’re looking for, you simply license it right there on the spot and then it’s already in your project.

Download the Premiere Pro ExtensionDownload the FCPX Extension

Here are some awesome places to download watermarked images, footage, and music that you can later license for your documentary.

Stock images and video:

ShutterstockOff SetBigstockRex

Royalty free music:

PremiumBeat

Want to learn more about video production? Check out these articles:

10 Types of Shots and Angles Every Filmmaker Should Know16 Must-Know Premiere Pro Keyboard Shortcuts5 Pro Tips on Putting Together a Creative for a PhotoshootThe World’s First Cinematography Video Game — Cine TracerHow Animators Turned a Comic Book World into the “Spider-Verse”

Top image via canadastock.

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