How To Build A Career In Documentary Cinematography

All successful people have stories left behind them. It is impossible to overcome a challenging way to success without hard work, persistence, failures, a bit of luck and, of course, talent. The filmmaking industry isn’t an exception. Usually, both producers and actors have to pass a hard way to become successful, globally recognized personas. So, if you decide to build a career in the documentary cinematography, you have to be ready to manage different obstacles and show your intention to win the viewers’ hearts. However, nowadays, there are a lot of opportunities for newcomers to gain their positions in documentary cinematography, and here is a list of several guidelines how to build a career in this field.

Decide where exactly you want to be

Although it’s considered that most of the documentaries are monotonous non-box-office films, there are a lot of things, innovative approaches and storytelling techniques you may apply to make your documentaries unique and engaging. Do you want to depict a certain period of our history? Tell a story of a politician or explain the development of certain technologies? Your career depends on what you’re going to choose, as you have to know, where to move forward. By the way, there are also a lot of documentary TV series which are gaining their popularity in Europe. And you can definitely select this genre as a start for your career. For example, the new series called “The contractors” – British documentary project financed by Red Rock Entertainment, have gained significant success among their viewers and brought financial benefits to their producers.

Gain experience

Even at the beginning of your career, you have to prove that you have the skills, the knowledge and the dedication, which make you worthy of entering this field. That’s why dedicating your time to learning and gaining experience is the best advice ever. It’s not necessarily to go to film college and take film classes, but it will be a great bonus if you do this. The studying process isn’t only about learning basics and different filmmaking techniques; it is also about getting involved into this industry, making connections and meeting the right people.

Explore all the necessary things

When you come up with the idea and decide to start shooting the film, it will take you much less time compared to the time you have to spend studying and researching. Learn about all the peculiarities you might need, work with all possible equipment, ask for advice. Try to think further and decide what you can do by yourself and what knowledge you will need for it, so you can save your money and invest them in other filmmaking aspects. All in all, make everything possible to widen your knowledge: watch all the documentaries from the filmmaker’s point of view, read all the editions related to the latest news in this industry, get to know about the key figures in the documentary cinematography. Everything is valuable when it comes to captivating viewers.

Become a filmmaking assistant

The first step in your documentary career can be a position of a personal assistant. It seems like the most valuable experience before your professional start is joining the well-bred filmmaking group. All knowledge is necessary, but the experience you can gain in practice will higher your opportunities to create a real masterpiece. Pay attention to all the details, small tasks, perfect your skills, show initiative and ask for challenging things. Becoming a personal assistant is a great way to learn about all significant organisation details, for example, how to plan your budget, find and communicate with actors, organise shooting process, edit and promote your film.

Get everything planned

It is reasonable that after the learning and gaining experience stage, you can start planning your documentary. If you have already decided on the more specific type of your film genre, choose a subject and have a total vision of your future creation, start making a schedule. Design a storyboard, so you can better see the key scenes and think over all the little but significant things. A very detailed plan will not only help you be within the time frames but will also help you fix all the smallest details about organisation process, such as where to go, who to contact, where to shoot the exact picture and so on. It’s already proved that a good plan means a better film.


This step is the most obvious and still one of the most difficult. Start with finding the necessary equipment suitable for your film. Don’t spend all your money on the top-ranked things, but invest in quality equipment. Then gather the whole team together. If you can’t afford to hire a super-professional crew you can ask your relatives and friends for help. But keep in mind, that it is impossible to make the whole film only by yourself. When everything is managed, start shooting your film and put all efforts to create a real masterpiece.

All in all, you can see that creating a documentary isn’t an easy task at all and it will take your time and persistence. But if you dedicate yourself to the documentary filmmaking process, you will reap the benefits.

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Written by Rachel Wise

Rachel is a freelance writer and SMM beginner. Small business development and marketing enthusiast.

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