Filming Documentary Projects: For Friends or Clients

Documentary videos have always been there to grab my attention. These short, yet powerful videos can really pull you in, making you want to know more about what you're watching. I have made a few videos like this myself but none that I have really liked until now. I don’t usually like to share my work or go into depth about it, but here I will go over a few things to do when shooting a documentary like this. 


Who are you working with?

When you make a documentary video, you are obviously working with something or someone to show what they do and ultimately why they do it. Here, I was working with a friend but in a lot of cases you may be working with a client. While you may not know your client so well, you want to do everything you can to get comfortable around them and get them comfortable in front of the camera. In my case, it was more about getting Shannon comfortable in front of the camera and my intention was to have her feel as if I weren’t even there so we can see her true workflow.

Really do your best to get to know who you are working with. By doing this, they can open up to you a bit and you can get to know them and what they like, making your job a little easier. Understanding them and their personality will allow you to have a little more freedom or creative ideas when it comes to putting together the final product.




This was one of the harder parts for me. Shannon works in the city and had three days back at home. Those three days went a bit rougher than expected, setting things up, making a mess with the paint, losing light, waiting for paint to dry, and so on. This wasn’t horrible because I used a lot of this time to talk to her and get to know her on another level. I was curious to know more about her art and why she did it; things that motivated her and how she got into it. During this time we spoke a lot and really got to know each other, making filming pretty simple because she was so comfortable with me being there.

Planning is definitely key and if you can have some sort of story board or list of shots, I would recommend doing that before you even start filming. As you move through everything, you can always add to the list or cross things off depending on how you make the video. Set aside as much time as you think you will need to film and then let them know how long it will take to complete the video. Make sure nothing is rushed because you want to make this something you’ll be proud of.




You are making this video for a reason, you were chosen to make it for a reason. Understand the content, what the client wants and your job is to make it happen. Shannon has been doing art for several years and even though she says she’s only okay at it, she is really a good artist. I know she would never admit why she wanted to do this project, but I think with all the stress of her working a job she doesn’t actually enjoy and not having enough time to keep up with her art has something to do with it. Deep down she knows she has the talent to get her work out there and noticed, it’s just a matter of doing so. Obviously this requires time to make the paintings, enter galleries, and collaborate with other artists. Shannon needed something to show for what she does and she chose me to help her do that.

She wanted me to show the process of her creating a piece and gave me the artistic freedom I needed to do so. She suggested time-lapses and detail shots and sent me a bunch of videos as examples claiming that she liked the way they were put together. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to replicate these videos, nor did I wan’t to, so I went about it in a way that I wanted to.


Your Vision

The most important part of this whole project is your vision of it. How can you make this video special? 

To me, fine art has always been fascinating and after taking so many art classes my freshman year of college and dreading them all because I was awful, I gained an understanding of what goes into this type work. In Shannon’s situation, she has always been into art and has always been good at it. Since I can see how seriously she takes it, I wanted to make something that would show her process when creating a piece. She stayed up night and day working on this painting, putting countless hours into it at a time. Not even I could keep up with her while she was working on this painting. I knew that as an end result, I wanted her to be able to reflect on this video and remember every moment of her creating this piece.



Working with the client

Again, whether it is a client, a friend, or whatever else, you need to work with them to give them what they want. You have all the freedom you need but it is important that in the end, they are happy with the video and so are you. Even if you have to change something around 100 times, do your best to stay calm and make it work. At times, this is easier said than done because it takes a good amount of time to do but when it's all together, you can feel good about working with someone to create a video that really means something to them.

In my case, I originally wanted to have a voiceover of Shannon speaking about herself, her art and the project she was working on. I thought that this would give the viewers (the people who don’t actually know her) an idea of who she is as an artist. However, she did not want her voice to be in it at all, even after spending hours recording to get that perfect audio track and interview clip for the video.

So now I was left to work around this problem. I was happy she chose the song she did because it was very upbeat and fun to listen to. I thought about how I could show her in a way that people could get a better understanding of who she actually is by watching the video. My idea was to try and show her personality because as an artist or any other type of person, your personality is what makes you, you. By adding a few scenes where she is goofing around, I was able to achieve this small yet meaningful part of “her” to the video.




This is something I really enjoyed doing and something that I want to do more of. I think it is important to show people through their personality because everyone is different and everyone has a completely different story. No matter what the troubles are, what the task is, when it comes to putting a documentary together, a lot of work goes into getting it to look the way it needs to. Though this is a newer thing for me, it will be fun to get better and better at this and maybe one day even specialize in it.

To see more of Shannon's work visit her Instagram.


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Beautiful documentary and her artwork is stunning. :D

Joonas Nieminen's picture

I did a similar kind of short documentary about making an icon. In this project the iconographer wished not to be shown so the spotlight was at the icon and the process of making it. The idea for this short documentary came years ago and MyRodeReel 2016 short film contest created a window to the world and gave me a timeframe which helped to speed up the production.

Ty Poland's picture

Hey Joonas, this video is awesome! Nice Job!! I actually like how you didn't focus on the artist as much as what she was doing to create the piece. The most interesting part was to see her working with the paint and materials she using.

Even those cuts back to nature pull me in a little more along with all the unique angles and cuts you made. It's a video you don't get bored with, especially with the three minute time mark. Keep up the good work and good luck in the competition!

Joonas Nieminen's picture

Thank you for your kind words Ty. Sadly the competition ended and no prizes were given to this entry. There were a lot of good short films for the judges to pick the winners from. Better luck next time :)

The tools and techniques, especially creating the colors using eggs is the old-traditional way that you don't see everyday so that was one of the key points I wanted to highlight. Also creating the little golden details using a piece of bread at the end. It's not just about painting, there are a lot of other different steps involved. Very time consuming form of art and I respect all iconographers for their dedication in choosing this path.