Film School: How to Make a Documentary (with Mark Bone)

'Rescate Ambar' | Mark Bone 'Rescate Ambar' | Mark Bone

A behind-the-scenes look at making a documentary – and how to approach crafting your own.

Documentarian and cinematographer Mark Bone has a series of videos about making documentaries. Based on his own experience working on docs of his own and for others, Mark offers insights into approaches to planning and storytelling in a documentary:


  • Find and simplify your theme
  • Determine structure – premise > inciting incident > rising action > climax > resolution
  • Establish your character

Planning and clear vision is everything, as you can see in the pitch package for Rescate Ambar, one of Mark’s documentaries:


Contrary to what one might expect, Mark doesn’t go into a shoot hoping to miraculously discover the look and feel of his story – instead, he plans backwards from the edit:


  • Location Scout
  • Pre-Interview
  • Get Feedback

Mark also invites you behind-the-scenes of documentary film-making

… and imparts some tips:

  1. Shooting interviews – cover the Who, What, When, and Where
  2. Plan your scenes
    • don’t just get the cool shots; “create an environment… where they can live some life
    • plan 70% of your day / leave 30% for spontaneity
  3. Pre-production
    • do your own visual research
    • share reference images with your collaborators: “take away the guessing [for] your team
  4. Choosing your crew
    • experience not just with film-making, but with the people, or the subject matter
    • consulting them on, or even deferring to, their expertise
  5. Audio
  6. Know where the sun will be

Mark even applies his human-story-telling focus to his commercial work – and his approach is full of tips relevant to narrative work, particularly with minimal gear and personnel (including the fantastic idea of scheduling time for “freestyle” shooting)…

… as well as the effectiveness of having a minimal, but solid plan (and bonus, this one includes the final product at the end):

For more from Mark Bone, dive into his full playlist, Documentary / Directing Tips:

Further Viewing

In Depth Cine takes a break from his usual cinematography breakdowns to cover the process of a documentary in which he was involved:

Film-maker Danny Gevirtz highlights the overlap in his approach to his documentary work, with his music video and solo narrative work:

More on visual research in pre-production:

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