Filmmaking Resources

Over the years, some of the best Young Filmmakers’ Contest entries have been made by beginners using only basic equipment such a cell phone or tablet.   With a good idea, creativity, and few basic skills, it is easier than ever to make a good film and have it shown on the big screen!   Judges will be looking for interesting footage, clear sound, and good story telling. Check out some of the links below to guide you in making short films and documentaries.

Documentary Forms

Documentaries can be simple and easy to make.  The best way to learn is to watch a bunch of them to see how they are made and the different forms they take. Here are some classic documentary forms with examples, many from the Young Filmmakers’ Contest.

Expository- This classic form consists of visual footage with narration and/or interviews.

Performative- A first person narrator shares their own perspective on a topic they are connected to.

Participitory– A narrator on screen takes the audience to explore a place or situation, often emphasizing the perspectives of people encountered.

Observational- No narrator or interviews, just footage of a place or situation from a “fly on the wall” perspective.

Poetic- Images, music, and words may be used to convey an artistic impression of the subject.

Reflexive (Mockumentary)- A comical spoof on the documentary form.

See more examples of student documentaries on our Gallery page and at C-Span’s Student Cam.

Camera Work

Visual footage is what separates film from other story telling forms.  In all categories of the Young Filmmakers’ Contest,  judges will be looking for interesting, original footage that shows your subject in engaging ways.  Take a look at the tips and videos below. Practice filming different kinds of shots and then see if you recognize them in professionally made films you see all the time.

Summary of Filming Tips

  1. Shoot B-roll footage that sets the scene and shows what the narrator or subject is talking about.
  2. Use a variety of shots that are framed in different ways.
  3. Consider the rule of thirds.
  4. Consider a tripod unless you are going for a motion effect.
  5. Move the camera slowly and smoothly. Using railings or objects with wheels can help.
  6. Get more footage than you need.  Film each shot for at least 10 seconds and edit to desired length later.

Shooting Better B-Roll

Rule of Thirds

Shot Types- Page of Examples

Grammar of Film 1

Camera Technique Examples

Grammar of Film 2


Interviews are a great way for your audience to hear from people directly involved with your subject matter.  Often they are more interesting than a narrator reciting lots of facts and research information.  The videos below can help you to plan and shoot interviews that are compelling and that move your story forward.

Planning Interview Questions

  1. Ask open ended questions.  Encourage succinct answers in full sentences.
  2. Ask the subject to repeat the question before answering.
  3. Prepare your questions, but don’t give them out ahead of time.
  4. Improvise to follow up on interesting themes.
  5. Ask short questions.  Stay quiet while they are talking.
  6. Give them the final word.

Interview Shooting Tips

  1. Basic equipment is okay.
  2. Choose a good location.
  3. Consider how lighting affects the shot.
  4. Choose a background that establishes the scene but is not distracting.
  5. USE A MICROPHONE such as an inexpensive lavalier.
  6. Consider using the rule of thirds.
  7. Shooting from multiple camera angles can be interesting.
  8. If the interviewer is in the film, you can film and edit in their reactions.
  9. Keep rolling after the interview.

Music and Copyright

Music can be a powerful part of your film, setting the mood you want and engaging the audience more deeply.  Learn about copyright, royalty free music, and how to make your own music easily.

About Copyright

As films submitted to the Young Filmmakers Contest are for public display including on the internet, we ask that you not use copyrighted music in your film without permission of the copyright holder.  That means you should not use just any song from your music collection in your film. To learn more about copyright, see the website Copyright Kids.

Try these alternatives for adding music to your film:

  1. Write and record your own music.  Need help?  Garage Band (for windows, mac, and ipad) is a program that can make it easy!
  2. Use  royalty free music.    Royalty free means the copyright holder makes the music  available to filmmakers and others to use in their projects. Sometimes there is a fee, but a lot can be used at no cost.   In either case, you do have to list the source in your credits.

For example, if you wanted to download and use the song  Summer Day from the Incompetech site below, you could pay nothing  and simply copy this text from the website and put it in your credits:


Summer Day, Kevin Macleod (

Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License


Sources of Royalty Free Music and Sound Effects

Many of these sites offer public domain or royalty free music at no cost.  There are many others out there. Remember, each song may have its own requirements of how you can use it and how you should list it in your credits.

  1. Incompetech
  2. Free Music Archive
  3. Youtube Audio Library requires Youtube login
  4. Beatpick
  5. ccMixter Music Discovery
  6. Purple Planet
  8. Public Domain 4U
  9. Musopen
  10. DanoSongs
  11. Itunes Royalty Free Music
  12. Pac DV-  Free music and sound effects!
  13. Freesound Loads of great free sound effects!
  14. SoundjayMore free sound effects!

Putting it Together



Video editing can be easy to learn if you watch a tutorial and start experimenting on your own.There are many video editing programs available.  Some, such as iMovie or Windows Movie Maker may come preinstalled on your computer.

  1. Vimeo Video School Tutorial on iMovie
  2. Vimeo Video School Tutorial on Windows Movie Maker
  3. Vimeo Video School Tutorial on Final Cut Pro
  4. Vimeo Video School Tutorial on Adobe Premier


You may not need a script if your short film or documentary footage is limited, but a script can be helpful if you have a lot of material to organize.

  1. It can help to transcribe your interviews so you can easily sort through them and paste them onto a script.
  2. In your video editing program, it can help to file your footage into folders organized by subject.
  3. It may help also to cut your footage into usable shots and label each one.
  4. Then you can have a script that has 2 columns, one for video and one for audio.
  5. Check out this article for more detail.


  1. C-Span Student Cam-Past Winning Documentary Entries
  2. C-Span Student Cam-Tips from Student Filmmakers
  3. Vimeo Video School- Lots of movie making tutorials for beginners and experts.
  4. Media College– lots of great filmmaking information
  5. Rob & Jonas’ Filmmaking Tips Youtube Channel–  More video tutorials like the ones above.
  6. PBS Lesson Plan: Introducing Documentaries to Your Students
  7. Coolspotters-Movie guide for kids.  Lots of helpful links.
  8. Kids VidTips about scripting, shooting, editing and showing your film.