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What It Takes To Make A Good Documentary Film

Documentary Director Kevin Knoblock offers his knowledge and experience in his Documentary Film Class

One of the great things about living in Los Angeles is having access to learn the craft of filmmaking from seasoned professionals. These opportunities are all around us on a daily basis and even exist outside of the university system.  

In these small classes, veteran filmmakers relay their hard won experience to those hungry to learn, and they do so for a nominal fee. What participants walk away with in return is real applicable wisdom gained from years of experience by people who know first hand what works and what doesn’t. I recently had the opportunity to sit in on one myself:  Kevin Knoblock’s Documentary Film Class.


If you’re not familiar with him, Kevin Knoblock has written, produced and directed hundreds of hours of syndicated television, written and produced multiple hours of one-hour cable documentaries, and written, produced and directed feature length film documentaries, including BORDER WAR (Winner, Best Documentary 2006, American Film Renaissance) and BROKEN PROMISES: THE UNITED NATIONS AT 60 (2005 WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival Special Jury Remi Prize winner). In 2009 and 2010, Knoblock wrote, produced and directed the feature documentary NINE DAYS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD about Pope John Paul II’s historic trip to Poland, the beginning of the Solidarity movement and the collapse of Soviet Communism.


This intimate class was held at the The Writer’s Store in Burbank, California. Attendees included several filmmakers in various stages of their careers who were there to either sharpen their skills or even transcend their careers from camera operators to directors. During the seven hours of the course, we were crammed with a brief overview of the history of documentary film, an examination of the aesthetics of documentary production, technical aspects of production, fundraising and producing, budgeting, post and more.

I’ve always been the kind to follow up every piece of instruction with the question “Why?”  Why do I have to, why should I, why is this important. For me, if the ‘why’ isn’t clarified, the importance of the instruction is some how eroded. Knoblock offered a painfully honest examination of his own experiences, relaying what worked, what didn’t and why. This honest approach brought tremendous credibility to his instruction and lent substance beyond espousing mere rules. He even used his film NINE DAYS as a case study to demonstrate to us how he established his post workflow and used his film BORDER WAR to demonstrate Act Structure.


I’ve taken a documentary course in college, and my first short was a documentary. Plus, I love the genre anyway so some of the material was review, but the majority of the curriculum either expanded my knowledge significantly or introduced me to new concepts entirely.


Key amongst these was the scripting process or the ‘paper edit’. This to me was the most fascinating because in the past we shot, cut it and that was it. However, the pros shoot, sift through the footage and then script the clips verbatim which will be used denoting with time code. This script is then handed to the editor, who then assembles the film per the specs detailed in the script (indicating voice overs, sound bites, natural sound, visuals and music).

Other topics include:

  • Branding yourself as a filmmaker and brand management
  • Real world strategies for getting your film in front of distributors
  • Explanation of the special insurance needs of documentary production
  • Copyrighting your work
  • Archiving your production, archival footage, building a relationship with your footage vendors.
  • Deliverables – specifically types of files, disks and tape.
  • What to expect in regards to cost and time for post, colorists and sound designers.
  • Music – working with a composer, what to expect in regards to cost or using royalty free music.
  • Locking Picture – Over cutting interview and b roll, cutting full res footage vs proxies and establishing who within the production has the final cut.
  • How to deal with notes from your executive producer.
  • Documentary Scripting Styles, Voice Over, and Point of View Style
  • Point of View:  Reenactments, Expressive Lighting, Dramatic Music, etc.
  • Technical aspects – what cameras work best for different types of documentary productions.
  • Preproduction – Decide your role, Writer, producer, director, executive producer – dot your i’s and cross your t’s
  • Keys to saving money

Kevin Knoblock’s Documentary Film Class was loaded with real world information, it was well structured and delivered from a very personal perspective which lent tremendous credibility.

The class is held once every three months, and to find out more, go to the website at

If you’re not able to attend the class in person, you might consider Kevin Knobock’s audio book, “Learn the Secrets to Funding and Budgeting Your Documentary”.  In this 67-minute audio book, Knoblock reveals the secrets to funding your documentary film.  You can find more information on the audio book here:

For more information on Kevin Knoblock, go to his website at:

For more information on more classes from The Writer’s Store, there website is:

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Written by Clint Milby

For more information, go to his website at


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