5 Best Documentary Filmmaking Courses to Bring Your Story to Life 

Love filmmaking? Here are the best online documentary filmmaking courses to help you refine your skills and turn your passion for films into a career.

5 Best Documentary Filmmaking Courses to Bring Your Story to Life

Looking to learn the secrets behind creating a compelling documentary? 

Here are the best documentary filmmaking courses online for professional and aspiring creatives. 

These courses will walk you through every stage of creating your documentary, from preproduction and production, to post production and distribution.

Whether you've had little experience working with videos, or you're in the middle of an exciting project, you’ll receive guidance on the technical and stylistic techniques you need to make your documentary a success. 

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What are the Best Documentary Filmmaking Courses?

Here are 5 of the most popular documentary filmmaking courses online:

7-Day Documentary Crash Course (Desktop Documentaries)

This 7-Day Crash Course by Desktop Documentaries is one of the top documentary filmmaking courses for beginners that you'll find online. 

Making a documentary can be a daunting endeavour with many many moving parts, but the creators of this course have gone to great lengths to break down everything you need to know in a straightforward blueprint. 

Through bite-sized, multimedia lessons, you'll experience about 4-years worth of film school condensed into 7 days. 

Key topics covered include fundraising, idea development, writing a script, choosing gear, figuring out how to sell your film, talent releases, and legal considerations.  

Each day's lesson comes with an assignment and handy worksheet to help you work through all the important aspects of your documentary.

You'll also gain access to downloadable resources and forms including script writing & production templates, a storyboard sketch sheet, a full documentary script sample, and an equipment checklist.

Ultimately, the goal of this course is to help you avoid common pitfalls involved in making a documentary and give you the best information possible to help you make a successful film.

The best part is that you get two-years access to the course, so you can take the course as often as you like during the next 24-months. The most important thing is getting started!

=> Enroll in the 7-Day Documentary Crash Course here.

Ken Burns Teaches Documentary Filmmaking (MasterClass)

Since its 2017 debut, Ken Burns’s docuseries The Vietnam War has captivated the attention of millions of viewers by painting an intimate and revealing portrait of history. 

In this Masterclass, the 5-time Emmy Award winner explains how he uses audio and visual storytelling methods to distill vast research and complex truths into compelling narratives.

Using the episode board from The Vietnam War, Ken teaches you his strategies for visualizing the structure of your film.

He also shows you how to conduct interviews for your documentary by walking you through one of his most difficult interviews, and sharing how four simple words transformed it into some of the most powerful moments in the film.

You'll learn how to identify character arcs, leverage conflict, and set aside judgment to portray memorable nonfiction characters that capture the complexity of real life.

In addition, you'll discover how to reach your audience and the importance of opening your film up to interpretation and conversation.

Ken concludes the class with a motivational message that encourages you to let go of any lingering doubt and take the leap toward making your documentary film.

Class Length: 24 video lessons (4 hrs 56 min)

=> Sign up for MasterClass and gain access to Ken Burn's class here.

Hands-On Documentary Filmmaking: Write, Film and Edit A Short Documentary (Skillshare)


Hands-on Documentary Filmmaking is a popular documentary filmmaking class taught on Skillshare by Olaf De Fleur.

Through his film career, Olaf has directed actors like Academy Nominee Florence Pugh (Black Widow, Little Women), James Cosmo (Braveheart), Jonathan Price (Brazil), Michael Imperioli (Sopranos), JJ Field (Captain America), to name a few.

In this class, Olaf teaches you the tools you need to complete a short documentary film independently.

All you need for this class is a camera, something to write on, and a computer to edit your film. 

In this class you will:

  • Experience a complete, hands-on documentary film process
  • Learn the fundamentals of documentary filmmaking
  • Learn how to develop your style as a visual storyteller
  • Receive documentary production tips that can save you from unnecessary agony
  • Complete a documentary film on a micro-budget

This class is ideal for learners who are starting, or who have already done a couple of documentary projects. In either case, this class will deepen your understanding of documentary filmmaking. 

First, Olaf will provide tips on finding your documentary Idea, and talk about his favorite development tools Theme, Genre, and the Fairy Tale tool.

Then he'll discuss Production, Cinematography, and Directing before hitting the post-production phase, and inviting you to do tasks and challenges along the way.

This course will not only demystify the documentary process, but it'll also illuminate your creative strengths and help you identify areas of improvement and opportunities.

This class comes with a certificate. When you've completed your short documentary, you can send it to Olaf for review and you'll receive a confirmation of completion.

=> Sign up for the Hands-On Documentary Filmmaking class here.

Documentary Filmmaking from Scratch (Domestika)

This course by filmmakers Jose Prada and Rene Strgar gives you a closer look at the audiovisual industry and shows you how to explore an idea, materialize it through film, and finalize it though post-production.

First, you'll hear Jose and Rene's unique stories about how they each began working in the film industry. 

Then you'll get an overview of filmmaking, including how filmmaking has evolved in the age of the internet, the narrative units of a film, and the different cinematographic elements that set documentaries apart from other types of films.

Next, you'll explore the creative process behind choosing and exploring the subject of your film.

You'll discover what to consider when location scouting in terms of lighting, sound, logistics, and other technical aspects. Then,you'll put everything on paper and start defining the film you want to make.

Then you'll dive into the post-production phase and bring everything together with your footage, sound, and color. Once you’ve finalized your documentary, you'll learn how to export your work into different formats and share it with the world.

Course Syllabus: 

  1. Introduction
  2. Introduction to Filmmaking
  3. Before the Shooting
  4. The Shooting
  5. Post-production: Putting It All Together
  6. Final project

Required materials:

  • Camera or smartphone
  • A computer with video editing software like Adobe Premiere and DaVinci Resolve

Jose and Rene give you a list of other (inexpensive but efficient) equipment they work with like tripods, microphones, light stands, and more.

Key course features: 

  • 18 lessons (2h 5m)
  • 14 additional resources (3 files)
  • Online and at your own pace
  • Available on the app
  • Audio: English
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, Italian, Polish, Dutch
  • Level: Beginner
  • Unlimited Access Forever
  • Certificate upon completion of the course

=> Enroll in the Documentary Filmmaking From Scratch course here.

Documentary Filmmaking Secrets (Udemy)

Documentary Filmmaking Secrets is a Udemy course by 17-time Emmy Award winning producer and director Shawn Vela. 

Over the course of his career, Shawn has worked on projects for companies such Amazon, SAP, Legoland California (and Florida) Resort, New Balance, University of Central Florida, and more.

In this course, he shares some of the secrets he wishes he knew about documentary filmmaking when he was first getting started.

What you'll learn: 

  • How to find story themes and the message of your film
  • Tips for capturing more authentic interviews, un-staged b-roll scenes, and editing faster
  • Insight into what thought processes professional TV documentary makers use to shoot, gather content and edit award winning video stories
  • A glimpse into the creative process of putting together a documentary film, from conception to completion and beyond

This course is great for filmmakers who want to make better, more compelling and engaging videos, with an emphasis on storytelling.

However, if you're looking for more in-depth instruction on cameras, lenses or editing software, I recommend taking one of the other documentary filmmaking classes on this list, because that is not the focus of this short class.

Key course features: 

  • 1.5 hours on-demand video
  • 1 downloadable resource
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Certificate of completion

=> Enroll in the Documentary Filmmaking Secrets class on Udemy here.

Final Thoughts

Thanks for checking out this post on the best documentary filmmaking courses and classes online. Hopefully you've found some sources of inspiration and guidance for your project. 

If you're a first-time independent filmmaker and you feel like the main issue is knowing where to start and how to progress, then the course I most recommend is the 7 Day Documentary Filmmaking Crash Course, since it's designed for complete beginners and offers daily assignments, quizzes and worksheets to keep you accountable. 

Once you have mastered the groundwork and principles of documentary filmmaking, the process will become easier and a lot more fun. 

And who knows...you may be on to creating your second documentary before you know it...

Happy learning!


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