Who Needs a Documentary Film?

  • Steve Puffenberger
  • Video Production
  • Share this:

Who Needs a Documentary Film?

Why a Documentary Video is a Valuable Business Communication Tool

Everyone has a story to tell. If you’re in business, or you have an organization with a mission, often the best way to get the story out is to tell it on video. And that’s where a documentary film is gold!

A documentary film (or video) answers the question, “why?” Why are you passionate about your cause? Why did you get into this business? Why do you do things the way you do? Why should I (the viewer) care? To get that on film takes some careful strategy, lots of skill and, most importantly, experience.

Anyone can shoot a talking head on an iPhone, but not everyone can make a documentary film that expresses the emotional pull that makes audiences want to learn more and support your cause. That’s where you can leverage our experience in award-winning documentary filmmaking at Advent Media, Inc.

Types of Documentaries

There are several types of documentaries that we can deliver at Advent Media, Inc.:

Elevator Pitch and Promotional Videos

These forms of documentary are by definition very short, intended for Web delivery. They’re no more than 3 minutes, if that, because Web viewership has a notoriously short attention span. In order to get the message across quickly, the content is scripted rather than “stream of consciousness,” so that words are concise. "Pitch" videos are with one person, usually the business owner or head of sales, talking directly to the camera with a brief message on what the business offers. A promotional video may have more spokespersons, testimonials, or voiceover narration to do the same thing. Both have illustrative footage that reinforces what is being said. For those appearing on camera (often for the first time), we use a teleprompter to make it easy to stay on script, and we can make backgrounds exciting by shooting in front of a greenscreen. These documentaries start at $5K for a Pitch Video and $7K for a Promotional Video.

Short Documentary

This type of documentary is longer, typically around 10 minutes, for use with a “captive audience” at an event, or for people who want to learn more. With this documentary style, we open the floor for interview subjects to have that “stream of consciousness,” and respond to open-ended questions about their stories. We work with you to craft the questions that will achieve the responses that we need, and during the interview, prompt for more detail or other side issues that may develop. Often the best lines of the show are unplanned. Once interviews are done, they are transcribed, so that we first do a “paper cut” of the show to achieve a concise story on paper before trimming any video.

Short documentaries can be shortened or split into Web-friendly promotional videos. Content that is filmed but not used in the main show can be re-purposed for other uses. Also, by producing alternate beginnings and endings, the core content can be used for many different purposes. Short documentaries have budgets of $20-30k.

Feature Documentary

These are the types of documentaries that Ken Burns, Al Gore and Dinesh D'Souza made popular. A feature doc runs 40 minutes to 2 hours with a specialty topic that would be of interest to the public, and are formatted for television or theatrical release. These feature interviews like a Short documentary, but can also include reenactments, extensive historical footage, candid on-the-street sequences and other advanced visuals to keep the audience interested. Television documentaries have to be formatted for commercial breaks, with cliff-hanger setups so people will want to stay tuned. Theatrical docs don't need to worry about the breaks, but they do need segmentation to achieve a logical progression. The idea is to leave your audience thinking, "I'm glad I thought of that." Feature documentaries start around $100K and can go into the millions.

Qualities of Good Documentary Films

Like everything else there are good documentaries and not-so-good (cringeworthy) ones.  Good documentaries have several common qualities:


A good documentary takes the viewer on a journey – grabbing the attention of the viewer in the first few seconds, laying out the issue, exploring its implications, and ending with a call to action. This requires sequencing so each section builds on the first, and emotional energy draws in the viewer. In the end we want the audience thinking, “I’m glad I thought of that.” For the short Web-delivered videos this is tougher than the long-form versions, because there’s very little time. That’s why, on a $/min basis, the shorter they are, the more expensive they become.


Those who are interviewed may be very articulate about their subject, but in front of a camera, sometimes people will lock up from camera fright. We try to make it less intimidating by using a “thin” crew and minimal gear. We also take time to engage in conversation so that what is said comes across naturally. For scripted pieces, we coach the subjects, and can do infinite retakes with on-the-fly script edits to get it sounding natural.

A-Roll and B-Roll

The key to a good documentary is to NOT have talking heads on the screen all the time. The talking head and any primary material with sound is referred to as “A-roll,” and the cutaway footage or stills that illustrate what’s being said is the “B-roll.” It's the constantly changing B-roll that keeps a documentary visually interesting. Regardless of documentary length, we're always fighting the decreasing attention span of audiences, so it's critical to keep things fluid on screen.

Music (or lack thereof)

Music is the "backchannel" for emotion. The right music at the right time will "sell" the message and deliver the emotional punch needed to make the documentary memorable. The goal of any media piece is to leave a strong impression in the viewer, because details will be forgotten. Music, whether from the library or custom original soundtrack - or lack thereof where appropriate - can make all the difference.

Professional Production Values

Hollywood has trained us well. When well-meaning DIY videographers try to do a documentary and any element is lacking in quality, be it background noise, garbled sound, tacky music, amateur lighting, soft focus, shakey camera, or a host of other maladies, it's a distraction. Professional production values give the polish to the documentary that makes people sit up and take notice.

So how does Advent Media help clients with documentary production?

Our proven Process, developed over nearly 50 years of experience, has told the stories of hundreds of clients. We’ll walk you through the process, looking at your story from the vantage point of your audience, helping you “shape your case” to have the maximum impact with your viewers. The first step is to contact us. Let us know what the story is, and we’ll help get it on the screen!

Discover our Video Production Services

Theme picker

By using our site, you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Usage Terms, Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.