Final Project – The Mini Documentary

Our final project in this course will be the Mini Documentary.

Originally, this assignment was required to be made using a video format. I am changing this requirement to video or audio format. You can choose to tell an original story in either media format about any person you chose, apart from yourself, as long as it is interesting.

The length must be 2 to 4 minutes. No more no less. It needs to have an introduction body and conclusion. I don’t want to see abrupt beginnings and endings with no explanation.

You should think about describing the setting and the surroundings of your person in some detail. This is easier done in video than audio only, however it is possible to do an audio documentary as well. You’ll need to collect sound effects and the ambient sounds from your subject’s environment if you’re going to work with with sound only.

Sound is critically important to your project being successful. Make sure that when you’re recording the voice of someone else that you have a recorder or a microphone in close proximity to them. It might be nothing more than using a recording app on your phone with your phone placed close to them so it picks it up well. Just make sure you get good, quality sound.

Your project is due by 5:00 PM on Friday, December 11.

Upload a video or audio file of your completed project to Canvas.


Here is more information on the Mini documentary. This part is about doing the video form, but the audio should follow similar principles. Your story should be about someone with an interesting story to tell.

Mini Video Documentary

The assignment’s example documentary The Story of Gerald Hersh provides an excellent example of what is meant by “mini-documentary.” If you didn’t watch it, do so now. I will wait for you…

Professor Gx’s analysis of the Hersh video and tips you can use:

Joel Jackson made this video to tell the story of a man who lived in Manhattan, Kansas and was nearing the end of his life. The video uses appropriate instrumental music to set the mood, avoiding music having vocals and lyrics which complete with the narrative. There is an effective use of text titles to provide context. Take note of the excellent pacing that is accomplished with video editing. Each video clip says something important. Although the subject of the film, Mr. Hersh moves around slowly, the film itself does not. Notice how very few clips linger long on the screen. Jackson shows us something new every few seconds, which is what professional filmmakers do. If you watch movies, television or professionally-made online videos, they all rarely show the same thing on the screen for more than a second or two. For your film to have good pacing, it should strive to keep the visual information ever moving forward. Also, notice that sometimes we can hear Hersh speaking even though we are looking at other things around the room or around the neighborhood. It is good to let the narration flow naturally while we see visuals of things other than the person speaking.

Jackson uses editing to make his subject Gerald Hersh shine. Every good interviewer/editor should strive to portray the interviewee who is giving up their time to be interviewed in the best possible light. This means removing any redundant or rambling dialog. Make it concise. Remove verbal ticks and pauses if possible. Take out the ums, uhs, and pregnant pauses, unless you are using a thoughtful pause to convey emotion and meaning. You can hide these edits by doing cutaway shots to other things in the environment, or to show us a frame of text titling.

The interviewee is seated in good (probably natural) lighting. Natural light is the most beautiful, with a person seated near a well-lit window with indirect sunlight. If necessary, move a lamp (with a lampshade or diffuser, not a bare bulb) near the person to improve the lighting of the subject.

The sound is less than perfect because it is winter time and a space heater is running. We can hear the space heater throughout, but a clip of the heater is shown to give us an idea of what is making the racket. I believe it actually provides some texture and context of the location where this is being made.

Speaking of context, notice how Jackson gives us glimpses of the house and room. In just a few minutes, we get a sense of this man, Gerald Hersh, and the kind of life that he led. It is a melancholy but heartfelt vignette that truly honors its subject in a very short time through the powerful medium of digital video.

You can make a powerful but short video too. It needs to be authentic. It needs to be concise. It needs to be well-edited. But you can say a lot in only two or three minutes.

Why are we doing this assignment for a final project?

One of the big reasons I give this assignment is because young people tend to be living insulated lives and don’t tend to get acquainted with people outside of their current social circles. This was true even before the great pandemic of 2020.

There are interesting people all around us, but it takes curiosity and a little courage to dig into that and learn more about them. Being able to network and connect with other people is a vital skill, as is empathy and curiosity about others. That’s why I think this particular assignment is good practice for students. For examples of good interview questions and storytelling, see StoryCorps.

I’m not overly concerned about the perfect technical execution of video making as I am with the process that it takes to make a video like this. If you are digging in and trying some new things including reaching out to and learning more about someone you don’t already know well, I think you will have succeeded.