Introduction to Documentary Film Production: From Pre-Production to Post

Taught by Lisa Vangellow


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Who Should Attend:

  • Filmmakers interested in the nuts and bolts of documentary film production.
  • Anyone who has an idea for a documentary but are not sure where to start.
  • Filmmakers who have little to no experience making documentary films.
  • Anyone with experience in narrative film production but are interested in trying documentaries.

Satisfaction Rate:

Class hosted by: Lisa Vangellow

Director/Producer at Arsenal

Lisa Vangellow is a producer and director with a penchant for character driven features, documentaries, and television. She holds an MFA in Producing from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television and a B.S. in Marketing from the W.P. Carey School of Business at ASU. Lisa is currently in post-production on her documentary feature on the multi-faceted actor James Franco. Lisa was given unprecedented access to the enigmatic actor and traveled all over the world with him from 2013-2015. With over 200 hours of footage, she intends to deliver a compelling look inside the actor’s personal and professional life. In July 2014 Lisa was invited to be one of five filmmakers to participate in the Tribeca Film Institute Documentary StoryLab for the Franco Doc where she workshopped her project along with the 2015 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner The Wolfpack and the 2016 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Weiner. Lisa has previously produced the narrative feature film anthology, Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards starring Natalie Portman, Kristen Wiig, James Franco, Jimmy Kimmel, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblin, Thomas Mann, and Matthew Modine. It made its World Premiere at the Atlanta Film Festival in 2015 and will be distributed in 2016. Lisa’s film and TV slate includes a variety of fiction and nonfiction projects. In the documentary space, Lisa is in various stages of production on four feature documentaries and one docu-series. Full Bio »


This intensive 3-session master class will go over the nuts and bolts of documentary film production. Taught by producer/director Lisa Vangellow (currently working on a documentary film centered on actor James Franco) will share step by step instruction on how to produce a commercially viable documentary film from idea to post-production. Even if you have little to no experience or if you have narrative film experience and are looking to try documentaries, Lisa will guide you towards the goal of completing a documentary film. 

Lisa will offer her experience from the trenches to help filmmakers over the course of her 3-week class. First, she’ll focus on the selection of subject matter and how to gauge its commercial viability. Lisa will take you through pre-production for a documentary film hitting on areas such as how to create a budget, hire your crew, get financing and explaining why you may want a lawyer to handle the nitty gritty. From there you’ll get an overview of different documentary styles and insight on how to create your story through the use of specific examples. Finally, Lisa will explain how to survive the post-production of your film to bring the entire project together and discuss your options for distribution.

Filmmakers will leave with an overall understanding of the documentary filmmaking process, an idea of what makes a good documentary, and how to execute these lessons in the real world.

Lisa even shows you equipment you should consider and provides you with templates, Notice of Filming documents and a Film Funds resource sheet!

What You'll Learn

Over the course of 3 sessions, you will learn overall knowledge and guidance in the tools and skills needed to prepare yourself to make a commercially viable documentary.

Week 1:

Overview: The current documentary landscape

  • What makes a good documentary film? 

  • What makes a commercially viable documentary film? 

  • Discuss past films, which received critical acclaim and what made them popular.

Show clips from films: Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Grizzly Man
, Bowling for Columbine
, Searching for Sugar Man
, Mistaken for Strangers
, Man on a Wire, Blackfish,
 The King of Kong, Exit Through the Gift Shop
, Queen of Versailles
, Cutie and the Boxer 


  • Outline what needs to be discussed prior to beginning your film shoot.
  1. Approaching your subject or determining your story

  2. Find financing or grants (references)

  3. Hiring an attorney

  4. Hiring Crew

  5. Research Editors

  6. Plan for travel

  7. Research and decide on equipment

  8. Create a budget


Why do you need an attorney?

  • Contracts 

  • Insurance (GL, Workman’s Comp, E & O) 

  • Appearance releases, location releases, notice of filming posts 

  • NDA's and crew contracts 

  • Licensing (show clips of various docs and explains how much it costs.) 
Music, movie, and archival film licensing process and cost.

Fair use

  • What is it and when is it appropriate to claim fair use? What is the risk?

 Interactive Q&A

Week 2:

Documentary Styles/Creating the Story

  • Verite 

  • Interview/archival 

  • Creating the narrative 

Securing Interviews: 

  • How to develop a rapport with your subject and gain trust.

  • Types of questions to ask.

  • How to secure interviews with people outside of your subject for the film.
  • How to deal with high profile interviews. 

Morals and Ethics 

Interactive Q&A

Week 3:

Editing/ Post Production

  • What editor is the best for your film style?

  • How long does it take and how much should you budget?

  • The editor is the most expensive but most important person to hire (besides a DP).
  • How to collaborate with an editor to create the story you want to tell.

  • How to deal with obstacles with your editor. 

Approaching obstacles and creating a timeline 

  • What is the purpose of your film?

  • Where will you show it?

  • Create a timeline from start to finish accounting for editing.
  • How to deal with various obstacles that arise during the process. 

  • Discuss examples: legal, money, lack of participation from subject, scheduling issues, travel, safety, ethics. 

Post Production/Deliverables 

  • Sound Mix 

Discuss the need/cost for VFX and Animation 

  • Color Correcting

  • Music Composition/licensing
  • Deliverables 

Festival Strategies

  • Include festival application fees in budget

  • Strategies on what festival is best for your film and why

  • Other distribution platforms: Netflix, Amazon, HBO, Showtime, Hulu

Interactive Q&A

About Your Instructor

Lisa Vangellow is a producer and director with a penchant for character driven features, documentaries, and television. She holds an MFA in Producing from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television and a B.S. in Marketing from the W.P. Carey School of Business at ASU.

Lisa is currently in post-production on her documentary feature on the multi-faceted actor James Franco. Lisa was given unprecedented access to the enigmatic actor and traveled all over the world with him from 2013-2015. With over 200 hours of footage, she intends to deliver a compelling look inside the actor’s personal and professional life.

In July 2014 Lisa was invited to be one of five filmmakers to participate in the Tribeca Film Institute Documentary StoryLab for the Franco Doc where she workshopped her project along with the 2015 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner The Wolfpack and the 2016 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Weiner.

Lisa has previously produced the narrative feature film anthology, Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards starring Natalie Portman, Kristen Wiig, James Franco, Jimmy Kimmel, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblin, Thomas Mann, and Matthew Modine. It made its World Premiere at the Atlanta Film Festival in 2015 and will be distributed in 2016.

Lisa’s film and TV slate includes a variety of fiction and nonfiction projects. In the documentary space, Lisa is in various stages of production on four feature documentaries and one docu-series.


Session 1 




Fair use


Session 2 

Documentary Styles/Creating the Story

Securing Interviews: 

Morals and Ethics 


Session 3 

Editing/ Post Production

Approaching obstacles and creating a timeline 

Post Production/Deliverables 

Discuss the need/cost for VFX and Animation 

Festival Strategies



Q: What is the format of a class?
A: Stage 32 Next Level Classes are typically 2 to 4 week ongoing broadcasts that take place online using a designated software program from Stage 32.

Q: Do I have to have to be located in a specific location?
A: No, you can participate from the comfort of your own home using your personal computer! If you attend a live online class, you will be able to communicate directly with your instructor during the class.

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A: You will need to meet the following system requirements in order to run the class software: Windows 7 or later Mac OS X 10.9 (Mavericks) or later.
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Q: What if I cannot attend the live class?
A: If you cannot attend a live class and purchase an On-Demand class, you will have access to the entire recorded broadcast, including the Q&A.

Q: Will I have access to the class afterward to rewatch?
A: Yes! After the purchase of a live or On-Demand class, you will have on-demand access to the audio recording, which you can view as many times as you'd like for a whole year!


If you have a generic question about Stage 32 education you can take a look at our frequently asked questions section on our help page, or feel free to contact support with any other inquiries you might have.

Reviews Average Rating: 5 out of 5

  • I enjoyed the class immensely. Very informative and Lisa was a very excellent teacher and she's very cute and nice too. I do have a request tho that you have slides available for all three classes not just the first one so I may print out all of the material. It's a lot to write by hand. Thanks.

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