/How we made a documentary in one week

How we made a documentary in one week

Taylah Fellows & Marion (Rio) Wierl


A little diary of 2 journalists, producing a documentary in just one week.
We hope being able to give you a couple of hints what you could maybe do better, or, just provide you with a good story of us two, struggling and succeeding.
You can find the link to Actual link on the very bottom below.


Wednesday, January 10th ‘18

I think we can hack this. My colleague Rio and I have embarked on a very aspirational journey, challenging ourselves with the task of shooting and editing a small documentary. Our focus will be on the digitalising health care system in Germany and the accompanying smart service trial project in Dortmund, which aims to list pressure off the overstretched healthcare workers. Germany has one hell of a problem right now, its population is ageing and it’s running out of nurses and doctors (what they call “high-skill labour” jobs).

So Rio and I have decided to use this information and compare it with what Germans in Dortmund think about their own changing health care system, whether smart technology designed to help the elderly stay in their homes will be adapted Germany wide and whether or not different age groups will adapt to this digital system and be content with their information being saved and accessible on a nationwide platform.

I think these questions will be highly relevant in upcoming years and it’s an issue that the German population need to address with speed, not only due to their ageing elderly demographic but also because Germany possesses some of the tightest privacy laws in Europe. Germany’s healthcare industry transition is one in which communication is essential between government and public spheres.

We’ve collected most interviews and are arranging them for (hopefully) this coming Friday. Were hoping to gain voices from the general public, a government city council representative, software innovators on board with the project, data analysts who can inform us on the evolving privacy laws, and of course health care practitioners who can predict how this digitalisation will benefit the public long term.

I’m getting ahead of myself here though, todays task is to simply create a script and a schedule. This way we are able to utilise our time between shooting the interviews and editing within the short seven day period. Having a strict schedule for the week is crucial in this project because it will keep us on track and provide us our time window in which to visit Dortmund again.

The goal: to shoot all film and interviews on Friday and Saturday, beginning the editing process by Sunday/Monday in preparation for our final presentation on Thursday.

Wish us luck.


– – –

After teaming up, Taylah and me, we both wanted to make a video/documentary. None of us has ever done anything like that before but the temptation tantalized us. And so everything went a little bit crazy from that moment on.

As Taylah said, making a well-structured plan has been the first step we had on our list in order to don’t forget any important and maybe essential steps during our work.

Whilst writing a list with all the things that needed to be done (people to contact, inevitable voices, necessary shots for the final product) in order to get a quite short, but nonetheless good-looking, informative and complete documentary produced, we immediately started contacting sources as well.

Both of us, Taylah and I, have messaged several people by using former contacts from one of Taylah’s previous projects, as well as new contacts, asking for their willingness giving us some answers.

Luckily we received responses very quickly from most of them. Even though this whole project and requests have been on very very short notice they pretty much all agreed to interview-appointments at exactly those days we asked for. It started quite well for us, so we had been able to continue working on our script, the questions we want to ask and organizing all the background stuff, like booking a bus to and from Dortmund and an accommodation for two nights of course.


Anxiously awaiting the bus to Dortmund



Thursday, January 11th ‘18

Intensity is gaining. Today we hashed out the general structure of the documentary and lined up how many interviews/shots we needed to formulate a cohesive story. We were successful in attaining all of the interviews required to balance the voice of information which is a massive advantage considering our time frame.

Don’t ask me how we achieved this in less than 24 hours, I’m putting it down to pure luck and fantastic sources at this point.

Because we are interviewing people at the end of the week Rio and I have decided to give ourselves as much editing time as possible so we headed to Dortmund this morning to start filming ASAP. It becomes a very interesting experience trying to get to a 4 pm interview when your transport is over an hour late. After this stressful mid part of our day, we met with Dr Bettina Horster from VIVAI and finally conducted our first interview, which went fantastically.

Small tip though, make sure when carrying a tripod and extra equipment you’re aware of how to set it all up before you first go, so you at least seem to be more professional than what you feel.

I got a little thrown setting up the camera for the first time, making sure I had correct angles for editing later, the right white balance and of course the correct focus. Technology has the ability to play up and mess with your time schedule so the biggest lesson for today always has a tech back up plan!

After such an eventful day of planning and shooting and learning about our equipment we headed back to our accommodation to revamp for tomorrows events. A lot more interviews to come, more questions and shots to prepare. I will be thanking myself over the coming days for this meticulous preparation system.


– – –

It has indeed started right away.

Already the following day, on Thursday, we both travelled to Dortmund as Taylah said, having our first arranged interview. Things really went a little bit out of plan, as the bus had a delay of almost 90 minutes and we normally would have arrived “only” 60 minutes before the first appointment is due.

So, for now, we were pretty late for our first interview-appointment. And as we have been sitting in the bus, stuck in traffic still whilst our interview time frame had already started, both of us got quite nervous as you can imagine. But nonetheless, we kept calm and positive (at least on the outside I would say), emailed the office we were heading to, informing them we would be late, and went there as quick as possible in the moment we arrived in Dortmund.

Still, we had been welcomed really hearty. Taylah already knew the people there and obviously had made a very good first impression the first time she had seen them.

Our struggle has still not been over though. The camera decided to make problems and we somehow couldn’t get it into film-mode at first.

But again, we stayed calm and it finally worked.

So the biggest advice I can give at this point is: Stay calm, no matter what!

Not only is it absolutely not beneficial freaking out, it also shuts your head down, delays work even more and in worst case even hinders you getting done anything at all in the end.

This day has been the best example for the benefits of staying calm, cause although we started very late we still received the requested and urgently needed quotes from Dr Bettina Horster, degreed information scientist and head of the business development and consulting area at the VIVAI Software AG.

When leaving the office we had exactly what we needed from this interview. Dr Horster’s answers had been precise, clear and quite detailed, so we could look forward editing informative video material – a lot of it.

Of course, the day hasn’t been over for us at that point. We pretty much immediately turned to our computers, kept working on our questions, our plans, everything to get this project done with the best outcome possible.


Friday, January 12th ‘18

One thing you need to know about Rio and myself is that we are addicted to coffee. This morning we literally went out and started shooting BEFORE coffee was ingested. To make such a statement is still unbelievable to me now. It was a busy day to say the least. We really underestimated the power of lighting so always check the weather before you embark on a video adventure. Right now we are filming during winter, which means the days are shorter, and there is less sunlight for us to work with. Luckily, most of our interviews have been inside well-lit offices however we have needed to be very strategic with our panning shots and establishing shots because of lighting differences from the overcast weather.

In saying that, we did really utilise time well today. First, we interviewed Michaela Bonan, Dortmund city council representative and a fantastic source for our film. Rio conducted the interview in German which meant I had time to work out the best camera angles for sit down/stand up interviews and this was great because we needed a system between us that worked. The interview was over by lunchtime so we continued to get crowd shots and shots of elderly people to fill in gaps when editing and narrating our information. We then hopped on a train and travelled to Duisburg, to see the model home lab at inHaus and conduct our interview with Dr Gerd von Bögel. He gave us a 10/10 tour of all of the assisted living technology to be used in hospitals, care facilities and personal homes. Great guy and there was even free coffee. Although it was semi-stressful trying to make all of our appointments within 48hours, it was super productive and has now given us plenty of time to edit (assuming nothing goes haywire on the technology side of things). I think giving equal (if not more) time to the editing process is crucial when forming a documentary, editing is seriously underrated. But for amateur doco journalists such as myself, I am definitely going to need the extra time to finish this production. Fortunately for us, Gerd was excellent at explaining the technology side of things and we got some great footage to accompany the doco question of “using smart technology as a solution for the ageing population”. All we need to find out now is that if it can be used EU wide eventually because it’s looking like it’s all ready to hit public and private markets there’s only an issue with contrasting privacy and data laws that differ in each European country. We’ll be hitting the streets tomorrow to ask citizen opinions and hopefully speak to people within the healthcare industry also. We’re keen to hear public thoughts and opinions about digitising the healthcare industry, especially the opinions of elderly citizens. Last day in Dortmund tomorrow before we travel back at 1 pm, wish us luck.



– – –

Waking up early in order to get as much work done as possible has naturally been the priority over a couple of hours more sleep on the following Friday.

The first thing in the morning has been a long walk in the city centre making as many shots from Dortmund’s streets as possible, in order to integrate them into our documentary.

Oh how desperately I would have needed coffee..

At 10 am we had our second agreed interview of the trip. This time we came on the dot, and the meeting started with a little bit of small talk, mostly in German, in order for me, Rio, to get to know my interview partner, and Michaela Bonan, chief of the coordination department of the government-project “nordwärts” (“northwards”), to get as comfortable with us and the situation/setting as possible. It has been way easier and comfortable for Michaela to talk to me in German, so I had been in charge of putting the interview into practice whilst Taylah had the chance of playing around on the camera, keeping everything in place.

Michaela, by the way, has been a really great source, as she knows a hell of a lot about the already existing systems and technologies, as well as the next steps planned in the region of Dortmund.

Talk in German whilst having all the information and the questions in English in mind has been way more challenging for me than I would have expected in beforehand. Keep that in mind when preparing an interview like this. It is one thing to play a situation like this interview-scene in your head and thinking through, whilst it is completely different again to actually really speak your text out loud. And let me tell you, it is harder to speak it out loud – way harder! It may sound weird, but even if you are capable of both languages it is hard to hop from one to the other and back whilst talking. You have to rethink vocabulary and names, as well as the structure of your sentences. This makes a fluent conversation pretty challenging.

(Quick side note here: I really felt like an idiot and thought Michaela must have thought the worst of me, that I am the most incompetent journalist she’s ever seen for instance. Rehearsing the interview, later on, disclosed I actually sounded quite safe in what I was saying and doing though. This shows once more staying calm and keep going is the key! Never forget to breathe and push negative thoughts to the side – except of course reactions of others or the situation itself shows your attempts are not going anywhere. But well, even then, keep pushing yourself. It’s gonna be worth it.)

The conversation in front of the camera got more and more natural too, so the felt rigidity of the beginning decreased over time.

Again the quotes given to us have been amazing and 100% what we needed. It went better than we ever could have hoped for I would say.

Michaela gave us requested addresses of locations where we could make good shots of a hospital and a retirement home too and also promised us video-material of a former produced video about the winning of the EU’s Regio Star Award. This expectation honestly blew my mind and made me overfull with hope and confidence our project will really work out in the end.


Tripod outside of St Johannes Hospital


Saturday, January 13th & Sunday, January 14th ‘18

It was a rushed morning as we flittered around to shoot different buildings and scenery. Because it was the weekend we finally had time for coffee at the start of our day. We scouted the streets for some potential vox pops of citizens.

The aim of the day: to find out what the people thought about EHealth and how nurses were transitioning into the digitised healthcare system.

This morning included a visit to two different hospitals and home care facilities to see if we could grab a comment from a health care professional (doctor, nurse, home carer etc.). We knew it was a long shot being a Saturday and all, and unfortunately, no one who held the legal ability was available to speak with us on camera.

Still, we trooped on and took to the streets to find our public spokespersons. At the beginning, it was a disaster; people were very awkward and afraid of the camera/tripod set up on the side of the street. The first tactic we installed was to move around to different places and position the camera in ways where people would be able to tell it was turned off, then proceeding to verbally inform by passers it was turned off.

That didn’t work.

Then came the pester approach. We used Rio’s handy German mother tongue to approach different pairs and individuals. After being turned down yet again, because people were seemingly suspicious of our project and our goals, we began to feel disheartened… until my glorious light bulb moment. To create a sign.

Out came the pen and paper and Rio graciously scripted our ‘student project’ title in German, below, our wishes to hear people’s thoughts on EHealth and smart technology. Suddenly the people were not so afraid of us. We got the public opinion footage we needed to slot in-between our own thoughts on the EHealth project and smart service power benefits and challenges.

All in all, a successful weekend as we made our way back to Utrecht to begin the gruelling editing process.



– – –

Another day, another pool of possibilities, chances and yes, challenges too.

Getting up early has been our day’s start once more. Way ahead of our already tight schedule we left the Hostel much earlier than intended – full of zest for action – although mentally and physically tired to death.

With a large long black coffee in the one hand this time, and the equipment in the other, work appealed much less unfeasible though.

Our first destination has been the St.-Johannes-Hospital in Dortmund’s centre, where we had been able to take a bunch of good outdoor shots, not only of the building but also of leaving or arriving elderly people.

At first, I was quite concerned if we would be legally allowed taking those shots, as it is a hospital and we are filming people walking in and out. But nobody said anything and as we had set up our camera on the opposite side of the street, we haven’t left public space at any time. Furthermore we haven’t zoomed to the people’s faces and of course, there hasn’t been a celebrity amongst them.

Instead, we simply got further footage for the final doco production, enabling us to really change the picture every 6 to 8 seconds, according to film/documentary-making rules.

Right after the hospital, the second piloted location has been the retirement home Christinenstift, just a couple of streets closer to the actual city centre than the St.-Johannes-Hospital.

Again we had been able to make a couple of really good outdoor shots. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to talk to a staff member of the retirement home though, as no responsible person had been on the spot at that time. As we had gotten the address recommendations just the day before by Michaela Bonan we hadn’t been able to make appointments in beforehand. And not only has it been Saturday and chances had already been low in the first place, but I also received the information there has been a big conference around that weekend, so there wouldn’t have been anybody to talk to even the days before and after the weekend. Still, it is unfortunate not having this point of view on camera, but the fact of the conference made the loss a bit more feasible – at least for me. And again, still we tried and in my opinion, stuck to one of the most important competencies a journalist should have: we kept being friendly, said ‘thank you’ for the effort taken nonetheless and left the location with a positive vibe wishing a good weekend still.

Of course, this hasn’t been the end of our day yet.

After getting another coffee (oh we are really addicted, like the journalists in the movies always are too), Dortmund’s shopping streets have been our next targeted location.

We needed voices of the citizens, telling us their opinion about EHealth, the digitalisation of the health-related data and smart home systems and technologies.

The start has been quite hard, but once Taylah had the brilliant idea of writing a sign in order to catch the people’s attention, saying who we are and what we’re doing, most people’s fear of the camera had been gone and a couple of really good interviews came into place.

In the end, we had been on a roll and finally got voices of all targeted groups of people: elderly, middle-aged, and young families; men and women. Happy, all the freezing in the streets for hours had been worth it, we packed our stuff together, heading home to Utrecht.

Still, we haven’t had a voice of a nurse or caretaker, somebody representing the opinion of this part of the game, but we kept trying getting in contact with one or the other person.

Overall it is stunning to know that we can come back to the region whenever and continue working together with them.

Working with our sources has been amazing and I guess we can be really grateful for that as it is anything but self-evident having such good and helpful sources – as I had to learn in previous projects.

But honestly, I also think we, Taylah and I, just did a really good job, too. These two factors led to our proper progress in Dortmund and the strengthening of our linking with the sources.

It shows how important the right communication is. It is not just about being confident enough to start a conversation as such in general, but about knowing how to properly communicate with people as well. Knowing how different people have to be handled differently, how much honest smiling (or a well-faked one), eye-contact and basic communication rules help to interact the best possible way.



Monday, January 15th ‘18

I won’t say it again. Never, ever underestimate the editing time frame.

Rio and I entered the university building in search for final cut pro. The software I have already been blessed with learning whilst at my Australian University institution. To cut a long story short, technology was not our friend today. We were unable to create the right domain via some sort of application that would then allow us access to the final cut pro application…so we reverted back to plan B, iMovie. iMovie is not ideal and not as flash as final cut pro but it should do the job. So after finally opening the door to the particular editing suite on the second floor and logging into our fancy mac that was now not being used for fancy final cut pro, we began to translate the German interviews and comments. When I say ‘we’ translated I really mean Rio translated with her godly bilingual talents. Then we pieced together a rough storyline and fixed the zoom, aperture of the camera angles so that the interviews appeared to be in third person and editing some of the background audio.

Today was basically full preparation for tomorrows goal of writing a fluent script, leaving the gaps for the chosen quotes from our sources that were cut and edited today and then filling in our own narration over the top of the general public footage to link the information together.




– – –

Oh dear, after interviewing and filming had been completed so far, another big pile of work has been waiting – the desk work!

Taylah had warned me to not underestimate this part of the job several times, but god, nobody could have imagined that it is really THAT much work…

The first major issue had been finding a computer with a good cutting-programme. In the end, we would have found one, but haven’t had access to the programme we initially wanted to work with. So we stuck to iMovie in the end as we didn’t want to lose any more time. Also, Taylah has iMovie on her Laptop as well. Looking back, it maybe hasn’t been the worst not having final cut pro, therefore, as we are not bonded to the university building and can work at home and at whatever times we want or rather need to. Especially the latter point seems to be very important, as the deadline is coming closer and closer and the workload doesn’t seem to decrease, however.

By the way, cutting a video is once more a totally new experience for me.

I am highly interested and motivated, but at the same time equally highly hobnailed.

Nonetheless, the first experiences with writing subtitles have been interesting already and also having the programme iMovie explained by somebody (Taylah) who has worked with it a lot in previous times, helps heaps.

I guess the biggest step to take in this regards (using an unfamiliar computer programme whilst being an absolute yopel concerning everything technique related) is just getting started, jumping into the ice-cold water and staying there, until the water-temperature rises (or you’re just getting numb..).

My first job has been translating the German interviews we’ve made. By that, I don’t mean translating them all word-for-word. I did so only for the short street-interviews, where pretty much the whole interviews have never lasted more than 90 seconds and the whole video illustrates a statement.

The Interview with Michaela Bonan (nordwärts Chief Coordinator Dortmund) on the contrary has only been roughly sub-classified into smaller sub-areas and only really important and on-point statements needed to be written down word-for-word, including the exact times she states it of course. Otherwise, it would have taken ages later on finding those quotes in all our footage again.


The success of the student project sign


Tuesday, January 16th ‘18

The final countdown begins. I won’t lie, when I heard that the deadline was 9 am tomorrow morning and not 12 am Wednesday night, sheer panic lined the inside of my body. The editing process has now continued well into the night. I’m simply praying that the final product is A) finished by tomorrow morning and B) completed a satisfactory standard.

Then we can finally rest. The editing process has been challenging however it was doable within our time frame. Small road humps included not having close up shots of elderly people (the Dortmund public crowd was scared of the camera whilst it was switched off, there was no chance we were walking away with unauthorised zoom shots of their faces) and an establishing or dolly shot of something linked to eHealth. These minor issues can be fixed with the help of my dear friend ‘royalty free stock footage’. This now means we have more ‘filler’ shots for sections of the film that need explanations done by voice-over narration. I feel the sound could have been better quality if we had access to a professional video camera with the buffer microphone to cancel out background sound and prevent an echo distortion in our sources office locations but this is all part of the learning curve and will be incorporated into better preparation next time we embark on a doco journey.

The script has been finalised and I feel we have successfully addressed the two sides to the issue of an ageing European/German population as well as the up and coming smart technology that is awaiting public approval in regards to issues of privacy and data protection.

From what began as a mediocre film, we heard from a range of professional and citizen voices and we pieced together a short piece explaining the future potentials/challenges the Smart Service Project will witness as well as its role as one of the solutions to a Europe-wide issue of lack of nurses and healthcare professionals.

Hopefully, our colleagues enjoy watching it as much as we enjoyed creating it. Overall, it was a very eye-opening and rewarding experience. I am keen to further develop on and expand my documentary making skills during our next journalism adventure in Denmark.



– – –

Crazy. The final spurt before the production is due is literally just crazy.

Next to other bagatelles like organizing moving not only city, but the country at the end of the week, Taylah and I have worked yet another day without any real breaks to get this baby, our documentary, finished.

Realizing the deadline is Wednesday 9 am, not 5 pm as I’ve thought, hasn’t made life easier, too. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, and with such a good project partner like Taylah, even such hard, long days can be fun and productive until the very end.

Whilst Taylah mostly focused on getting some additional filler, making the video round and complete, and did all kinds of stuff in terms of cutting, I myself focused on our written productions in the first place. This included putting this piece of revision, aka little diary together. We wanted to picture the angles of the both of us but not writing one common text. Instead, we both have written down our thoughts each and every day, so you can now see two different points of view, instead of one mixed story. Putting together oral and written down background information in order to back up our doco in a logical and easy way has been my part, too, and so has been the searching for info-graphics we could show in the video.

By now I am pretty much left with the words ‘What a day, what a crazy day!’.

It is almost 1 am on Wednesday the assignment is due, and still, I am sitting on my desk, with my tenth! coffee of the day (what may not be the healthiest, but what shall I say..), working on this document and several other little bits and bobs.

It is sure by now it’s gonna be a much longer night than I would have hoped for, but at the same time, I really enjoy the work and definitely want to continue working on video-productions like this in our second part of the project in Denmark. I now know for sure that I want to get more and more familiar with cameras (in terms of filming as well as photography) and cutting/editing the produced material.

Editing at least the German interviews today has been such a nice experience, although highly challenging as I am a perfectionist what can make work a bit long-winded at times. But it also fascinates me. And that’s what it is all about: It’s the passion that drives me and obviously Taylah too. We love what we do and we do what we love.

That’s what makes all the effort worth it in the end!