StudentCam - How to Get Started

Ella-Grace Rodriguez is a 3-time C-SPAN StudentCam prize winner who is now attending USC film school. In the tutorials below she shares her experience and tips on the various elements of the competition, including planning, shooting, and editing your own documentary.

Intro - Ella-Grace Rodriguez

01 - Understanding the StudentCam Competition Prompt

02 - Brainstorming Ideas for your Topic

03 - Selecting Your Issue

04 - Completing Your Research

05 - Setting Up Interviews

06 - Questions for your Interviews

07 - Choosing a Background and Framing Your Interviews

08 - Reviewing the Information in Your Interviews

09 - Recording Stand Ups for Transitions

10 - Finding Supporting C-SPAN Footage

11 - What to use for B-Roll Footage

12 - Editing Your Sound Levels

13 - Making Graphics, Charts, and Graphs

14 - Final Film Review and Criticism

15 - Writing Thank You Notes!

16 - Final Reflections

17 - Addendum Interview with Orange County, FL Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles (More Tips for Conducting Interviews with Experts!)

TEACHERS: Looking for ideas on how to approach the project with your class, or a self-guided step-by-step process for your students? Check out this Lesson Plan: StudentCam Documentary Competition Step-by-Step Guide

Click here for a printable Student Checklist (Google Doc)

Additional Tips for Getting Started

Clifton Raphael, a video production teacher at Jenks High School in Oklahoma, also shared a series of video tutorials featuring testimony from his students who have first-hand experience in creating documentaries for past StudentCam competitions.

Mr. Raphael also shared the following document which covers some of the basic technical considerations for framing your interviews and other shots on camera.

HANDOUT: Essential Elements in Documentary Filmmaking

01. Student Advice on Picking Your Topic

02. Student Advice on Recording and Choosing Your B-Roll

03. Student Advice on Creativity In Your Presentation

04. Student Advice on Recording Yourself On Camera

05. Student Advice on Structuring Your Documentary

06. Student Advice for First Time Filmmakers

The Format
The contest calls for a specific format for your video--a documentary. A documentary could be described as a type of "non-fiction story." The video elements (content, editing, voiceover, B-roll, music, titles) should be combined to explore the topic. It may include entertainment, instruction, or news, but the end product should tell a non-fiction story.

Team Work
Before you get started, if you are working in a team, you should consider how the team is going to divide up the responsibilities. Typical roles may include: writer, editor, director, and videographer. Of course, one person can play more than one role.

Research facts and opinions on your topic. Brainstorm a list of potential interviewees and contact them to schedule interviews. Explore locations and events that you may want to include to illustrate your topic. Organize your information and properly cite your sources. Be consistent in your citation format.

At this stage you may wish to write a "treatment"--a one-two paragraph synopsis of your documentary's topic. You can refer to the treatment throughout the production process to keep the project focused.

Outline the Content
Before production, you may wish to create a script outline, including storyboards illustrating specific shots. It should include: locations to explore, people to be interviewed, events to capture, situations to show, documents or still photos to include, artwork, quotations, C-SPAN video clips to insert (Take a look at our FAQ page for suggestions on accessing C-SPAN video). **Be sure any copyrighted material is used sparingly under "fair" use guidelines.

Video Equipment
Many students simply use teh camera on their cell phones but if you do not have video equipment readily available, consider asking your school or public library, your school district's technology department, local cable provider (try their community relations or public affairs divisions), or public access channel for help with resources.

Shooting Video
There are some basic rules to follow when shooting video for use in your documentary. You should consider lighting, framing, positioning, camera steadiness, speed of camera movement, sound, how many seconds you hold a shot, etc. A note about interviewing--think carefully about the questions and answers, the preparation, position, location and appearance of the interviewee. Careful planning can lead to better video footage for your final product.

Editing is a critical phase of creating your video. Think of the editing process as similar to the writing process, and your finished documentary as the words you will use to tell your story. In what order will you arrange the story? What pieces work well together? What piece should be left out? How will it end? You may also realize you are missing some pieces and need to shoot more video. Determine your strategy of transitioning between scenes and which segments need voice-over narration.

Before you submit your video, ask your friends, family members, or teachers to watch your video and give you feedback about what works well and what needs improvement. Make those final adjustments before you submit your video to the competition.

All eligible entries must be uploaded and received by 11:59 PST on Friday, January 19, 2024.