How to edit a documentary without a script

By EJ Mijares | Uncategorized

Oct 06

A SHOOT! School graduate messaged me, asking for advice on documentary filmmaking. Since we are a videography school, I want to share our message exchange with you guys. You may be wondering the same and my response could be helpful.

He asked:

Sir good day! I know it’s a long shot to ask but how to deal with editing a documentary but the catch is footage lang binigay sakin. I wasn’t involved in shooting the documentary. May advice ka sir on what I can do with it aside from getting the general knowledge or point of the story?

This is my reply:

Hi, salamat ulit sa pagtanong sa akin. I appreciate the fact that you go to us mentors in SHOOT! School for challenges like these.


Tama ka, my first advice is to understand the ‘point of the story’. This way, you’ll have knowledge on how to edit, how to score, how to place titles, how to color, etc.


Good question to ask is: “At the end of the video, what would you like the audience to know or realize? What would you like them to be informed about?”

Then ask yourself, “What would you like them to FEEL?” Magkaiba yun.


In the video below, I wanted the audience to ‘know’ about the principles of the school. But I wanted them to ‘feel’ safe and secure and confident in enrolling.



Tackle the scenes as small stories.


Watch ALL the footage. Watch them, not skim over. Start building small sequences, small stories. Small stories consist of various shots, different angles, but all with only one event.


Then WRITE down all the small stories that you can find.


Check out this short docu that I recently directed:



The small stories are: rain, boat ride, harvest of abaca, community farming, kuwentuhan ng mga magkakapitbahay, arrival of farming tools, walking to farm, community singing.


Do not worry about the total duration muna. Do not worry about the duration of each small story. Do not worry muna about how the small stories will be sequenced in the final edit. The important thing here is you get a feel of the available footage.


Deal with the interviews.


Now this is the hard part. Mahaba ang mga interviews, people talk long. People tend to talk na fragmented.  How do you cut the interviews? Dito useful yung unang tanong mo about the ‘point of the story’


Choose parts of the interview that will lead to the point. Sometimes you have to identify subpoints or subtopics. Choose the parts.


Sometimes din may more than one interview person. You need to identify what each person’s topic would be. Walang mauulit na point dapat. If I interviewed 3 farmers for example, and they all talk about how the land is now dry because of the heat, then isa lang sa kanila ang pipiliin kong magsabi nun. Edit out yung same statements ng ibang farmers talking about the same thing. Maybe the other will talk about how hard it is to get water from the river. Then the other will talk about how their chickens are affected.


In editing the interviews, ‘wag mo muna intindihin yung jumpcuts, Broll, or music, colorgrading, graphics etc. Later na yun. Concentrate on choosing the right statements, sequencing, pacing or rythm. Concentrate on story flow.


Editing a docu without a script is very time consuming and you need lots of patience.


But it’s one of the most fulfilling types or edit because you can have control and you discover things that wasn’t obvious.


I made this film that was released in 2015. Shot in a span of 3 years without script. Edited without a script. I have around 50 hours of raw footage. The finished docu runs for 40minutes.


Here’s a 2 minute teaser:



Hopefully may naitulong itong mga sinabi ko. Let me know if you have specific questions. We also have videography courses on documentary filmmaking and editing if you’re interested.


EJ Mijares


About the Author

A graduate of the UP Film Institute, EJ has directed award winning documentary films tackling issues of environment and society. He has further studied advanced documentary filmmaking under German, French and Dutch filmmakers in various workshops and specialized courses organized by Goethe Institute-Manila and Goethe Institut-Hanoi. EJ also directs commercials, advertisements and corporate image films. EJ has filmed hundreds of weddings when he became an owner of a wedding film studio in 2010-2012. This was when he dreamed of a Videography School that offers special courses for budding artists.

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