How to Create a Professional and Engaging Documentary Promo Video

Video thumbnail for youtube video How to Create Your First Short Documentary Promo Film with Dave Dugdale - No Film SchoolDave Dugdale of Learning DSLR Video is no stranger to No Film School, mostly because he has an incredible willingness to learn and is very open about what he does, and does not, know (something I'm sure plenty of us aren't so eager to tell the world). Dave's most recent video is a look into the creation of his first documentary promotional film for a local photographer, and how he went about the process without any prior knowledge or connections. Check it out below:

I already know some of you may point out that giving away your talents for free is a slippery slope. In this case, Dave is trying to gain experience and build up a body of work, and it's a bit of a Catch-22 trying to get paid work when you haven't really done that specific work before. To me, it's a bit different if you are approaching people with an idea, since that job didn't exist in the first place. Either way, I think Dave explained it best why he wanted to do it for free:

When I sent out the email (see below) I told them I would do it for free. Why free? Because that way I would get total creative control. I have done corporate videos before and while they would start off with some amazing ideas that would be very exciting but by the time you were done you ended up with a very safe video that didn’t tell a story that needed to be told in a way I think to create sales, and a CEO reading off a script.

So if I do it for free what is the point, how do I make money? First off it is to show future clients what type of videos you are capable of making, so if you show only the work that you want to do, you will get that kind of work. Secondly I make some money from my tutorials so I told them that I would do it for free if they gave me the rights to make it in to a tutorial.

Here is the video from  that was the stylistic inspiration for Dave's video:

Having a stylistic influence can really help you when you're just starting out. Whether you're making a narrative or a doc, or something completely different, being able to deconstruct how someone else is creating something can make a big difference in the quality of your final piece. Eventually your work won't look anything like those first videos that inspired you, but in the beginning it can be hard narrowing down where to start to achieve something that has high production values and tells a coherent and engaging story.

Head on over to Dave's site to read more about his experience and check out the letter he sent to prospective clients.

What do you guys think of the video? Do you have any personal experiences that mirror Dave's trying develop a reel?


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Your Comment


I've loved watching his site. when he started we were both in the same boat with our T2is. Its been awesome to see him grow from someone I was learning with to someone I am learning from. great job Dave!

August 4, 2013 at 10:17PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Dave worked for free. Like an intern. He may have to sue himself for the wages lost.
Seriously, he's got that :nice guy" aura about him, so you can't help but watch (even that stabilizer video).

August 4, 2013 at 11:20PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Watch this video of my girlfriend and photographer Grazia Grimaldi, shooting in Florence

August 5, 2013 at 5:48AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Thanks for the video. It´s very interesting. This is my trailer documentary job

August 5, 2013 at 5:53AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I'm sorry but Dave's video was much better than that one he was inspired ......

August 5, 2013 at 5:56AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Yeah man, I totally agree - I'm a fan of Dave's style.

I did a couple of these type of videos last year, I think it's a great thing for anyone in the creative industry, I think this type of thing will become more and more popular.

Have a look at my take on this sort of thing (quite different to Dave's vibe)

August 6, 2013 at 6:00PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I totally agree also. Anton's was fine but Dave's had a lighter touch which I really appreciated. Dave's story is also much more clear. I actually still am not sure whether the subject of Anton's video is selling her services as a writer or a photographer - that feels like a problem.

August 8, 2013 at 8:49AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

You voted '+1'.

Looking at both videos, Dave's short documentary has life to it and definitely connects a prospective customer to the photographer and the detailed work to expect.
If you turned the sound off and watched both videos, Dave's pulled me in more, gave a clear picture and felt more realistic with connecting the dots of the WHOLE story.

August 8, 2013 at 1:40PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Agree.. totally.

However, as an ex marketing director I would say that the problem in Anton's video probably was related to his client being unclear what she actually provides... Now a writer, now photography. Her product seems to be unfocused and the video was very touchy feel without clarifying what it is she does. What kind of photography and writing? And so, as an observer I'd say she seems to struggle with her identity... that feeling is further enhanced by her slightly un-natural acting... not so much Anton's fault though.

In the end I was left with a feeling of slight unease about what this video was trying to tell me.

Dave's video is cheesy but as someone mentioned before that seems to be the audience the photographer is aiming for. It's clear and personal and I can make a connection. Well done!

September 12, 2013 at 10:16PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I found Dave's site this past winter. I set and watch all his video's on Vimeo that weekend. I found this website about the same time and read and read and watch video,. That how I'm learning to get better.

August 5, 2013 at 6:12AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Michael Bishop

Dave is like my friendly uncle that's always confounded at these newfangled jibberjabbers.

August 5, 2013 at 6:27AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


great job I enjoyed both videos very stylized and shot well

August 5, 2013 at 6:35AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Great job Dave! Cheezy results for the jazmin star video but it appears that is the look she wants and clients she attracts. Well done.

August 5, 2013 at 9:32AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Greg egan

Love his website too. :) when I started I always set to charge something, even if it was $1. Simply because then people will appreciate your time to make them a reel. And not take you for granted. This also helps builds psychologically a practice for you and the client so start becoming a pro.

August 5, 2013 at 12:51PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Best advice I ever received. You dont get hired for the work you can do. You only get hired for the work you've done.

August 7, 2013 at 7:50AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Thank you so much for publishing this example. It was so inspiring and very well done. It got me hooked. Your film explains so many aspects of a production. I am sure I will come back to this film many times again. An impressive piece, which I will learn a lot from.

August 8, 2013 at 3:00PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM