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Project guide: Creating a documentary with Video on iPad

Documentaries are an inspiring way to show real people in real settings dealing with real issues. They’re great for the classroom too, being fun and exciting activities while helping improve skills such as research, analysis and communication, plus technical competence in using a camera and editing.

Conal Siddall

In this guide, we’ll show you how to create a great lesson filming documentaries with iPad. iPad features a high quality camera and is really lightweight, so it’s a great choice for creating videos. We’re taking a leaf out of the Everyone Can Create: Teacher Guide by Apple for this; if you’ve not already downloaded the free guide, it’s well worth doing so (it’s free) for plenty more lesson ideas and creative learning sessions. [link to Books]


Step one: Choose a story

Firstly, they need to find a story to cover and an interviewee! Thinking about the subject and who they are interviewing, ask students to create a list of questions which they can use to tell the story. 

For maths, they could learn about mathematical discoveries by researching famous mathematicians and their contributions before interviewing teachers to find out how those discoveries are applied to everyday life.

They can also use this in science lessons to create an informative documentary about local ecosystems with interviews with local experts.

Whatever you choose, and whatever subject you’re teaching, just make sure that students are using the interview questions effectively to get key information about the subjects. If you want to do it all in class, students could also pose as the interviewee themselves by researching the answers. If your students are learning remotely, you can ask them to interview a member of their own family or do both parts themselves!


Step two: Prepare the camera

Ready to start? Load up Camera and go to the video setting on your iPads, then explain how they’re making the documentaries. Also, stress how important it is to take lots of extra footage, as this will help when it comes to editing the pieces.

The first thing to do is demonstrate to students how to position their subject in the right spot. iPad makes it really easy to take great shots and helps frame people in the centre of the video with the grid overlay. Make sure the background is in the distance, and that they choose a background that is related to the subject of the documentary. Next, they want the right focus and exposure so the subject is easily visible.

How to adjust focus and exposure

While in the Camera app, tap a part of the frame and the camera will automatically adjust the focus and exposure for that section. The iPad will automatically detect a face and adjust the settings to focus on them, but these settings can be locked in place by tapping and holding the frame until AE/AF Lock appears on the screen.

If they’re still unhappy with the lighting, they may have to move where they are conducting the interview to get it right. Take several test shots to find the best location and settings.


Step three: Conducting the interview

Now they’ve got the camera set up and all the questions ready, it’s time to start interviewing. A good way to prepare for interviews is to conduct mock interviews in class. Ask students to team up with friends and interview each other about simple subjects such as their favourite tv shows or foods. Make sure to ask the class to discuss why they chose the questions and how they could be improved to get better answers.

Tips for a great interview:

·      An interview question should never have a yes or no answer!

·      Learn as much as you can about the subject beforehand.

·      Think of the interview as a conversation, not an interrogation.

·      Listen closely to the responses and be prepared to ask an unplanned question.

Make sure the interviewee is comfortable during the shoot and before they begin, ask them to state and spell their name so you can spell it right afterwards. Open Camera and select video, then follow the same steps to set it up as you did in testing. Do one final check to make sure the shot is right, have the interview questions ready, then hit record.

When they’re done, pick up some cutaway shots which they’ll use later to break up the interview so it isn’t one long continuous shot.

Cutaway examples:

·      Shots of the interviewer reacting to questions.

·      Close ups of the interviewees' actions such as tapping or writing.

·      A shot of the environment.

·      Things related to the subject, such as someone flipping the page of a book for English, or a shot of some beakers for science.


Step four: editing the documentary

With all the interview footage captured, it’s time to get down to the editing table and finish off the masterpieces. By this time, your students will have a few different shots to piece together, so they can use iMovie to make seamless transitions and cutaways.

Create a new iMovie project and choose the interview clip they’ve recorded to start. Trim down the clip, removing long pauses, digressions, questions and remarks from the interviewer, any mistakes and the name spelling at the beginning.

To trim a clip, navigate to the part you want to get rid of and tap the video clip on the bottom, then click split and drag the yellow handles to trim the clip.


Now add cutaways and other shots by tapping the + icon in the top right and moving them to the right section. These can be used to fill gaps in clips where students have made an edit. They can also use transitions to help make it look smooth as it switches between shots. Tap the symbol that appears between video clips (see image below) and select the transition from the menu at the bottom. Remember to use these effects sparingly, too much and it’ll be less effective.

After they’re done, they can add a title for the subject by tapping titles in the bottom menu, then choose standard, then Lower. To make the title only appear at the beginning, split the clip at the point where you want it to end.


Lessons learned

By following this project guide, your students will not only have learned valuable points from your core curriculum, but also improved their videography skills and gained a greater understanding of how to conduct interviews and edit videos. This task can be completed in school, at home, or even outside if you have permission to film, so let your students get creative!

Want to do more with iPad in your school? Check out our review of the Everyone Can Create: Video On iPad book for more iPad video ideas, or download our comprehensive training guide for workshops to support your teachers and leadership teams.


Want to get better at using Apple technology in your lessons? Speak to our education experts about coaching and mentoring from Apple-accredited trainers. Get in touch with our team on 03332 409 290 or email For the latest news, follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

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