Why There Are Only Ever Three Ways to Create a Film or Video

A client only has to make one decision out of three possible options when commissioning a film or video production! One. Not anymore. No less. The all-important question in video production is: Do I want to document a situation? Filming a message? Or am I ordering a fictional world through a cinematic production?

document filming staging three types video
There are only three ways to create a video: Documentary, Filming, Staging | © Adobe Stock

Malicious tongues claim that video producers solve those problems that you would not have without them. Of course it’s wrong. But it’s true that when you talk to self-proclaimed experts as a client, you quickly get the feeling that producing video is a “rocket science”. It’s not. The question of whether a video follows the principle of documentation, filming or staging makes it easy to set the most important course in video production.

Documenting, filming or directing?

Those involved in a commissioned production always decide – consciously or unconsciously – on one of three types of cinematic implementation when creating a video: Documentary, filming or staging. Even if there are intermediate forms, all conceivable basic thrusts of a video production are covered by these three options. Once the decision has been made for one of these three types of implementation, everything follows from there. Also the question, what does an image film cost?

That’s why the decision as to which of these three options is the right one for your own film project must be at the forefront of your mind when setting up a film project. The decision must also be given priority because the choice of agency or production partner has a decisive influence.

DocumentationDocumentary recording of already given, real events by a camera. Also – wrongly associated with a valuation – called “Abfilmen”. When documenting, reality is depicted unadorned and shown with maximum authenticity.
FilmTranslation of the desire to make a statement into a moving image through the targeted depiction and selection of reality in a film version. Targeted transport of emotions and information with moving images.
StagingTransport of a message is done through storytelling. To illustrate the core message, a new world is created for the corporate video during staging using cinematic means. High entertainment value.

Each of the three ways in which to implement has its raison d’être. No implementation path results in a better or worse corporate video. Each type of production has its advantages and disadvantages.

1 Document

Documenting means turning on the camera, recording what happens on location and editing it together. Done. Producing videos is never easier and faster than by filming reality. To document means to record reality. In a documentary, the story is not created by dramaturgical tricks and cinematic design. But by the real events captured on video.

  • authentic, shows the reality without prettifying it with additional light sources, actors or elaborate film technology.
  • low-cost implementation compared to other types of production.
  • can be implemented with 1 person.
  • documentary filming is not logistically complex: no disruption of ongoing operations due to preparations
  • no long coordination processes for script required.
  • Unique selling propositions of a company are rarely recognizable
  • Emotional impact is more accidental than planned; it is more difficult to control than in other forms.
  • Repeat recordings – for example at events – are not possible in the event of disruptions to the sound or picture.
  • unattractive processes or locations have a negative effect in the video.

A special form of documentation is the testimonial. Depending on the design, it can actually be filmed, for example in the form of a CEO video – or, similarly complex as an advertising spot, it can also be staged and move entirely in categories other than filming. (Here are tips for shooting iPhone video).

What does documenting with video by filming mean for practice?
  • When producing a video, it is enough to have a technical command of the camera and to be able to take a picture with it. If the image is slightly out of focus, this reinforces the authenticity. If the sound can only be understood to a limited extent due to ambient noise, music superimposed on it can help.
  • Filming is not without risk: in documentary work, the viewer gets unplanned insights, possibly answers to questions he never wanted to ask in the first place.
  • The end justifies the means and the cost in documentation. Errors in content are therefore to be tolerated to a certain extent.
  • Often it is enough if the talent of the cameraman or the video journalist1 is not to disturb the process to be filmed.
  • Classic applications for filming in a professional setting are: Events, company occasions, interviews, testimonials or events that are to be recorded for customers, employees, the company archive and posterity.
  • Producing videos in the form of filming is not very cost-intensive and highly efficient.
  • Even if the result to be achieved cannot always be predicted: in a documentary, it is not necessarily shot into the sky with scrap metal in order to catch the pigeon. Filming can be a suitable way to produce a video, depending on the intention and objective.
  • Every cameraman and every video journalist who has an ounce of talent and a bit of brains and who can show more than half a year’s experience with filming will neither film nor film, but want to direct. Because it puts him higher up in the industry hierarchy, earns him more and allows him to implement more exciting tasks. This is not without risk when choosing a production partner.
  • The danger is therefore great that one faces a top-motivated beginner for a project in the category of filming when producing video. Or else a limitedly motivated, frustrated filmmaker whose skills weren’t enough to make it to the next level in their career.

Documentation can also be created with specific editorial content requirements. In the process, a targeted selection of what remains in the documentary video is used to orient the filmed reality towards predefined communication goals. The same is true when the narrative character and the camera’s point of view are specifically defined to evoke a certain effect in the viewer. In this case, the documentary moves to the border of filming.

Notes: 1 The term video journalist (usually abbreviated VJ) must be used as a term in the sense of the word for what a single person with a camera is supposed to do in a documentary. In reality, only a few people can be found on the free market under the job title VJ who actually have a journalistic education. Anyone who has worked as a cameraman or assistant on a TV production is therefore not automatically qualified for journalistic work and as a storyteller. Conversely, a qualified video journalist may be able to carry out simple assignments in the “filming” category to a certain extent.

2 Filming

Filming is the translation of reality into moving images. Filming is always done where video has to be used and a controlled effect has to be achieved at the same time. In contrast to documentation, filming does not focus solely on the depiction of real facts by means of a technical recording process. A typical application example for filming is reportage. She takes individual parts (scenes) and assembles them into a story with a clearly recognizable message.

  • Effective communication through targeted translation of the message into moving images.
  • Coordination with further / other communication measures easier to plan (as message less random than with docu).
  • The translation service is carried out as a selection of the content. This can be done when shooting on location (after prior inspection). Or in image editing in video editing.
  • To film a message adequately is only possible with a professional partner who brings experience, competence and talent.
  • with a film adaptation higher costs arise than the pure documentation.
  • requires a certain amount of preliminary coordination and cooperation on the part of the client (collaboration on the film concept, company visits to determine the later filming locations, etc.).

Filming in video production always means storytelling and dramaturgy. This requires craftsmanship, experience and talent. Conveying information and emotions is not for beginners. However, it requires less visionary power than the “staging” option, because in the film adaptation already existing worlds are cinematically optimized. More on terminology: What is a video.

What does filming mean in practice?
  • In the operation mode documentary it can often be observed that the camera work is reminiscent of the story of the man who has lost his wallet at night and is now desperately trying to find it in the light of the street lamp. Not because he lost the wallet under a streetlight, but because that’s the only place in the dark of night where he can see anything. For the filming option, it can’t be an option to just shoot what you happen to see, or get on camera for free. Creating content in a flash and uploading it to YouTube like an event video is not enough. In order to ensure the equivalence of effects2 to ensure the best possible results, specific selections must be made when filming.
  • When you say filming, you are also saying video editing: unlike filming, editing and the editor have not only an organizing or reducing role, but also a narrative-creative role. In this respect, staging and filming are the same.
  • Filming needs expertise, experience and talent. This is why this procedure is more cost-intensive than pure filming. In return, the resulting work is many times more effective. Because in this category statement desire, communication and moving image meet on an equal footing. Filming can be compared to rubber sandals from the supermarket. Cheap, unoriginal and interchangeable.
  • If you go for “filming”, you are buying a tailor-made shoe, so to speak. In doing so, he relies on custom-fit communication, originality, independence and unique selling propositions. This has its price, but is still cheaper than staging new worlds.
  • It should be remembered that a film that doesn’t work is always more expensive than a film that gets its message across unerringly. A “film adaptation” must meet high qualitative requirements in terms of content (article on this: recognising and optimising good storytelling with CSI rules).
  • If the means of video production and “filming” are not sufficient for cooperation with professionals, the best alternative to the creation of a film is … – not to produce a film.

Virtual reality films are a special case in filming. The staging is at a 360 image film, moves close to a production for the theater stage. At the same time, it makes the highest demands in terms of talent and budget.

Notes: 2 Impact equivalence is the transfer of impact from one form of communication to another, for example from text to film or from still images (storyboard) to moving images. It is valid for all three types, staging, documentary or filming.

3 Staging

The term staging is used for all cinematic works with fictional plot elements. Staging therefore differs from filming primarily in the creation and design of new worlds. In this category, an existing message is not only effectively translated into visual language, but a completely new world is created.

  • Highly attractive to viewers, watching staged films is usually more fun for the audience than a sober documentary or corporate report.
  • Emotionality is combined with information content in the video and thus creates an above-average recall value.
  • No coincidences: What takes place in front of the camera is planned and therefore 100% controllable for image and reputation.
  • No disturbing reality: Visions can be communicated detached from reality in cinematic form.
  • Staging an issue is cost-intensive to implement because a new “reality” has to be created and staged. Authors, directors and cameramen should be remunerated accordingly as experts.
  • Talent-driven: storytelling is a fine art that not everyone can master. Only upon completion of the film can the final determination be made as to whether the work meets the client’s expectations.
  • high expectation of the audience, TV and cinema productions are considered as a benchmark.

A motivational video can, for example, be shot as a documentary report about real employees of a company (filming). Alternatively, the same message can be realized when producing a video with actors and staging.

What does staging mean in practice?
  • When staging, archetypal situations can be specifically worked out and conveyed for the purpose of communication in front of the camera. In contrast to documenting or filming a message, when employees appearing in the video leave the company, in staging the video remains unaffected by personnel changes in the real world.
  • In staging, emotionality usually dominates over authenticity. The means of fiction are largely exhausted. Whether it’s the shooting, the subsequent image editing or the sound level: when it comes to staging, the entire concert of creative film design pays off in the desire to make a statement.
  • Specialized hardware and software go hand in hand in film production.
  • The production of fictional content is one step higher in terms of costs than the “filming” variant. Experience, talent and experience are both equally critical to success, as with the previous Filmmaking category.

From the viewer’s point of view, a production is usually not compared to other commissioned productions by competitors. The benchmark is rather professional productions from the world of TV, film and entertainment with high entertainment value. Specialized writers, actors and directors, who also understand both the world of the client and that of the feature film, have their price, just like an experienced editor or a commissioned composer for music.

Conclusion on documentation (filming), filming or staging

A decision alone does not make a film. That is why the client usually engages a specialized film agency, a film consultant or a production company with high competence . Which partner to choose is the second most important decision – right after the question of whether information and emotions are to be filmed in a corporate film, or whether they are to be transported effectively and sustainably with staging and a specially created story.

Three types of video production

  • There are only three ways to approach a project with moving image in a commissioned production. First, the documentation. Second, the film version. Third, the staging. This is true for all types of films and across all film genres. Whether feature film, image film or private cat video: It is always one of these categories that comes into play.
  • Documenting means filming. Filming means to selectively prepare real content in the service of a message. Staging stands for the creation of a new world with the means of film.
  • Quality, cost, time and talent required are congruent with these three categories. A pure documentation of a facts of life is the most favourable variant.

If you have chosen the right category and the right partner for your project, you will feel the same during the production, regardless of whether it is a documentary, a production or a film, as the viewer will feel later: everything seems to come together effortlessly and naturally to form more than the sum of the individual parts.

This article was automatically translated into English using AI. If you would like to help us improve the quality, we would be happy to hear from you.

Kristian Widmer
About Kristian Widmer 21 Articles
Kristian Widmer ist Mitglied der Schweizer Filmakademie. Der promovierte Jurist und Inhaber eines MBA der Universität St. Gallen HSG war langjähriger CEO der 1947 gegründeten und mit einem Academy Award™ ausgezeichneten Condor Films AG.

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