Why There Are Always Only Three Ways to Make a Film or a Video!

Each customer only has to make one decision out of three possible options when producing a film or video to order. One. Not anymore. No less. This decisive question in video production is: Do I want to document, to film or to stage? Documenting, filming or staging are the only choices you have.

documentation filming sceneries
Documentation, filming or staging: one of these three types of film and video is essential | © Pixabay

Malicious tongues claim that video producers solve problems that you wouldn’t have without them. Of course it’s wrong. It is true, however, that when talking to self-appointed experts, the client can quickly get the feeling that producing video is a “Rocket Science”. It’s not. Filming, filming or staging is enough.

You have to know that

  • There are only three ways to approach a project with moving images. First, the documentation. Secondly, the filming. Third, the staging. This applies to all types of films and across all film genres. Whether feature film, image film or private cat video: it is always one of these three categories that is used.
  • Documenting means filming. Filming means to put something into the picture. Staging is the creation of a new world with the means of film.
  • Quality, cost, time and talent are congruent with these three categories. A pure documentation of a life situation is the most favourable variant.

Documenting, Filming or Staging?

The customer must decide for one of these three types. Everything else follows from this. Also the question, what does an image film cost?

Therefore, the decision as to which of these three options is the right one for your own film project must be the main focus. Also for creating image films. The decision must also have priority because it is absolutely crucial for the client to choose the right agency or production partner for video production.

DocumentationRecording of already given, real processes by a camera. Mostly realized by 1 person (cameraman/VJ) in documentary style.
FilmingTranslation of meaningful messages into moving images through targeted mapping and selection of reality. Targeted transport of emotions and information with moving images
StagingRealisation takes place as a fictional story in a world that is newly created to illustrate the core statement. High entertainment value.

Each of the three ways in which 2 can be implemented has its right to exist. None is better or worse. Each species, also documenting, has its advantages and disadvantages.

1 Documentation

Documenting means: Switch on the camera, record what happens on site and cut together. Done. Producing videos has never been easier or faster. In this approach, storytelling and communication arise where they take place and when they take place, if they take place. So more or less randomly. This distinguishes filming from documentation.

The documentation also depicts reality, but from an editorial and content perspective, e.g. in an video interview. Documenting therefore is not, as is often assumed, belong in the category of filming. They are part of the category of filming mentioned below. The author of a documentary (whether for moving images or photos) chooses the narrative figure and the camera’s angle of vision consciously and purposefully.

For a documentation, it is sufficient to have a technical command of the camera and to be able to take a picture. If the image is out of focus, authenticity is enhanced. If the sound is only understandable to a limited extent due to ambient noise, music placed over it helps. This does not necessarily sound like being in a supermarket or in the elevator of an American business hotel.

Documeting is not without risk: the viewer may get answers to questions he never wanted to ask. The purpose justifies the means and the costs in the documentation. Content errors are therefore to be tolerated to a certain extent.

Often it is quite sufficient if the talent of the cameraman or video journalist 1 is not to disturb the process being filmed. Classic applications for professional filming are events, company events, interviews, testimonials or events that are to be recorded for customers, employees, the company archive and posterity.

Producing videos in the form of documeting is low cost and highly efficient. And even if the result to be achieved cannot always be predicted: when filming, it is not mandatory and always with scrap metal to shoot into the blue sky to catch the dove. Depending on the task and objective, filming can be a quite acceptable way. Provided the right person can be found.

Producing video by documenting is not primarily about talent. But that’s where the dog is buried. Every cameraman and every video journalist who has just a little bit of talent and a little bit of brains and who has more than half a year’s experience in filming will not want to film or make a film, but rather to direct. Because it puts him higher up in the hierarchy of the industry, he earns more and can carry out more exciting tasks.

Documentinglow-pricedUnique selling propositions rarely recognisable
Effect occurs more randomly than planned

The danger is therefore great that for a project in the category of documeting in video production you are faced with a highly motivated but bloody beginner. Or a limitedly motivated, frustrated filmmaker whose skills were not sufficient to make it to the next level of his career.

A special form of documentation is the testimonial. Depending on its design, for example in the form of a CEO video, it can actually be filmed – or it can be staged in a similarly complex way to an advertising spot, and can be completely different from filming. (Here are some tips for for what you need to know to shoot a video.)


Filming is the translation of an existing starting position (that would show using the method of documenting) into the moving image. This starting point can be a general wish for a statement. Or an existing text, for example for an employee film about the correct application of a code of conduct. A person (CEO testimonials) or an object can also be the focus, for example a production line in the manufacturing industry. Employees play themselves, the CEO anyway.

Filming always takes place where a controlled effect is to be achieved with the moving image. In contrast to filming, the focus of filming is not only the representation of a real situation by a technical recording method.

In video production, filming always means storytelling and dramaturgy. This requires craft, experience and talent. Transporting information and emotions is not for beginners, but it requires less vision than the “Staging” option, because here, cinematic optimization is performed on existing worlds. For the differentiation of the designations see: What is a video.

When filming, it can often be observed that the camera work reminds one of the story of the man who lost his wallet at night and is now desperately trying to find it in the light of the street lamp. Not because he lost his wallet under a street lamp, but because it is the only place in the darkness of the night where he can see anything.

For the Filming option, it can be no option to shoot only what you happen to see at the moment, or to have it in front of the camera for free. Creating content and uploading it to YouTube is not enough for this option. In order to guarantee the effect equivalence3, specific selections must be made when filming.

Anyone who says filming always says montage in this variant: unlike filming, cutting and editing here not only have an ordering or reducing role, but also a narrative and creative one. In this respect, staging and filming are the same.

Filming requires expertise, experience and talent. This is why this procedure is more cost-intensive than simply filming. In return, the resulting work is many times more effective. Because in this category, the desire to make a statement, communication and moving image meet at the same eye level. Filming can be compared with rubber sandals from the supermarket. Cheap, not very original and interchangeable.

Those who rely on “filming” buy a tailor-made shoe, so to speak. He thus focuses on precisely tailored communication, originality, independence and unique selling points. This has its price, but is still cheaper than staging new worlds.

FilmingHighly effective communication through targeted translation of the desired message into moving imagesOnly possible with a professional partner who brings experience, competence and talent

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 quality requirements in terms of content (article on this topic: good storytelling using the CSI-principle.

If the means of video production and “filming” are not sufficient for cooperation with professionals, the best alternative for making a film is … – not to produce a film.

A special case is the category 360 degrees. In virtual reality, as in all 360° productions, the production is close to a production for the theatre stage. At the same time, it makes the highest demands in terms of talent and budget.

3 Staging

The term staging is not used in this article to refer to cinema films or TV movies. But 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 statement is not only effectively translated into visual language, but completely new ones are created.

A motivation video can, for example, be shot as a documentary report about real employees of a company (filming). Alternatively, the same statement can be realized in the video production with actors and staging.

Unlike with laymen in front of the camera, archetypal situations can be worked out and conveyed in a very specific way for the purpose of communication in front of the camera. In contrast to a filmed documentary, when a key employee leaves the company, in “feature filming” the work remains unaffected by personnel changes in the real world.

As a rule, emotionality dominates over authenticity in staging. This is where the means of fiction come into play. Whether filming, the subsequent image editing or the sound level: the entire concert of creative film design plays a part in the production.

Specialized hardware and software go hand in hand. It is not without reason that this category performs best on YouTube in terms of number of hits and duration.

The staging of fictional content is one level higher in terms of costs than the “filming” variant. Experience, talent and expertise are, as in the previous category of filming, both equally decisive for success.

Feature filmsHighly attractive for spectators
intense emotionality
talent driven

From the viewpoint of the viewer, it is not other films from competitors that are a benchmark for staging, but rather professional productions from the world of TV, film and entertainment with high entertainment value. Writers, actors and directors who specialise in this field and who also understand the world of the client as well as that of the feature film have their price, just like an experienced editor or a commissioned composer for music.

Conclusion on documentation (documenting), filming or staging

One decision alone does not make a film. For this reason, the client usually engages a specialized film agency, a film consultant or a production company with a high competence . Which partner, that is the second most important decision, right after the question of whether information and emotions should be filmed, filmed or staged and a specially created story should be transported effectively and lastingly.

Testimonials are usually located at the interface between documenting and filming. This makes their implementation demanding and often dangerous. Managing expectations is particularly important in this category.

Once you have chosen the right category and the right partner for your project, you will feel the same during the production as you will later do for the viewer: everything seems to fit together effortlessly and naturally to form more than the sum of the individual parts. And that’s right. Today, process quality and result quality go hand in hand in professional film and video production.

The reward for all those involved is a work whose radiance and elegance will not even give spectators and clients the idea that the creation and production achieved was highly demanding due to complex communication requirements. Producing videos is, if approached correctly, not witchcraft.

Additional remarks

  • 1 The term video journalist (abbreviated mostly VJ) must be a term in the sense of the word for what a single person with a camera is supposed to do. In reality, there are only a few people on the free market under the professional title VJ who actually have a journalistic education and truly understand the potential of documenting. Anyone who has worked as a cameraman or assistant cameraman on a TV production does not therefore automatically qualify as a journalist or storyteller. A qualified video journalist, on the other hand, may well be able to carry out simple assignments in the category “filming” to a certain extent.
  • 2 Photos can also be catalogued using the same method from the client’s point of view.
  • 3 Effect equivalence is the transfer of effect from one form of communication to another, for example from text to film or from still images (storyboard) to moving images.

More on the subject of filming, staging or documenting

On the question of what costs films: see also the article on Reverse Budgeting as an alternative to the Former Budgeting process.

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.

About Kristian Widmer 17 Articles
Kristian Widmer is a member of the Swiss Film Academy. The holder of a master in law and an MBA from the University of St. Gallen HSG was for many years CEO of Condor Films AG, founded in 1947 and winner of an Academy Award™.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.