How to Make a Short Documentary on a Subject You Really Care About

How to Make a Short Documentary on a Subject You Really Care About

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FILMMAKER: Rebecca Graham

STORY: How to Make a Short Documentary on a Subject You Really Care About

So what a lot of people don’t know about me is that I used to be a care worker and teaching assistant for a number of years. Then one day I picked up a camera and fell in love. Gave up life as a care worker, went back to school to study Contemporary Media Practice at The University of Westminster, and well here I am now. 

I’ve made a number of short films and web series. Some have gone on to be screened and picked up some awards too.

Tip: Never be afraid to chase after your dreams!

Pride, Pole & Prejudice is a ten minute documentary that examines the growing trend of pole dancing in London, as a form of fitness, by speaking to the students and teachers who practice this art form.

Wait... Pole Dancing?

It's no secret that pole dancing carries the stigma that it's something only strippers do, and so many are surprised that this growing sport has been fighting for a number of years to enter the Olympics as a recognized sport. Yes, pole dancing can be sexy, but its also so much more and this is what Pride, Pole & Prejudice aimed to showcase.

The question always comes up:

Why make a documentary about pole dancing? 

The answer is because I do pole dancing. I’ve done it for 2 years now as a form of fitness and from a personal experience, this form of exercise has been the toughest, most demanding and yet enjoyable and sociable sport I’ve ever done.

How was Pride, Pole & Prejudice made?

Well firstly, I’d like to say this was my first documentary. 

I’ve made short films and web series in the past but this was my first factual piece of filmmaking. If you have a passion for the topic you are going to be researching, that is a big bonus

As I’m a pole dancer, I used a lot of first hand knowledge and the experience from my pole tutor and pole friends to get a better understanding of the pole world and community.

Next, I had to find second hand knowledge from the polers I didn’t know. I wanted to gather as many stories and as much information as possible. 

Tip: Make something you are passionate about. Its the only way to ensure you will stick it out until the very end.

During pre-production I basically became a journalist, scouring every source and link to pole dancing in books, articles and the internet. Myself and the DOP put together a survey to collect information from other polers and unleashed it on the internet. Tweeting every poler and dance school we could find as well as posting it in pole community Facebook groups.

Tip: Ask permission from the owner of the Facebook group. Be honest about what information you want to gather and why. Then only post once but allow people to share it and reply to comments and questions.

I was aiming for 100 responses. After we closed the survey we had gathered over 650 responses! 

Most importantly I’d provided an option to include their email address if they’d like to be involved in the production. Over 300 email addresses were collected.


During the production stage I was the director, producer and presenter. There was team of 3 others as well as assistants dropping in and out when available. 

It was my first time presenting, however because I knew the subject and I was passionate about telling another side of pole dancing, I felt I was the best fit to do the presenting. Many polers were also equally as passionate as myself and so they travelled from all over the UK to appear in the documentary. I was quite blown away.

Pride, Pole & Prejudice was shot in several different locations. The main one was the London Dance Academy, the dance school that I personally go to. This is a studio that is continually hired out by the BBC and ITV. 

I often spot it on television, however I never paid anything to use it. Why? Because I offered something that the others didn’t. Free advertising!

Tip: Advertising costs a lot. So if you say you will put their logo in your film or name drop continuously, it will normally be good enough to exchange that for free use of the location.

We used the London Dance Academy mostly early in the morning when there were no bookings. We were on strict deadlines, sometimes only having 2 hour slots but we scheduled ourselves accordingly and never ran over the time allocated and therefore never disrupted business.

Another location we shot in was the television studio at my University. I wanted to show specific pole moves as well as a dance routine and on the backdrop of a graffiti design would be perfect. So I found a very talented illustration student and we got him to tag 3 huge flats over a period of a week. We then put the flats together, hired a stage pole and filmed several routines that would intercut and overlay dialogue in the final documentary.

Post Production

Post-production is just what you need to do to get to your final product. I edited and the DOP colour-graded.

I’m a fan of Trip-hop and I found one song by a particular artist online. It was copyrighted and there was no option to buy it. We all know stealing is wrong

So we done the unthinkable! We searched the internet to find out who the song belonged to and finally found their email address. 

Turns out he was French and so was our DOP. Great! We emailed him (in French of course) and asked if we could use the song. After a couple email exchanges and telling him what our project was about. He was intrigued and said we could use the song for free and it can be shown anywhere except television as he didn’t have the copyright for television broadcast (it was a remix of an older song). 

I also took the decision to not activate adverts once it was uploaded to Youtube. It was more important for it to be viewable instead of running the risk that the audio might be blocked.

Tip: There is nothing wrong in simply asking for permission. Secondly keep all the email exchanges, this is what we use to prove we have permission to use the song during any copyright issues.

So what’s happened with Pride, Pole & Prejudice since its completion?

Well it's currently still running the festival circuit. It has taken one award so far, when I pitched it at an event run by Sheffield Doc Fest and Creative Skillset. It has been screened Regent Street Cinema in June 2015, at the Santa Fe Film Festival, USA back in December 2015 and its being screened at the British European Talent Screening event, which is part of Berlinale, Germany in February 2016. It was also a finalist at the IDFA Documentary Film Festival in 2015.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed making Pride, Pole & Prejudice and can’t wait to start the next project!

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