Doing Collaborative Video

What is Collaborative Video?

Collaborative video refers to the process of producing video documentaries with communities. Video documentaries are informational, researched films that generally include interviews and footage of people in their everyday lives. Documentaries often serve a political purpose with the goal of revealing truths to the public. Presenting content such as statistical evidence and evocative video clips, documentaries use factual, real-life scenarios to shed light on sensitive or controversial subject matter.

Why use Collaborative Video to Educate about HIV & AIDS?

By introducing the public to issues they may have never experienced firsthand, video documentaries are a powerful tool for HIV and AIDS awareness. By involving communities in making their own documentaries they become engaged in thinking through the issues of representation and on getting their messages out to audiences.

Documentary Genres

There are no absolute genres one must follow when making a documentary. Each of the following genres would be appropriate for HIV and AIDS education, as everything from history to technology is affected by HIV/AIDS. Choosing one main angle from which to develop a story, while using the other genres as supporting angles, may help to give clarity and precision to the film. Some popular genres include:

    ✓ Historical
    ✓ Biographical
    ✓ Political
    ✓ Socio/Ethnographical
    ✓ Scientific/Technological


    ✓ Video documentaries are a compelling tool for educating and learning
    ✓ Allows for facts and information to be dispersed in an innovative manner
    ✓ Gives both a voice and a face to those affected by HIV and AIDS
    ✓ Broadcasting videos online has become very easy, and also permits for high levels of viewer access
    ✓ Over the past few years, documentaries have become increasingly popular among young audiences, drawing them in by exposing societal conflicts
    ✓ Engaging communities in making their own documentaries puts them in a position of agency
    ✓ Provides technical skills to facilitate future creations of collaborative film
    ✓ Easy to present/distribute (can be shown in indoor or outdoor public ares, a classroom, a special interest group, etc.)
    ✓ Can create a powerful collective response


    x Production process required to develop a documentary can be time-consuming
    x Access to necessary equipment for filming and editing may be difficult and expensive to obtain
    x Access to outside expertise on the film-making process can be sometimes difficult to obtain
    x The unique thoughts of an individual may be overshadowed by the collective
    x Can require follow-up to clarify the message or else has the potential to do more damage than good.

How to use Collaborative Video for HIV and AIDS Education

Before getting started, consider what you need to create a collaborative video. With advances in video technology, films can be created using hand-held digital devices. What you use will depend on our budget and the calibre of film you are trying to create. In general the following basic equipment will be needed:

  • Video Camera
  • Storyboards
  • Tripod
  • Editing Equipment (i.e., computer with editing software)
  • Training
  • Technical Expertise

Typically, collaborative video workshops take place in schools or with community groups. Participants are divided up into small groups and receive training from an expert on topics such as creating storyboards, video camera operation, and video editing equipment. Experts may also help facilitate movement through the steps of production starting from the initial concept through to storyboarding, planning shots, shooting, and initial screening. How the group moves from step to step will largely be determined by the materials at hand. For example, if editing software is available shots can be edited after shooting in the initial screening. However, if editing software is not readily available a No Editing Required (NER) approach might be better. In this second case, shots are left as they are. If participants are unhappy with the shot, the entire ting can be redone, but no post-shot editing is done at all.

Before Getting Started: Conceptualization and Planning

Video documentaries, although often seen as candid portrayals of the public realm, involve much planning before the production may even begin to take form. The first steps to be taken when developing a documentary comprise of mapping out the structure of the film. Through research, budget strategies, collection of equipment, resource gathering, and storyline development, the skeleton of the project can be shaped.


Thorough research must be done concerning the subject matter that will be addressed in the work. It is absolutely necessary to be knowledgeable about the issues that will be expressed, for the information expressed in an HIV and AIDS awareness project must be factual and reliable.

Places to look for research material are:

  • Libraries
  • Hospitals/Clinics
  • Internet websites (information found should be verified by a second source)
  • Universities and Colleges

It is also a good idea to study existing documentaries. By examining successful and unsuccessful traits of the videos, one can learn suitable styles and quality features.


There will likely be some costly affairs to consider when developing a documentary. If equipment cannot be borrowed, then rental or purchasing expenses will require a budget. Permission to film in specific locations, or to use existing footage, may also require official permits. Tools for editing the recordings are another expense that must be taken into account. If the budget is narrow, or non-existent, there are creative ways to work around it:

  • Apply for government grants that would be fitting for the particular project
  • Look into large businesses that may be interested in providing funding for the film
  • Many universities allow students to borrow equipment and use editing tools for little or no cost
  • Choose locations to film in which permits will not be required, such as friend's and family's houses, etc.

*REMEMBER* A low budget does not have to mean a low quality production! Be resourceful and trust that a little innovation will do the job.


Understanding how to use the equipment at hand is more important than having the newest and most advanced tools. Camera equipment stores can give a run through on how to maximize the use of various devices. Knowing how to make the best of available materials, such as filming during the day to avoid hassles with lighting, or laying down carpets in empty rooms to drown out echoes, will help make the final product into a quality piece of work. At the bare minimum, a video camera and tripod are required for filming a documentary.

Gathering Sources

Putting together a list of resources that will be included in the film will add substance. When gathering sources, one must think of the message that one wishes to communicate through the documentary. How will this message be made clear? What sort of information should be discussed? Who should be encouraged to tell their story in the film? What type of music soundtrack would help to add emotion? Is there pre-existing footage that would be beneficial to include? The sources gathered for the documentary make up the muscle of the film; they will keep the movie rolling.

Developing a Storyline

As with any movie, an organized storyline is crucial while creating the film's base. It must be decided what will be recorded, when the recording will take place, and where it will be done. Although documentaries are thought of as depictions of real-life events, structuring the film to give it a beginning, middle, and end will help the viewers to follow the action without feeling lost.

    Intro How will the documentary start? What will capture the audience's attention and lead them in?
    Body In what order will issues and information be presented? What will be the core of the movie?
    Conclusion What final message will the film leave with the audience?

During the Production: Filming the Action

If the proper planning has been done, the actual filming of the documentary should be fairly easy. Staying tuned to the logistics of video recording will help to ensure a winning final product. For example, if filming is to take place outdoors, attention should be paid to the weather. For indoor filming, lighting must be taken care of so as to get the crispest images possible.

  • Know the equipment: Have the person from whom the equipment was purchased or borrowed run through the workings of the camera, lighting, etc... Understanding how the gears function is key!
  • Learn techniques: The best way to learn is by practicing, so tricks and techniques can be picked up along the way. Keep in mind that books and websites make handy resources when learning something for the first time.
  • Organize ahead of time: Know what will be filmed and when, so that a timeline can be followed and production can be efficient.
  • Improvise: If something doesn't go according to plan, feel free to improvise. Plans are great for direction , but nothing need be set in stone.

The Editing Process

The editing process is extremely important for cleaning up and polishing the end product. Things to focus on while editing include:

  • Sound: is the dialogue clear? Are the background noises obstructive?
  • Picture: has the camera been in focus? Is the picture steady?
  • Scene sequence; will the order of the scenes make sense to the viewers?

Changes to the video can be made by cutting and splicing (sticking together) the film, or through the use of digital editing tools. It is wise to edit the movie throughout the filming process, so that any changes that need to be made can be done along the way.

Adaptations to the Editing Process (N-E-R No Editing Required): Making a Video in a Day!

The N-E-R Process was developed as a way to engage local producers in the process without necessarily having to have access to costly editing equipment. It is ideal for community groups to learn the process of making a video and of having something produced by the end of one day.

Step 1 - Getting Started
Here participants are introduced to video making generally and something about the genres of video making.

Step 2 - Brainstorming
Here participants come together in small groups to brainstorm key issues around the target topic (e.g., challenges and solutions in addressing HIV/AIDS; 'Issues in my life,' etc.)

As part of the brainstorming process someone should write down all the issues and topics on chart paper. Then each person should vote on his or her top three topics. This can be done by putting a coloured dot or check mark on the char paper beside the key issue. After the whole group has voted, it should be clear which is the most important topic.

Step 3 - Learning about the camera
Each member of the small group should get to handle the camera and to get an idea on how to start and stop, zoom, etc. If the group has access to tripods then people should get the chance to set those up as well.

Step 4 - Planning and story boarding
In this phase of the project the group should work with a story board sheet where they plan out the title, the credits, and 7 or 8 shots that tell a story. At this point the group should decide on who is going to do the filming and what roles people are going to take.

Step 5 - The Shoot
The group shoot begins. In the N-E-R approach, the person operating the camera will simply stop the camera at the end of each shot. There is no going back. If there is a need to do something over again, the shooting must begin again. However, since the documentaries will be very short this is not a problem.

Step 6 - Playing back
It is critical that the whole group gets to view all the videos that have been produced in smaller groups. It is necessary to have an LCD projector to do this.

Each small group should say a little bit about the work that they have produced and what they were trying to achieve.

Step 7 - The reflective process: how did we do?

In the final stage it is critical that the group gets to reflect on the process:

  • What did we learn?
  • What do we like best about each video?
  • What would we do differently if we could do it over again?
  • Who is the audience?
  • How would we like to use this video?

A typical Making-A-Video-In-A-Day (N-E-R) Workshop

Part I: WHOLE GROUP (30 minutes)

    1. Group introductions
    2. Icebreaker
    3. Why are we here? Overview of the day.
    4. What are the things that affect your life everyday? What matters to you? What are your challenges? What are the issues to be addressed in your school and community? What inspires you?

Theme?? : Brief information session

Part II: SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION: "In My Life (30 minutes)

    1. What are the things that affect your life everyday? Break into small groups and spend 15-20 minutes brainstorming as long a list as you can of issues that you feel are important in your life.
    2. Once your list has been made, place a coloured 'sticky' on your top five choices. Pick the things that you personally fell are the most important to you.

BREAK (10-15 minutes)

Now, take a look at your list. There should be three of four topics which have the most 'stickies.' These topics are your group's first choices. Your next step will be to decide if the group would like to make a video with all the topics included, one topic, or a combination of your top choices.

Part III: WHOLE GROUP PRESENTATION: Video Making (30 Minutes)

At this stage we will talk a little bit about:

  • The cameras and tripods

  • Storyboards

  • "In-Camera" editing

  • Shot Length (10-30 seconds or one shot)

  • Final Length should be 2-3 minutes

  • Permissions for documentaries

  • Trying out the tripods and video cameras

Part IV: IN THE SMALL GROUP: Ideas for your video (60 minutes)

1. In your group, think about how you would like to visually represent the topic or issue that you decided on in Part 2. It could be set up in many different ways:

An interview or series of 2 or 3 interviews

A fictional play or drama with actors

A poetic piece

...really anything you can imagine!

2. In your group you will have to decide who will be the camera person (it could be more than one person), and who will be the actors. You can of course switch around these roles as you go. Some possible roles:

  • Camera person
  • Production Assistant (to take care of setting up and taking down tripod)
  • Assistant Director (Making sure actors are reading, keeping time)
  • Actors/Interviewer/Performer
  • Acting Coach

3. Storyboard: Once you have some idea of how you will approach the subject, start drawing it out step by step on the storyboard (paper will be provided). Remember to think about shot length, camera framing, and scripted lines (if you have any).

4. Try to think of a title (if you can) before you start shooting and write the title on a piece of chart paper which you can film first. Also write down the credits on a sheet of paper, and film this at the end.

Part V: SHOOTING! (60 minutes)

1. Once your storyboard is done it is time to SHOOT!

If you mess up at any stage in filming, don't worry, you can try again, but it means you will have to start all over again from Shot One. It is advisable that you can practice each shot (one by one) before you shoot it to ensure adequate length of shot, audibility, and visibility of actors, and so on.

Part VI: THE WHOLE GROUP (30-45 minutes)

1. Each group will have a chance to talk about their video and show their video to everyone.

Discussion and final reflections

An extremely important aspect of collaborative video is post video discussion. Much like forum theatre, it is necessary to engage the audience, answer their questions, get their feedback, and help guide the message they are left with. In addition, discussion provides valuable information about how HIV and AIDS issues are interpreted depending on age, gender, etc. It is usually helpful to include three layers of analysis: One, of the film itself; One, of the viewers' responses; And one, on the thoughts of the film makers, actors, producers, and editors.


Here is an example of possible storyboard slides created by a group of experts in the field:

to be continued...