Elements of a factual film

by Tom Barrance | 10 August, 2016

Here’s a quick edit of the beginning of a factual film. It shows some of the techniques you can use to tell your story. It was shot on an iPhone 6S. I edited it on a Mac using Final Cut Pro X, though you could use these techniques with iMovie for iPhone or iPad.

First you see the full 35 second sequence, then a version with captions explaining the elements and techniques I used.

I started with an extreme long shot to set the scene, before cutting to a closer shot.

Hearing the presenter before you see him adds an element of anticipation. But once you do see him, an on-screen credit is important to explain who he is and why he’s in the film.

Presentation to camera

The presentation to camera was actually an interview: I asked questions to prompt the answers, and then edited out the questions. Unless they are extremely experienced, most people will find this much easier than trying to remember a full presentation. I used two different camera angles to add interest.


Cutaways are really useful in factual films. In this example, they illustrate what presenter Nigel is talking about. They also let you edit presentations and interviews without getting visible jumps. I edited out a lot of short pauses from the interviews, but these edits are all hidden by the cutaways.

Stills and the Ken Burns effect

Using the Ken Burns effect lets you zoom in and apply sideways or vertical movement to still images. They add life to archive stills. They can also make still images look like video: the first two cutaways of the Venetian building are both based on stills. This is a useful technique, as iPhone stills are higher resolution than video, and it’s hard to get smooth pans or tilts with a handheld device.

Using stills as cutaways in iMovie

For some reason you can’t use stills as cutaways in the iOS version. There’s a simple way around this:

  • Create a new movie, put your still in the movie and add the Ken Burns effect.
  • Then export your project as a full quality movie.
  • The new movie will now appear in your Videos so you can use it as a cutaway.

Slow motion

The iPhone’s slow-motion effect lets you make ordinary scenes look more interesting. It also makes handheld video look much smoother.

The first slow-motion shot at the end was shot using an Olloclip wide angle lens, as camera shake is less obvious with wide lenses.

How to make a film with your iPhone or iPad

iPhone and iPad film training in the UK