ARTS 644
Documentary Filmmaking

Lisa Molomot

Course Overview

This course is designed to give a basic understanding of how documentary films are made, providing technical training and practical experience in shooting and editing digital video.  Through a series of exercises and in-class critique sessions, students will learn how to compose shots, obtain proper exposure and white balance, record sound, and edit using the Final Cut Pro post-production platform.  Students will also develop a greater understanding of the form through lectures on the history of documentary film and on the issues facing documentary filmmakers today.

Course Goals

This course has three major goals, which are interrelated:   

A) To teach students the fundamentals of video camera technology and editing equipment. 
B) To teach the fundamentals of the documentary film form.
C) To develop students' critical and aesthetic sensibilities.

Methods of Instruction

A.  In-class lectures, demonstrations, and discussions
B.  Readings  

    a. Schroeppel, Tom. The Bare Bones Camera Course for Film and Video. (Second Edition, Revised)
Self-published, 1982
    b. Rabiger, Michael. Directing the Documentary. Third Edition. Focal Press, 1997.
  2. Handouts  

C.   Four exercises (to be completed outside of class)
D.   In-class screenings

Evaluative Criteria

A.  Production Exercises  (80%)
These are graded on technical competence, originality, and aesthetic maturity.  The grade also reflects the level of effort and commitment exhibited by the student.

NOTE:  All exercises must be completed to receive a passing grade for the class. 

B.   Class participation (20%)
This grade reflects the level of engagement the student has shown in class discussions and critiques.

Course Expectations

Attendance and Punctuality.  Class attendance and punctuality are of critical importance.  Because each exercise builds on the last, it is especially important to be present at all class sessions. 

Course Schedule
Class 1

Class topics:
• Review syllabus and discuss equipment needs
• Introduction to the history of documentary film
• The process of making a documentary 

Read Rabiger Chapter 1 (Introduction) 
Read Schroeppel Chapters 2 (Composition) , 3 (The Basic Sequence), 6 (The Montage)

Class 2

Class topics:
• Modes of Documentary
• Composition
• Continuity and Montage 

Read Schroeppel pp. 1-8, 12-20 (Camera) & Chapter 5 (Camera Moves)
Rabinger read chapter 30-Ethics
Exercise #1--Composition

Class 3

Class Topics:
• Exercise #1 due
• Ethics and Objectivity
• Camera: exposure and white balance 

Read Rabinger Chapter 14 (Interviewing)
Exercise #2—Exposure & Camera Moves

Class 4

Class Topics:
• Go over Exercise #1
• Exercise #2 due
• Audio recording
• Interviewing  

Weekend Assignment:
Exercise #3--Document a process 

Class 5

Class Topics:
• Watch & Review Exercise #2
• Exercise # 3 raw footage due
• Introduction to Final Cut Pro  

• Finish digitizing  material
• Write final project proposal

Class 6

Class Topics:
• Final Project proposal due
• Final Cut Pro lab time for students-edit exercise #3  

• Finish editing Exercise #3

Class 7

Class Topics:
• Exercise #3 final edit due
• Consultations re: final projects  

• Make plans for final project shoot

Class 8

Class Topics:
• Review Exercise #3

• Shoot final project

Class 9

Class Topics:
• Editing documentaries  

• Begin editing final project

Class 10

Class Topic:
• Hands-on tutoring  

• Complete Rough Cut of final project

Class 11

Class Topic:
• Watch and critique rough cuts  

• Complete final edit of final project

Class 12

Class Topics:
•Final projects due
• Show and discuss Compañeras
• Wrap-up

Description of Exercises

Exercise #1 - (Composition exercise, 10% of grade)
Students will use 35mm or digital cameras and shoot one 24-exp. roll of film.  The subjects of the shots are up to each individual student, but the roll should contain pictures that demonstrate knowledge of basic compositional rules (such as the rule of thirds and compositional balance), as discussed in class.  All shots should be exteriors.  On the exposed roll, there should be at least one picture demonstrating each of the following concepts: 

--Leading lines
--Frame within a frame
--"Look Space"
--Flat vs. angled representation of an object (2 pictures)
--Wide shot, Medium shot, Close-up of a person (3 pictures)

Exercise #2 - (Exposure & Camera Moves exercise, 10% of grade)
Students will determine proper exposure of exterior subjects and shoot 10 different compositions.  At least three of these compositions should be of people, demonstrating a Wide Shot, Medium Shot, and Close Up.  For the remainder, use your knowledge of composition to frame interesting shots that document an outdoor environment, either with or without people.  Also demonstrate a pan, a tilt, and a zoom, remembering to start and end on a well composed shot.  Use the tripod--no handheld shots.

Exercise #3 - (Interview, B-Roll and Editing exercise, 20% of grade)
Conduct an interview on video with someone about their work or a hobby such as gardening.  Be careful to vary your shot sizes so that you have both medium and close-up shots.  Use a tripod and take care to choose an environment that allows for good sound.  The interview should be at least 15 minutes long; try to probe your subject to reveal aspects of their job that are not obvious.

Next, follow your subject through their activities and gather material of them engaged in their work. You may wish to interview them through part of this, but also take care to gather non-sync B-Roll material that can be used in your final edit. 

Working on Final Cut Pro, each student will make their own edit of the resulting material.

Exercise #4 - (Final Project)
Each student will shoot and edit his or her own documentary (not to exceed 10 minutes) as a final project.  The topic is up to the individual student, but the finished work should contain both interview and verité material, and a proposal will be submitted in advance.

Students will bring the rough cut versions of their projects to class for group critique.  The final versions will be due the final day of class.