Documentary Course

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Code Completion Credits Range Language Instruction Semester
311DCO Z 2 2T English winter

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Name of lecturer(s)

Learning outcomes of the course unit

Students will learn the process of documentary filmmaking from development to final cut, as it works in the professional practice. They will also find out what are the basic options of approaching a theme in terms of film language, personal involvement, and dealing with the questionable issues of objectivity.

Mode of study

screening/ practical workshop

Prerequisites and co-requisites


Course contents

As a tool of orientation in documetary genres, we will use the famous Bill Nichols' system (from his book Introduction to Documentary, 1991) of dividing films into six modes: poetic, expository, participatory, observational, reflexive, and performative.

Apart from screenings excerpts of famous documentaries and providing an orientation within the mixes of genres, the course will be based on making two short studies and two simple short films with the purpose of exercising the process of developing documentary film from scratch to the result, in the way that is required in the professional world everywhere.

Weekly schedule:

1/ Watching and analysing examples of one of the basic documentary modes: explanatory. We will start working on practical exercise with finding a subject for a very short film that is based on an interview and photographs (Suggested subject: The story of my roomate/friend). We will address camera, editing, sound styles and interview techniques, and last but not least, storytelling tactics.

Task: Students will shoot the exercise and edit it. (The subject will be doable within hours, lenght 1-3 min)

2/ Screening the results, feedback. Watching examples of poetic mode. Finding a subject for a short exercise: portrait without words, of a person, a place. Visual storytelling, contrast versus analogy. (Suggested subject: The stranger/The strange thing next to me)

Task: Students will shoot the exercise and edit it. (The subject will be doable in one day maximum lenght 1-3 min)

3/ Screening the results, feedback. Watching examples of observatory mode. Finding a subject for a more substantial film exercise (4-6min). The question of access, motifs, locations, characters will be addressed.

Task: Students will be asked to do research and choose a subject doable in Prague, within a short period of time. ( Suggested subject: Something to discover/An issue)

4/ Students will pitch their ideas and get feedback. Follows further development using the tools that had been introduced. Watching and analysis of related films.

Task: Students will be asked to write a logline and one page synopsis.

3/ Students will get feedback and work further on , list of actions, questions, shots list. We will discuss camera, editing, sound styles and interview techniques, the use of a voice over.

Task: Students will shoot and make a rough cut.

4/We will watch rough cuts of individual projects, students will get feedback. We will watch related examples and discuss possible solutions.

Task: Students then will finish their films with music/creative sound.

5/Screening of final cuts. Watching and analyzing examples of participatory mode.

Task: Finding a doable subject that is personal to the each individual student. (Suggested subject: none. Get wild!)

6/Pitching ideas and feedback. Further development, defining themes and motifs. Watching and analyzing examples of reflexive mode.

Task: Students will be asked to write a logline and one page synopsis for the next project (of the lenght cca 5-8min)

7/ Feedback and development. Watching and analyzing examples of performative mode.

Task: Students will write a treatment.

8/ Feedback and further development. Precise plan, storyboarding and writing a list of questions (if applicable), list of scenes, moodboard, presentation in five slides, a rough script.

Task: shooting and possible rough cuts

9/ Discussing the results with possible outcomes. (Since never ever things go as planned). Theme of creative voice over, examples. How the sound changes the image. How to improvise, change a perspective, learning the flexibility with one goal: finding the message.

Task: Students work on rough cuts.

10/ Screening of rough cuts, versions of edit. Practical examples. Discussing the results. The problem of structure, linear versus non linear, rethinking the point of view. Planning additional shooting, ADR, working with ideas in postproduction. Once again: what is the message and how can I convey it, no matter my original mistakes.

Task: Students will finish their films with music/creative sound.

11/ Screening of final cuts. An important example of the advantages and disadvantages of filming the same theme as fiction or as a documentary: how the emotions work?

12/ Watching favoured examples of the students (from their most favoured films), analysis of how these work and why, addressing issues of the further projects of students, who now should be able to work in various modes od storytelling and work professionally on their subjects.

Recommended or required reading

Bill Nichols: Introduction to Documentary film (1991)

Assessment methods and criteria

The students will be required to work on their tasks within the planned schedule and to participate in class.



Further information

No schedule has been prepared for this course

The subject is a part of the following study plans