Documentary Courses at Open City Docs School
Filmmaking, Film Theory and Radio Courses
Since February 2014, Open City Docs School has been running courses covering documentary filmmaking from all angles; from film theory lectures, practical camera training, film editing and workshops with award-winning documentarians.
Below you will find courses that we are currently taking booking for the courses listed below. Previous courses are also listed below and we anticipate that many of these will be running again.
If you would like to register interest or book a place on our current courses please email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Practical Documentary Filmmaking
Course dates: Thursday 6th October - Thursday 15th December 2016*
Course Tutor: Sandhya Suri
The course is led by award winning directors Sandhya Suri (I for India) and focuses on self-shooting skills, with a focus on the fundamentals of observational filming. Students will shoot, record sound, edit and direct their own film, learning to respond to an undirected actuality and structure their footage into a compelling film.
You will acquire the technical skills needed to complete a 10 minute video project using the cameras, workstations and facilities in the department's visual laboratory. Students will acquire practical, analytical and intellectual skills in using moving image and sound recording equipment and discover how new technologies create new methodologies. During the course students will examine and deploy a range of the technical, aesthetic, and representational dynamics involved in documentary construction. By doing so, participants will become more informed as well as practically experienced commentators on the 'truths', 'fictions', styles, genres, ethics and modes of filmmaking. You will recognise the potential of film to document research, and have explored issues of representation and audience reception.
Students undertaking the course in either term 1 or term 2, will have full access to the UCL Anthropology Audio Visual Lab with Premiere CC and Adobe Creative Suite enabled machines as well as professional camera kits (shared one between two students) for the duration of the course. Students will have a further five weeks at the end of the course to complete their film project.
You can see examples of films made by previous students at our testimonials page.
A reduced lab fee is required for those taking the course for UCL credit (please contact email@example.com for more details). This course is available to external candidates for £1600.
Please note participants are also required to bring two external hard-drives on the course. Cameras are shared with one other person. Students using UCL Anthropology cameras are responsible for any loss, damage or repair costs. Any failure to reimburse the department will result in a debt to UCL.
*There is no formal teaching on Thursday 10th November for reading week. Teaching takes place at the following times: 9am - 11am, 1pm - 4pm. You have access to UCL facilities for a further five weeks after formal teaching on the course in order to complete your film.
- Sound for Self-Shooters
Course Tutor: Tim Bamber
Course dates: TBC
The course aims to give self-shooting filmmakers the confidence to make quick decisions on location to record decent quality sound, when hiring a sound recordist just doesn't factor into the budget. Topics will include the principles of sound recording; different microphone types and when to use them; and choosing suitable locations. You will learn how to produce and organise a good basic sound mix in post-production, to a standard appropriate for small-scale corporate projects, or prior to sending to a sound designer.
Topics will include: track-laying mono and stereo source files; setting volumes and basic compression; using wildtracks to cover dialogue edits; adding voiceovers and 'ducking' music.
These will be taught using Adobe Premiere and Adobe Audition
The course takes place over two consecutive weekends.
Course fees: £250
Maximum 6 students
- Introduction to Documentary Filmmaking with Havana Marking
Course dates: tbc
Have you got an idea for a documentary but wondered how to get if off the ground?
This course, taking place over four evenings, aims to cover the elements of filmmaking not covered by our other practical camera skills short courses.
From researching the initial idea through to storytelling in the edit, this course will utilise the expertise of filmmaker and producer Havana Marking to guide you through the process of getting a documentary idea off the ground and ready for production.
Session 1: Intro, finding and developing an idea: what makes a great doc?
Session 2: Research, writing a treatment, and the ultimate pitch
Session 3: Casting & Interview technique
Session 4: Script and storytelling in the edit
Havana Marking: Award-winning Documentary Director
A British journalist and filmmaker, Marking specialises in documentary films that move, enlighten and reveal the bigger picture. Setting the bar for skill and fearlessness, her first feature, Afghan Star, told the story of the X-Factor in Afghanistan. It won both the Directing and Audience awards in Sundance 2009, The Grierson award for ‘best doc on a contemporary issue’ and the Prix Italia. She gained extraordinary access to the world's most successful diamond thieves for her 2012 BBC feature Smash & Grab: the Story of the Pink Panthers, which was then optioned by Danny Boyle. She has made TV films for BBC, Channel 4, HBO, and VICE. Her latest: Ashley Madison: WTF? will air on C4 in July. Her articles and photographs have been published in the Guardian, The Observer and the Telegraph.
£250 / £225 (Student) / £200 (UCL Student)
- Film Theory: Experimental Ethnographic and Documentary Films
Course Dates: TBC
This eight-week evening course, lead by Anthropologist Barbara Knorpp, provides opportunities to watch and discuss classic and experimental ethnographic and documentary films in order to critically engage with the politics of image making.
Starting from silent cinema of Robert Flaherty and use of montage of Russian filmmakers in the 1920s to visual video diaries in New York by Jonas Mekas, French cinéma vérité and indigenous filmmaking in Brazil, the course will give a historic overview on how the genre of ethnographic film has changed from seemingly scientific accounts to staged authenticity, fiction films and from experimental modes to collage, made out of found footage.
Below is an indication of what topics and films will be covered over the eight sessions:
- Silent cinema and early ethnographic film
- Peoples without Land: Pastoral Nomads in East Africa
- Jean Rouch and Cinéma Vérité
- Senegalese filmmaker and anthropologist Safi Faye
- USA - Observational Mode and Visual Diaries
- Sudanese filmmaker Taghreed Elsanhouri and the poetics of film
- Experimental Cinema and the Essay Film
- Participatory Video Making
Maximum 25 Students
Price: £125/ £115 Student/ £105 UCL Student
- Shooting Documentary: An Introduction
Course Tutor: Isis Thompson
Course dates: Sat 14th Jan, Sat 21st Jan, Sat 28th Jan 2017
Over three Saturdays you will learn the camera skills essential to shooting in the documentary style. Through a series of camera exercises of increasing complexity you should will learn the following skills:
- hand held shooting technique using professional video camera
- using a tripod
- intelligent use of automatic controls
- getting good sound for interviews
- filming a sequence
- filming uncontrolled action
- filming for the edit
Isis will go though the editing process with Editor Helen Lawson who is cutting her current project. They will go though Isis' raw material and explain why certain choice were made in the brining together of a scene.
Course costs: £300 / £270 (student) / £250 (UCL student)
- Making Radio Documentary
Course Tutor: Rob Walker
Course Dates: TBC
Led by Rob Walker (Reporter/ Producer for BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service), this course will introduce students to the range of skills needed to make a radio documentary. Topics covered will include interview technique, equipment, how to structure and edit your documentary, and how to get your work broadcast on the radio. As part of the course you will have the opportunity to complete a short radio documentary recorded on a smartphone. Students should come prepared with narrative ideas if they plan to use the course to make a short audio doc.
The course is aimed at those already working in TV or film who want to expand their skills into radio as well as first-time documentary makers.
One of the previous students of the course is currently in the process of developing the documentary idea from her course with the BBC Radio Current Affairs.
Maximum 12 participants
£180 / £160 for students / £140 for UCL students (Please note student places are limited)
'This was a brilliant introductory course to radio documentary making - informative, practical and inspiring. I'd highly recommend it.' - Ellen Wiles
- Documentary Sound
Course Tutor: Larry Sider
Course Dates: TBC
It is readily acknowledged that sound design is an aspect of fiction filmmaking that any director or editor needs to understand. For the documentary filmmaker, however, sound is still often considered a technical necessity left to post-production. The ways sound can transform a documentary’s narrative - and how it ‘speaks’ to its audience - are too often ignored.
The course will provide you with an understanding of how soundtracks operate in documentaries, by exploring a variety of strategies for working with sound in the continually evolving forms of non-fiction screen production.
In the 5 sessions, we will cover
- What a soundtrack is and how it is made. What are the components that you work with when recording, editing and mixing a documentary soundtrack?
- The technical development of documentary sound.
- The relationships between pre-production, shooting and post-production in creating a soundtrack. How does the way you plan your shoot affect the soundtrack and, ultimately, how the audience perceives your ideas?
- The workflow from recording to mixing.
- The relationship between editing and sound design and between image, sound and music. How does editing the picture determine the soundtrack?
- How to consider sound on a variety of budgets.
- How sound can change the audience’s perception of images.
- The variety of techniques for using sound in documentaries including location sound recording, mixing techniques, voice-over / narration, metaphorical sound, synchronous vs asynchronous sound, and the crossover between fiction and documentary sound styles.
- Consideration of the audience or client.
- The ethics of sound: What are we allowed to hear and what is kept silent?
All this will be covered using a variety of examples from past and present documentaries, different forms and genres, interviews with directors, films I have edited and sound designed and materials I’ve used in teaching sound post-production at film schools in the UK and Europe.
This course is as valuable for directors, producers and editors as it is for sound designers and composers.
Course tutor: Larry Sider is an editor and sound designer known for his work in documentary, fiction and animation, including Patrick Keiller’s London, Robinson in Space and Robinson in Ruins. Since 1998, he has been the director of the School of Sound, a forum exploring the creative use of sound in the arts and media. He is Course Leader for Goldsmiths’ MA in Sound Recording and Design and formerly was Head of Post-Production at the National Film and Television School where he devised the curriculum integrating the teaching of editing, sound and music. He is a visiting lecturer at film and art schools in Europe and the UK and is co-editor of The New Soundtrack journal.
Course costs: £150 / £140 for students / £130 for UCL students (Please note student places are limited)
Please note that this course is not a practical sound mixing/editing course
- Documentary Storytelling
Course Tutor: Catalin Brylla
Course Dates: 11th January - 15th February 2017
This course is targeted towards documentary practitioners who are either preparing, shooting or editing their documentary, scholars who want to analyse or write about documentaries, and people who are simply passionate about non-fiction films. Keeping the balance between the theory OF practice and the theory IN practice, each session will include discussions of how theoretical concepts relate to formal considerations in documentary filmmaking.
The following topics are only indicative:
- Documentary elements
- Soviet montage and conceptual watching
- The Poetic Documentary
- Spatial and emotional impact of shot sizes
- The immersive actuality of continuity
- The Observational Documentary
- Character profiling through interviews
- The function of cutaways
- The Interactive Documentary
- Participatory documentary formats
- Brecht and defamiliarising the audience
- The Reflexive Documentary
- The Hybrid Documentary
- Memory, identity and rhetoric through the archive
- The Expository Documentary
- Narrative structure: story and plot
- Narrative point-of-view and subjectivity
£150 / £140 for students / £130 for UCL students (Please note student places are limited)
- Summer Film School 2017
Over the course of six weeks each student will aim to complete a short documentary film of 5 to 10 minutes. With the proliferation of cheap broadcast quality cameras, editing software and powerful computers, self-shooting directors are in increasing demand. As a trained self-shooter you are not only able to make your own films, but you are also employable as a freelance filmmaker. The course is suitable for beginners who have had no formal filmmaking training, however it would also be beneficial for those wishing to expand their skills into the self-shooting mode or those who wish to brush up on their filmmaking skills.
In the first three weeks we will focus on building the technical and analytical skills needed to complete a documentary film project. Through a variety of a practical exercises you will learn to produce, direct, shoot and edit. These are the four core skills you need to master to become a successful self-shooting director. In addition we will have an in depth look at the art of filmmaking and you’ll have the chance to learn from some of the best in the field through several guest lectures.
After an intensive three weeks course, students will then have three weeks to complete their final project. During this period they will have access to the equipment and edit suites available at Open City Documentary Film School. There will be access to support in the forms on one-on-one tutorial during this period. On the last day there will be a final screening where students can share their work.
Please note that you will be required to bring two external hard-drives with you on the course.
Course costs: £1600
Here are examples of some of the films made during some of the Open City Docs School courses:
Love and dementia - by Dominic Sivyer
This film is a shorter edit of a film made during the MA Ethnographic and Documentary Film by Practice 2015 and was published as part of the Guardian online series 'This is the NHS'.
This Islands Mine - by Myriam Rey
This film was made during the course Practical Documentary Filmmaking 2015 and won the AHRC Inspiration Award – Best film inspired by arts and humanities research
Habiba - by Olivia Isaacs
This film was made during the Open City Docs Summer Film School 2015 where students had only three weeks to learn how to research, shoot and edit their film.