Short courses


Documentary Filmmaking: From Idea to Reality

  • 20 hours
  • Five evenings


We often think of documentary filmmaking as being organic, “in the moment”, and impromptu, which may be true.

However, there is also a huge amount of prep work that needs to be done in order to turn a film idea into reality.

In this course you'll go through the whole pre-production process in detail, from research, casting, proposal writing, and taster-tape making through to funding and pitching.

You'll be encouraged to prepare a real or hypothetical film to develop and “pitch” at the end of the course.

This course aims to leave you feeling enabled to take the next step with your film ideas, and with a thorough understanding of how rigorous planning and preparation can lead to a better film.

Who this course is for

The course is aimed at new and emerging producers and directors, with a focus on presenting creative independent documentary film formats.


Session 1
In this session, you'll learn how and where to find documentary ideas, and then, once sought, how to dig deep.

You'll discuss how and why we research our topics and what this involves. You'll then consider character, how to “cast” for a documentary, and what it means to build a relationship with our contributors.

Homework: start researching a documentary.

Session 2
This week you'll look at how to tell a story in a documentary, how to develop your film ideas into a narrative, and then how to translate this into a written proposal and script.

Homework: write synopsis of film idea.

Session 3
Make a taster. Pitching, funding, commissioning

During this session, you'll practice reading out your film synopsis with feedback from the tutor. You'll then learn about the “industry” and how to get your films funded or commissioned.

You'll look at different examples of taster tapes and learn more about pitching your ideas.

Homework: Make a taster tape.

Session 4
Figuring out logistics, budget, equipment, thinking about the look and style of your film

After watching each other’s taster tapes, you'll then start to think more about the practicalities of filmmaking. You'll learn how to write a budget, and how much money you actually need to make a film.

You'll think about insurance, equipment and start preparing the paperwork you need to have on a shoot. 

Session 5
Feedback session

You'll share synopsis and taster tapes of film ideas and feedback will be given. 

Course structure and equipment

This course will be delivered via online distance learning, and you'll require a computer or other internet-connected device.

Teaching will be through a mixture of: 

  • lectures
  • group discussions
  • brainstorming sessions
  • feedback sessions.

This course takes place across five Monday evenings (7pm to 9pm).

Learning outcomes

Upon completion of the course, you'll:

  • have the tools you need to come up with documentary ideas, develop them and take them from pre-production to production.
  • understand how to write a synopsis, how to create a taster tape, and how to write a budget.
  • understand what insurance, equipment and paperwork is needed on a documentary shoot.


There is no formal assessment. You'll have the option to receive feedback on your film ideas.

Cost and booking

The course costs £150, and booking closes at 12pm on 9 January.

If you have any questions about this course, please contact shortcourses@opencitylondon.com or call +(44)020 3108 4774.

Course team

Chloe White

Chloe White

Chloe is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and photographer, and director of Whalebone Films based in Hastings and London, with frequent travels around the world to collect stories and images. Her films are intimate, considered portraits, focusing mainly on the female experience. Chloe's clients and partners include the Guardian, Topic, Nowness, BBC, Channel 4, Oxfam, Save the Children and the BFI, and she has had films screen at festivals internationally including at Camden International Film Festival, Open City, and Sheffield Doc Fest. Chloe lectures in Documentary Film at UCL and London College of Communications. She has also given talks and workshops at the BFI, Frontline Club, the Roundhouse and is a fellow of Macdowell.

Course information last modified: 8 Dec 2022, 10:13