Short courses


Using Video for Ethnographic Research

  • 24 hours in class, plus homework
  • 4 Saturdays (10am to 5pm)


On this four-week short course you'll learn how to capture authentic human behaviour on video, generating more insightful and meaningful footage for your ethnographic research.

You'll learn the basics of observational documentary filmmaking, including how to film an undirected reality, record good sound and picture and edit your findings into a film.

You'll also learn how to:

  • analyse visual data
  • create a compelling narrative
  • distil a large amount of footage into a short film

As part of the course, you'll make a five-minute ethnographic research film. You'll be provided with equipment for this, which you'll share with a partner.

Classes are held on Saturdays, from 10am to 5pm, for four weeks.

This course is run by the Open City Docs School, based in UCL's Department of Anthropology.

Who it's for

This course is open to anyone with an interest in making documentary films for research. You don't need any previous experience of filmmaking. 

Course structure

Sessions will be held every Saturday for four weeks. There'll be two three-hour sessions each day. You'll also have homework to complete each week.

The course will conclude with an evening screening of the groups' final edits, after a short supper break.

Camera and editing equipment will be provided for the practical sessions and a full resource pack with useful links will be available to you digitally. You'll also have access to a collective Vimeo site and GoogleDocs file during the course.

You'll need to bring with you a notebook, a hard drive (minimum size 500GB) and two 32GB memory cards for use during the course.

Course content

Session 1 - Introduction to the use of video for ethnographic research

In this session you'll discuss the history of the use of video for ethnographic research and its growing use in business and academic research.

You'll learn about the difference between conventional documentary and filmmaking for research, both as a tool and as a way of sharing your findings.

You'll watch and discuss some video clips.

Session 2 - The matrix, research brief and participant contracts

This session will look at how to interpret a research brief/ matrix and plan your ethnographic fieldwork with video in mind.

You'll discuss how to find key participants, make contact and choose the most revealing moments in their lives to film. You'll also discuss the complexity of your relationship with participants, incentives and release forms.

At the end of the session, you'll receive a research brief on a subject to be filmed on campus.

Session 3 - Camera and sound basics

In this session you'll learn the basics of operating a lightweight digital video camera with an onboard microphone and radio mic set. You'll learn about choosing the right settings, focus, framing, working with available light, and recording good sound.

You'll learn how to shoot great interviews which go beyond talking heads and reveal meaningful insights. You'll discuss interview techniques, how to give the subject space to talk, open up and give you more. You'll also learn how to shoot B roll, and capture authentic human behaviour in action on video, generating more insightful and meaningful footage for your research.

Session 4 - A practical filmmaking exercise

Here you'll shoot your campus-based research film, including an interview. You'll film actuality/ behaviour and B roll with your key participant. At the end of your filming session, you'll be sent a fieldwork questionnaire to fill out or you can design your own.

Session 5 - Analysis session

In this session the group will discuss their participants and do an analysis session around the subject we've been filming. You'll discuss what video has added to your ability to capture, remember and interpret findings including insights. At the end of the session the group will make an edit plan.

Session 6 - Editing basics

You'll discuss the basics of editing using Adobe Premier, including how to categorise and sort through your footage, create bins and timelines according to your edit plan.

You'll discuss how to make introductory portraits for each participant, and the role of narrative in telling their stories while getting to the truth. You'll begin you 20-minute edits, which you'll need to finish in your own time.

Session 7 - Analysis deep dive

In a group, you'll discuss the participant edits, pull out the main themes that are coming through and discuss how we would make an editing plan for thematic films that highlight our findings.

Session 8 - Thematic edits

Each student will take a theme and edit a 3 to 5 minute film on that subject from excerpts from the 20-minute edits.

Cost and concessions

This course fees are:

  • £400 - full price (external applicants who aren't students)
  • £300 - external students
  • £275 - UCL students

Course team

Pinny Grylls

Pinny Grylls

Pinny is an award winning documentary filmmaker and ethnographer. In 2010 she was featured in the Observer as one of a crop of innovative young directors working today. Her short documentary Peter and Ben has had over 350,000 views on YouTube and won a number of awards, such as the FourDocs Best Documentary, Best Documentary at Aspen Shorts Fest and The Grand Jury Prize in SXSW Click.

Specialising in the arts, Pinny has made a variety of commissioned documentaries for clients such as the Guardian, BBC, Channel 4, The Arts Council, The National Theatre, The Royal Opera House, and the Tate, as well as commercials for British Gas, Dove and Aldi.

For the last 10 years she’s also worked as a freelance video ethnographer for Ipsos Mori and the UK government, filming everything to gypsies and travellers to young carers for studies that have influenced government and corporate polices. Pinny also co-founded the Birds Eye View Film Festival in 2002 and is a published children's author.

Course information last modified: 23 Oct 2019, 12:02