Curriculum

The program is a hands-on and highly innovative pursuit designed to foster a vibrant agora of creative media that generates both social and aesthetic influence.

Working directly with some of the most relevant and inventive nonfiction storytellers and visual journalists—as faculty, mentors and collaborators—students will gain the creative and technical experience to work in the film and broadcast industries. Upon completion of their studies students will be equipped with the tools that both enable and support individual expression, while fostering filmmakers who are fluent artistically, technologically, socially and critically.

Degree candidates must successfully complete 60 credits, including all required courses, with a cumulative grade point average of 3.0. A residency of two academic years is required. In the final semester, each student is required to complete a thesis project, which must be reviewed and approved by the thesis committee and the department chair in order for the student to be eligible for degree conferral.

Year One

The first year of study offers a core curriculum devoted to mastering tools and techniques while studying the history of filmic practice as it relates to documentary. Each student will complete five- and ten-minute short documentary films. The program in Social Documentary Film provides a solid foundation in the fundamentals of non-fiction filmmaking, as well as an immersion into the critical and analytical processes necessary to conceptualize and develop film projects with content of significant social relevance. This program represents the convergence of journalism, social activism and the art of filmmaking.

Fall Semester
Credits

Success in the film industry requires fluency in the standard terminology of cinematic language and an immersion in the world of production techniques. Beginning with the uses of image and sound as the rudimentary tools of storytelling, this series of courses will focus on gaining a comprehensive grasp of the technical demands of filmmaking. Through class and laboratory sessions, a range of equipment—cameras, tripods, lighting instruments, audio recording and microphones—will be explored. Students will also learn how to use camera angles, sound and lighting to convey meaning and further their stories.

The potency of any documentary is invariably linked to the perspicacity of the director, whose acuity of mind and eye must be able to translate intellectual content into an aesthetic experience. These courses will address topics that include how to most effectively tell a story, how to conduct meaningful and informative interviews, and how to navigate the relationship between subject and filmmaker. With an emphasis on originality as it applies to the documentary, students will explore new mediums and a variety of directing styles, tones and techniques. Included will be an extensive study of documentary film history and theory, which will examine a wide range of texts and films from the early 20th century to the present and look at such genres as realism, formalism, semiotics, feminism and postmodernism.

If viewing a film is understood to be an interpretive process, then the orchestration of image and sound, and the rate at which information is disseminated, is critical to the endeavor. It is often the editor who transforms this process from observation to an engrossing experience. These courses will examine the critical role that editing plays in non-fiction programs, and look at how the editing room is often the arena where the structure and narrative arch are created. Classic documentaries will be screened to provide students with a fundamental understanding of editing styles, aesthetics and techniques. Laboratory sessions will demonstrate editing techniques with industry-standard technology. Topics will cover a wide range of subjects—from continuity of motion to montage, jump-cut, music usage and program structure. Finally, these courses will explore voice-over narration, sound design, music and other postproduction techniques to further the story and deepen the experience.

Taught by: Ann Collins

Multifunctional and multidimensional in approach, the role of a producer is to initiate, coordinate, supervise and control all matters in the realization of a film project, such as fundraising and hiring key personnel. These courses will cover key aspects of documentary production from pitch and budget preparation to production set-up, crew management and postproduction workflow. Students will learn how to analyze a project and apply this analysis in cost and project management, from preproduction right to editing and film distribution. How to read, understand and negotiate contracts with vendors, crewmembers and distributors will be included.

Taught by: Beth Levison

Independent voices from the field will share their professional experiences and offer diverse perspectives in documentary film. Lecturers will discuss a range of specialized topics, including new technologies and new platforms; film festivals and distribution; the relationship between subject and filmmaker; the pitch; live television direction; rights and clearances; archival research; job opportunities and career advancement. Many sessions will highlight documentary filmmakers who will screen their projects and share details and anecdotes about the field.

The field of social documentary is as much about journalism as it is about filmmaking; therefore, it is paramount that the journalistic process be comprehensively examined. From finding and researching a story to writing a treatment and a shooting script, learning and adhering to established journalistic ethics is of primary importance. This course will engender a full understanding of the ethical standards inherent in print and broadcast journalism, and non-fiction writing as they relate to social documentary. Working within these strictures, we will approach how to successfully tell a story—from origin of concept to finished project.

Taught by: Micah Fink

Success in the film industry requires fluency in the standard terminology of cinematic language and an immersion in the world of production techniques. Beginning with the uses of image and sound as the rudimentary tools of storytelling, this series of courses will focus on gaining a comprehensive grasp of the technical demands of filmmaking.

Spring Semester
Credits

Success in the film industry requires fluency in the standard terminology of cinematic language and an immersion in the world of production techniques. Beginning with the uses of image and sound as the rudimentary tools of storytelling, this series of courses will focus on gaining a comprehensive grasp of the technical demands of filmmaking. Through class and laboratory sessions, a range of equipment—cameras, tripods, lighting instruments, audio recording and microphones—will be explored. Students will also learn how to use camera angles, sound and lighting to convey meaning and further their stories.

The potency of any documentary is invariably linked to the perspicacity of the director, whose acuity of mind and eye must be able to translate intellectual content into an aesthetic experience. These courses will address topics that include how to most effectively tell a story, how to conduct meaningful and informative interviews, and how to navigate the relationship between subject and filmmaker. With an emphasis on originality as it applies to the documentary, students will explore new mediums and a variety of directing styles, tones and techniques. Included will be an extensive study of documentary film history and theory, which will examine a wide range of texts and films from the early 20th century to the present and look at such genres as realism, formalism, semiotics, feminism and postmodernism.

Taught by: Mira Chang

If viewing a film is understood to be an interpretive process, then the orchestration of image and sound, and the rate at which information is disseminated, is critical to the endeavor. It is often the editor who transforms this process from observation to an engrossing experience. These courses will examine the critical role that editing plays in non-fiction programs, and look at how the editing room is often the arena where the structure and narrative arch are created. Classic documentaries will be screened to provide students with a fundamental understanding of editing styles, aesthetics and techniques. Laboratory sessions will demonstrate editing techniques with industry-standard technology. Topics will cover a wide range of subjects—from continuity of motion to montage, jump-cut, music usage and program structure. Finally, these courses will explore voice-over narration, sound design, music and other postproduction techniques to further the story and deepen the experience.

Multifunctional and multidimensional in approach, the role of a producer is to initiate, coordinate, supervise and control all matters in the realization of a film project, such as fundraising and hiring key personnel. These courses will cover key aspects of documentary production from pitch and budget preparation to production set-up, crew management and postproduction workflow. Students will learn how to analyze a project and apply this analysis in cost and project management, from preproduction right to editing and film distribution. How to read, understand and negotiate contracts with vendors, crewmembers and distributors will be included.

Taught by: Julie Anderson

Independent voices from the field will share their professional experiences and offer diverse perspectives in documentary film. Lecturers will discuss a range of specialized topics, including new technologies and new platforms; film festivals and distribution; the relationship between subject and filmmaker; the pitch; live television direction; rights and clearances; archival research; job opportunities and career advancement. Many sessions will highlight documentary filmmakers who will screen their projects and share details and anecdotes about the field.

Getting an idea off the ground and maintaining the momentum is often one of the most difficult facets of a production, even for talented filmmakers. Yet without the proverbial green light, the most prescient ideas atrophy by the wayside. Course sessions are designed to address one of the most important skills in the filmmaking process—the pitch. Using their own project ideas, students will articulate their vision clearly and concisely and deliver this vision to a panel of film industry professionals. Students will answer questions and address comments posed by the panel. The course objectives are to build confidence in the presentation of ideas and master a professional pitch.

Building upon the journalistic industry standards examined in Intro to Visionary Journalism, these courses take students into the practical experience of creating the written body of work for the thesis film. Topics will include the creation of a project proposal, a written proposal for funding or professional interest in the film, and a project treatment that outlines the work. Each student will also complete an initial thesis script, which can be an in-depth description of the film as it is envisioned, or an in-depth description of material already shot, or a judicious balance of the two.

Success in the film industry requires fluency in the standard terminology of cinematic language and an immersion in the world of production techniques. Beginning with the uses of image and sound as the rudimentary tools of storytelling, this series of courses will focus on gaining a comprehensive grasp of the technical demands of filmmaking.

Year Two

The second-year focuses on the thesis project and courses address various filmmaking concentrations such as directing, producing and editing. Each student will direct his or her thesis film and serve as a key crewmember on at least one other thesis project.

Fall Semester
Credits

On average, there is a ratio of 10 hours of footage shot for every minute in the final film. This course will address the challenge of managing the sheer bulk of media that will have been amassed for the thesis film. While shooting may continue throughout much of this period, students will be required to block out the basic sequence from what has already been filmed, and hew the narrative together into a rough cut. The goal is to bring projects into readiness for the fine-tuning and finishing in the spring semester.

Independent voices from the field will share their professional experiences and offer diverse perspectives in documentary film. Lecturers will discuss a range of specialized topics, including new technologies and new platforms; film festivals and distribution; the relationship between subject and filmmaker; the pitch; live television direction; rights and clearances; archival research; job opportunities and career advancement. Many sessions will highlight documentary filmmakers who will screen their projects and share details and anecdotes about the field.

Taught by:

This course will guide students through the process of bringing their thesis ideas and script to fruition. Of central focus will be the aesthetic and overall style considerations for thesis films. Emphasis will also be placed on the student-director’s communication with the producer, cinematographer, sound recordist and other personnel who will assist on the project and help to make each student’s thesis vision a reality.

In this course, students will don the mantle of a film producer—coordinating production schedules and book shoots, and navigating the often turbulent waters of location permits, budgets, expense reconciliation, crew management, postproduction and film distribution. The final result will be broadcast-quality documentary thesis films.

Taught by: Thom Powers

Success in the film industry requires fluency in the standard terminology of cinematic language and an immersion in the world of production techniques. Beginning with the uses of image and sound as the rudimentary tools of storytelling, this series of courses will focus on gaining a comprehensive grasp of the technical demands of filmmaking. Through class and laboratory sessions, a range of equipment—cameras, tripods, lighting instruments, audio recording and microphones—will be explored. Students will also learn how to use camera angles, sound and lighting to convey meaning and further their stories.

Spring Semester
Credits

Independent voices from the field will share their professional experiences and offer diverse perspectives in documentary film. Lecturers will discuss a range of specialized topics, including new technologies and new platforms; film festivals and distribution; the relationship between subject and filmmaker; the pitch; live television direction; rights and clearances; archival research; job opportunities and career advancement. Many sessions will highlight documentary filmmakers who will screen their projects and share details and anecdotes about the field.

Taught by:

This course will encompass all of the finishing touches for the thesis film projects, including opening titles, closing credits, sound editing and mixing, visual effects, color correction and film scoring. The editing lab will be supervised by a professional editor, under whose guidance students will strengthen their editorial acumen while completing their thesis films.

Bolstered by critiques of professional film directors and fellow classmates, students will gain additional insights and the technical resources to develop their thesis films. Directors’ cuts of thesis films will be screened and analyzed, and students will have the opportunity to incorporate valuable suggestions into the final work.

During their final semester, students will present their thesis projects to a team of faculty advisors for review, advice and critique, and will introduce their documentaries to the film community at large. Students will research, target and submit their thesis to a required number of film festivals both domestic and abroad.