Documentary Foundation Certificate Toronto

This course will be offered again in the Fall session.

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Real stories, real results.

Jump-start your career as a documentary filmmaker by making your own short film during this 5-week foundation course, or collaborate with another participant to gain hands-on experience.

Who should take this course?

Anyone interested in the art of documentary filmmaking; Directors, Producers, Screenwriters.

This certificate course in documentary filmmaking will give you the skills required to:

  •  Develop a distinctive documentary idea
  • Test its effectiveness as an engaging film
  •  Decide the appropriate way to film it
  •  Find the right people to appear
  •  Choose the best locations and things to film
  •  Shoot and edit your film in the most effective way
  •  Pick the right music or sound
  •  Shape your finished film into a story that works dramatically and emotionally.

Week 1: How Good Is Your Idea?

You think you’ve got a great idea for a documentary but will it really make a film? It’s not enough to just find a subject that interests you. A documentary is much more than that. Especially one that people will want to pay money to see. This evening explores how you can find out whether what you’ve got will really make a film and how you can work on your idea to ensure that it does.

  • Deciding what sort of documentary you are making
  • Making your film reflect your world view
  • Getting your film to ask a question
  • Deciding on an appropriate style, e.g. comedy treatment of a serious subject
  • Establishing drama in your film
  • Putting your idea to the test

Homework: Write a short documentary treatment

Week 2: Interview Style and Technique

Having built the all-important foundations of your film in Week 1 it’s time to search for the people to inhabit your film. Is it better to use lay people or professionals? How do you know who will be right to interview? And how do you convince people who’ve never been in front of the camera to bare their soul in front of a potentially intrusive camera? What are the five big mistakes of interviewing?

  •  Choosing the right participants
  •  Deciding if you need a narrator
  •  Choosing where to put the camera and frame size
  •  The behaviour of the crew before, during and after an interview
  •  Coverage during the interview
  •  Practical interview exercises

Homework:  Shoot a short interview

Week 3: Camera, Lights and Style

The lighting and camera style will affect the story you are telling. And to decide that style you must first know the story you are telling. Once decided you have to be able to realize that vision on an appropriate budget

  •  Choosing an appropriate style for your story and budget
  •  Deciding to go hand-held and without lights
  •  Shooting a documentary on your mobile phone
  •  Filming successful drama reconstruction
  •  Comparisons of different styles and techniques
  •  Basic lighting exercises

Homework: Plan your shoot and create a shot list

Week 4: Editing & Sound

Story telling is an art. Often seen are well-shot documentaries with interesting characters that are dramatically a mess with no real sense of vibrant story-telling. Once in the cutting room it may be too late to salvage a badly thought-through film. But then again, with a little additional filming, it could be the making of a film. It all depends.

  •  How to use a dramatic arc
  •  Make them laugh, make them cry, but make them wait
  •  What to cut-away to
  •  What to do if your film is not coming together in the edit
  •  The power of serendipity
  •  Using sound design instead of music
  •  Choosing and briefing a composer
  •  Dramatic analysis of a great documentary

Homework:  Shoot your short documentary film

Week 5:  Sell Your Documentary

So you think your film is ready to send out into the big wide world of documentary exhibition? But is it really? What have your test screenings told you? Is it time to invite a broadcaster in to view a rough-cut? Should it be entered to film festivals before you try to sell it to broadcasters?

  •  What if broadcasters aren’t interested?
  •  Making your film the best it can be
  •  Learning from recent documentary success stories
  •  When is it better not to be commissioned?
  •  Getting music and interviewee clearances
  •  Using film festivals to promote your film
  •  Using film festivals to get your next film commissioned
  •  Using the internet to showcase your film
  •  Marketing your film

Homework: Edit your film

To enhance your appreciation of this course, it’s suggested you pre-view:

Man On Wire (2008)  (Director: James Marsh)
Grizzly Man (2005) (Director: Werner Herzog)
Garbage Warrior (2007) (Director: Oliver Hodge)

What they’re saying about this workshop…

‘Chuck was very knowledgeable with a wealth of industry experience. I appreciated his stories and anecdotes about his own work and about the business.’

‘I loved the well-rounded info, the examples, discussions, and class interaction.’

‘Chuck’s experience and knowledge are invaluable resources. In a short time the course gives you the tools to make your own film.’

‘I liked the course content which covered every aspect of documentary filmmaking. I also appreciated Chuck’s patience in answering our questions.’


About the Instructor

Chuck Scott

Chuck Scott is an award-winning producer/director with over 240 documentary and factual television programs successfully completed. His production company has partnered with many producers in Canada and abroad. These shows were shot in over 50 countries around the world.

Chuck’s shows have aired on major broadcasters – such as BBC, Five, PBS, NHK, CBC, CTV, Global, Discovery Channels in Canada and the US, on National Geographic, Science Channel, Discovery Health and many more. Chuck has also produced and/or directed hundreds of commercials, music videos, corporate videos, a comedy feature film, two documentary features, children’s shows and a daytime talk show.

Chuck’s greatest strength is his visual story telling. He and his team craft a strong story arc for every work and support the narrative with exceptional photography, whether the story takes 15 seconds or 150 minutes to tell.

Chuck is a graduate of the Raindance Postgraduate Film Degree.


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