Real stories, real results.
Documentaries are hotter than hot right now. All distributors of movies are rushing to find the newest documentary projects. And they win big film festival awards too. Being aware of the production and marketing pitfalls will enable you to position your idea for a documentary, and take it from idea to the screen.
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 that is marketable.
Week 1: Finding your story
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.
- Understanding the different types of documentary
- Develop a distinctive documentary idea
- Choose engaging subjects to help tell your story
Homework: Write a short documentary treatment
Week 2: Get your paperwork together
Having built the all-important foundations of your film in Week 1 it’s time to get the practical paperwork together to make your film. Deciding on the type of shoot, the research and travel required will greatly impact on your budget.
- Creating a budget and schedule
- Identifying partners to help make your film a reality
- Back to the drawing board to make sure your idea is practical
Homework: Research similar story type documentaries and analyse their success
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 on the production level of your shoot
- Filming successful drama reconstruction
- Comparisons of different styles and techniques
Homework: Plan your shoot and create a shot list
Week 4: Let’s fix it in post
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.
- Shooting for the edit
- Choosing an editor
- What to cut-away to
- What to do if your film is not coming together in the edit
- Using sound design instead of music
- Choosing and briefing a composer
- Dramatic analysis of a great documentary
Homework: Create a workflow for the post-production of your 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
- Planning a festival strategy
- Using film festivals to get your next film commissioned
- Using the internet to showcase your film
- Marketing your film
Homework: Prepare a press kit for your film
To enhance your appreciation of this course, it’s suggested you pre-view:
This is a collection of my favourite documentaries. Watch them and see if you can see how the filmmakers of each constructed their stories. These are the sorts of documentaries I am going to try to help you make on the Documentary Foundation Certificate.
Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father (2008)
A filmmaker decides to memorialize a murdered friend when his friend’s ex-girlfriend announces she is expecting his son.
Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story (2015)
Harold and Lillian eloped to Hollywood in 1947, where they became the film industry’s secret weapons. Nobody talked about them, but everybody wanted them. Theirs is the greatest story never told-until now.
An Episode of The Civil War (1990)
Kevin Dykstra and his team base their search for Civil War Gold in Michigan on a deathbed confession from a lighthouse keeper in the 1890s.
Grey Gardens (1976)
An old mother and her middle-aged daughter, the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy, live their eccentric lives in a filthy, decaying mansion in East Hampton.
Supersize Me! (2004)
While examining the influence of the fast food industry, Morgan Spurlock personally explores the consequences on his health of a diet of solely McDonald’s food for one month.
A collection of expertly photographed scenes of human life and religion.
An Episode of Planet Earth (2006)
Bowling for Columbine (2002)
Filmmaker Michael Moore explores the roots of America’s predilection for gun violence.
What they’re saying about this workshop…
”The tutor 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.’
‘The turor’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 the patience in answering our questions.’
About the Instructor
Michael Sparaga is an award-winning Canadian filmmaker whose films have screened at top-tier film festivals and been distributed all over the globe. Previous productions include the documentaries Maple Flavour Films (2008) and The Missing Ingredient: What is the Recipe for Success? (2016), and the narrative films Sidekick (2006) and Servitude (2012), which was developed with Ivan Reitman as part of Telefilm Canada’s Features Comedy Lab. Michael also recently co-wrote the family film Kayak to Klemtu, audience award winner at the 2017 imagineNATIVE Film Festival, for Scythia Films (The Witch), which was released theatrically in Canada by Mongrel Media in the summer of 2018. His most recent production is the feature documentary United We Fan, which celebrated its world premiere at the 2018 Hot Docs International Film Festival before going on to be released in the US by Brainstorm Media and in Canada by Blue Ice Docs.