Skip to main content
Fundamentals of Documentary Filmmaking
Course Description

This introductory documentary filmmaking course is designed to fit the interests and needs of CEU students across a variety of departments. With the proliferation of moving images in both public and private spaces, and the incorporation of moving images into traditionally text-based media, the ability to communicate visually is becoming ever more important in numerous fields, a valuable research method in a number of academic disciplines, and moreover, an important form of basic literacy in contemporary society.

This course provides students a grounding in the craft of documentary film production, and the creation of moving images, instructing them in fundamental skills that they can apply to projects in their respective research, and beyond. These skills cover all phases of the documentary production process, from idea development, through pre-production and preparation, cinematography, sound and editing. Through learning to create moving images, in concert with formal analysis of documentary examples, students gain valuable, versatile skills, and gain literacy in this increasingly important mode of communication.

Class sessions combine lectures on relevant concepts, viewing and analysis of documentary examples, technical instruction on equipment, hands-on exercises, and critique of class projects and films at each stage of completion. Outside of class, working in small groups, students complete the final project, a short documentary film. 

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

• Identify major modes of documentary form, and the basic elements of documentary films, and critique their use.
• Apply a deliberate structure, theme, point of view, and style to a short, documentary film.
• Refine a documentary idea down to an engaging short, verbal pitch, and execute that pitch.
• Work with basic technical proficiency in a range of areas of video production: operate a video camera and tripod, an audio recorder and microphone, and the Adobe Premiere editing system, controlling all technical functions, to produce a short documentary film.
• Apply aesthetic concepts of cinematography, editing, and sound design to support a deliberate concept and vision in a short, documentary film. 
• Refine a short documentary film through a series of progressively more refined versions, to a finished work.
• Articulate basic issues in documentary ethics.


1. Final Film (50% of the final grade). The final project is a 5-8-minute documentary film. Students are encouraged to tailor this project to their respec\ve discipline. Students will work in teams of two or three depending on course enrolment, and the scope and type of film the  groups produce. Groups should be formed by the 3rd class meeting of the semester. The division of labor is up to the individual team, but all members must contribute to the project in equal measure. Films will be evaluated on: the degree to which each element — cinematography, sound, editing— is used to support the subject matter; the degree to which a deliberate structure, theme, point of view, and style, as outlined in the proposal is applied; the degree to which aesthetic principles taught in class are applied in the execution of the film; and the degree to which the overall work is refined through each stage of the process, from pitch through rough cut to final cut, based on peer and instructor feedback. 

2. Film Proposal and Pitch (20%). This is a portfolio of materials including: a brief synopsis, a written treatment, an aesthetic statement  describing the form and style, a shooting schedule, demo material (stills and/or trailer). The pitch is an in-class presentation of the concept of the film. 

3. Final Reflection and Self-evaluation (10%). 2 pages. The reflection can cover a variety of topics, including the group’s approach to the film, how that changed throughout the process, and how that initial vision is reflected in the final work. The self-evaluation should cover what each student learned through the process of making the film, the successes of the group, the failures, and what crew members would now do differently based on what they’ve learned through this process. 

4. Participation in critiques and class discussions (20%). This course is a workshop, and is predicated on the active participation and  contribution of all members to practical exercises and class discussions, but especially to critiques of student work. Each member has a responsibility to offer feedback in a constructive manner and will be evaluated on the degree to which they do. Each filmmaker has the responsibility to listen and note that feedback, and to incorporate it into their creative process.



Course Level
Course Open to
Students on-site
Academic Year
US Credits
ECTS Credits
Course Code