MC 454

MC 454
Documentary Media Production:
An Introduction to Documentary Filmmaking

Tuesdays 6 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.
Thursdays 6 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Instructor: Tom Atwood
Office: Dunham Hall 2046 (enter through DH 2044)
Office Hours: Mondays, Wednesdays 1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Tuesdays, Thursdays 5 p.m. – 6 p.m. (and by appointment)
Phone: 650-2796 (office), 558-4949 (cell)
Email: or

Course Description
Historical, cultural and artistic evolution of documentary filmmaking; aesthetic developments (roots of documentary, direct cinema, cinema verite, historical/archival, reality TV); emphasis on student production of compelling documentaries for inclusion in Kaleidoscope, a 30-minute cable program.

Course Objectives
This course will enable you to understand the history and production techniques of documentary filmmaking. To do this you will not only study the films of well-known documentarians, but also write, shoot and direct your own long-form pieces. The class format is a mixture of screenings, discussions and lectures aimed at defining the characteristics and thematic scope of documentary productions. By the end of the course, students should be able to:

• Identify key filmmakers in the history of documentary media
• Identify and understand established documentary styles (e.g. direct cinema, archival, news, Op Docs, mocumentary, profile, etc)
• Recognize different aesthetic modes of representation in documentary film (expository, observational, interactive, reflexive, poetic)

A significant amount of class time will also be spent demonstrating and discussing the practical issues of documentary filmmaking, including legal and ethical considerations, pre-production, narrative flow and storytelling techniques. In addition, we will view and critique the original student pieces being created for Kaleidoscope, and devote class time to the actual production of a pilot episode.

Texts, Supplies and Other Needs
• Introduction to Documentary (Nichols)
• Writing, Directing and Producing Documentary Films and Video (Rosenthal)

In addition to the textbooks, students are also responsible for purchasing a 1 TB external hard drive for use during the semester in storing and editing the video projects.

Documentary Project
Each student in MC 454 will shoot, write and edit a complete documentary during the semester. Since the documentary may be included in the half-hour broadcast, Kaleidoscope, it must run either 13 or 26 minutes. You will be given a great deal of flexibility in choosing the topic and genre for your piece. However, the documentary must be shot and edited on Mass Comm equipment, unless permission is given by the instructor to use personal equipment for production (personal cameras, editing software, audio, etc). The documentary also must have some connection with the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) at SIUE. The connection could be as simple as an interview with someone from CAS, focusing on a program or person at CAS, etc. This project will account for sixty percent of your grade.

There will be two examinations, which will be comprised of questions about the documentaries shown in class, as well as relevant material regarding documentary production from the readings and lectures. Questions will consist of objective, short answers and essays on the theory, practice and evolution of documentary filmmaking. Students are encouraged to take detailed class notes on lectures, film screenings and carefully read all assigned materials in anticipation of exams. NOTE: It is extremely difficult to do well on exams without viewing the documentaries screened in class.