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Course content

We're in the middle of a documentary renaissance. Documentary stories are being told in cinemas, on TV, in galleries, on tablets and on mobile phones. On this course you'll learn about the technology that's bringing improvements in documentary making, understand the ethical challenges that documentarians face, and face questions of authorship and authenticity. At Royal Holloway we nurture creative and challenging Filmmakers. The course offers a launch pad for outstanding careers in a growing field of filmmaking. 

You'll be taught by award-winning documentary filmmakers and commissioners: our tutors Marc Isaacs, Helen Littleboy and Victoria Mapplebeck, are all active filmmakers with industry contacts. They'll give you insight into what commissioners are looking for in documentaries today and you'll get real vocational experience by working on your own projects with established industry leaders.

  • You will gain hands-on tuition, classes, workshops and ongoing support from award winning directors, producers, editors, commissioners and film programmers
  • Be part of a challenging and dynamic production environment in which you will meet other aspiring directors, writers and producers, creating contacts and support that could last a lifetime
  • We bring in commissioners from the real world of documentary production to give you a full picture of what it takes to work as a documentarian. Some of our visiting commissioners have gone on to work with our students to develop their projects.
  • You will have the chance to workshop, develop and produce creative and original documentaries, gaining the skills, knowledge and contacts to see those projects go from idea to screen with an depth knowledge of documentary commissioning, across all platforms of distribution and exhibition
  • Draw inspiration from our location: taught predominantly at 11 Bedford Square, our creative hub close to the British Museum in London's Bloomsbury – plugging you right into the centre of a busy industry. You'll also have access to all of our facilities at our leafy Egham campus.
  • Make use of our exclusive 24-7 media labs and post-production rooms, complemented by our impressive range of professional location filming equipment, TV and sound studio facilities, supported by our committed and approachable technical team.
  • Access to work opportunities and internships in TV, cinema and cross platform production. Our students and alumni have worked on productions at BBC Storyville, Channel 4 and Reuters.

Guest Lectures and Guest Speakers include:

  • Nick Fraser – Commissioning Editor - BBC Storyville
  • Clare Paterson – Commissioning Editor - BBC Documentaries
  • Ollie Lambert – Award Winning Director
  • Films include: The Tea Boy of Gaza, Mum and Dad are Splitting Up and Syria ; Across the Lines
  • Pawel Pawlikowski – Award Winning Writer and Director
  • Films include: Ida, Last Resort, My Summer of Love , The Women in the Fifth and Tripping With Zhirinovsky

Course structure

Core modules

Ideas to Screen

In this module you will develop an understanding of the practice of documentary film making. You will look at eclectic notions of the genre, exploring the conceptual and formal challenges of creative documentary filmmaking, and examine ways of translating observations and ideas into both visual and aural imagery. You will also consider experimental forms of narrative, focussing on the the boundaries between fine art and documentary.

Foundations of Production

In this module you will develop an understanding of commissioning institutions and their political and financial structures. You will look at contemporary forms of distribution, from the internet to theatrical, and consider the three fundamental stages of production management in for documentary films - pre-production, production, and post-production. You will gain practical experience in the production of short taster tapes and the writing of proposals and treatments, covering the basics of budgets, schedules, copyright, legal compliance and marketing. You will also have the opportunity to participate in a number of field trips and attend sessions with industry experts.

Major Documentary Production

You will produce a substantial documentary production of 20-minutes in length. You will develop an understanding of documentary film genre and its changing boundaries, as well as emerging technologies and their impact on genre. You will look at the process of making a documentary film, from initial concept to final form, and the various stages of production. You will consider the current and changing platforms for documentary film, including cinema, television and the internet, and examine the ways in which the documentary industry is being reinvented.

Teaching & assessment

Assessment is carried out by a variety of methods including project work, photo essays and written production papers.

Your future career

Our students have gone onto become award winning Directors, Editors, Animators and Producers. Recent graduates have been nominated for and won many awards, including The London International Film Festival, BBC Storyville, International Women’s Film Festival, Open City Docs, CineGlobe and The One World Media Award.

Recent Graduates include:

Iris Lebrun - Whilst at Royal Holloway, Iris won a One World Broadcasting Award. Her film Feeding The Void, won First Prize at Open City Docs Fest. Iris was also selected for Mini Meet Market at Sheffield Doc Fest 2014 . Since graduating she has interned at BBC Modern Times and worked as an Editor on Text Me, a cross platform Documentary which won the 2014 Pixel Lab Award.

Masumi Higashi – Masumi’s film Motorbike Midwifes won a One World Broadcasting Award whilst she was at Royal Holloway. Motorbike Midwifes went on to win twenty Awards, including, BBC Storyville Prize for documentary narrative excellence at CineGlobe , Winner of the International Short Documentary Garden State Film Festival and The Gold Award Winner at the California Film Awards.

Jeong One Park. Jeong One's film Kung Fu Grannies won a One World Broadcasting Award and was nominated for a One World Media Award. Kung Fu Grannies went on to win: First Prize at the International Women’s Film Festival, Best Short Film at the Society for Visual Anthropology Film Festival and Best Short Film at the Cineffable France. Since graduating Jeong One has worked as an Editor and Producer at Channel 4, BBC and Reuters.

Visit the Documentary By Practice - MA page on the Royal Holloway, University of London website for more details!




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Recipient: Royal Holloway, University of London

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