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The program in Social Documentary Film provides a solid foundation in the fundamentals of non-fiction filmmaking, as well as an immersion into the critical and analytical processes necessary to conceptualize and develop film projects with content of significant social relevance. This program represents the convergence of journalism, social activism and the art of filmmaking.

The first year of study offers a core curriculum devoted to mastering tools and techniques while studying the history of filmic practice as it relates to documentary. Each student will complete five- and ten-minute short documentary films. The second year focuses on the thesis project and courses address various filmmaking concentrations, such as directing, producing and editing. Each student will direct his or her thesis film and serve as a key crewmember on at least one other thesis project.

Degree Requirements 

• Successful completion of 60 credits, including all required courses and the thesis project. Documentation of all thesis projects must be on file with the MFA Social Documentary Film Department to be eligible for degree conferral. 

Meet all academic and administrative requirements. 

• Students are required to maintain a minimum grade point average of 3.0 (B) in order to remain in good academic standing. 

• A matriculation of two academic years is required. Students must complete their degree within four years, unless given an official extension by the provost.

Note: Departmental requirements are subject to change by the department chair if the chair deems that such change is warranted.

First Year Requirements

DFG-5010          Cinematography and Sound I
DFG-5015          Cinematography and Sound II
DFG-5020          Camera and Sound Lab I
DFG-5025          Camera and Sound Lab II
DFG-5040          Directing I
DFG-5045          Directing II
DFG-5070          Editing I
DFG-5075          Editing II
DFG-5080          Editing Lab I
DFG-5085          Editing Lab II
DFG-5140          Producing I
DFG-5145          Producing II
DFG-5240          Visionary Journalism I
DFG-5250          Visionary Journalism II
DFG-5520          Process and Style I
DFG-5525          Process and Style II
DFG-5700          Thesis: The Pitch

Second Year Requirements

DFG-6120          Process and Style III
DFG-6125          Process and Style IV
DFG-6260          Visiting Artists: Documentary Masters
DFG-6520          Thesis: Directing
DFG-6530          Thesis: Directing Lab
DFG-6570          Thesis: Editing
DFG-6580          Thesis: Editing Lab
DFG-6610          Thesis: Producing
DFG-6900          Thesis: Review and Presentation

General Course Listing - MFA Social Documentary Film

DFG-5010 / DFG-5015
Cinematography and Sound I and II
Two semesters: 3 credits per semester
Success in the film industry requires fluency in the standard terminology of cinematic language and an immersion in the world of production techniques. Beginning with the uses of image and sound as the rudimentary tools of storytelling, these courses will focus on gaining a comprehensive grasp of the technical demands of filmmaking. Through class and laboratory sessions, a range of equipment—cameras, tripods, lighting instruments, audio recording, microphones—will be explored. Students will also learn how to use camera angles, sound and lighting to convey meaning and further their stories. Students will profit from an alternating heterogeneous blend of several faculty members, whose aesthetics and vantage points represents a broad spectrum. 

DFG-5020 / DFG-5025
Camera and Sound Lab I and II
Two semesters: no credit
These labs must be taken in conjunction with Cinematography and Sound I and II. They give students an opportunity for hands-on training with camera and sound equipment that is vital for professional-level filmmaking. 

DFG-5040 / DFG-5045
Directing I and II
Two semesters: 3 credits per semester
The potency of a documentary relies on the instincts of the director, whose acuity of mind and eye must be able to translate intellectual content into an aesthetic experience. These courses will address topics that include how to most effectively tell a story, how to conduct meaningful and informative interviews, and how to navigate the relationship between subject and filmmaker. With an emphasis on originality as it applies to the documentary, students will explore new mediums and a variety of directing styles, tones and techniques. Included will be an extensive study of documentary film history and theory, which will examine a wide range of texts and films from the early 20th century to the present. 

DFG-5070 / DFG-5075
Editing I and II
Two semesters: 3 credits per semester
If viewing a film is understood to be an interpretive process, then the orchestration of image and sound, and the rate at which information is disseminated, is critical to the endeavor. The editor transforms footage from observation to an engrossing experience. These courses will examine the critical role that editing plays in non-fiction programs, and look at how the editing room is often the arena where the structure and narrative arc are created. Documentaries will be screened to provide students with a fundamental understanding of editing styles, aesthetics and techniques. Laboratory sessions will demonstrate editing techniques with industry-standard technology. Topics will cover a wide range of subjects—from continuity of motion to montage, jump-cut, music usage and program structure. Finally, we will explore voice-over narration, sound design, music and other postproduction techniques to further the story and deepen the experience. Note: Lab sessions will be held outside of class hours. These sessions are required of all students until technical proficiency is attained. 

DFG-5080 / DFG-5085
Editing Lab I and II
Two semesters: no credit
These labs must be taken in conjunction with Editing I and II. They are designed to give students an opportunity for hands-on training in Avid and other essential programs and tools for editing. 

DFG-5140 / DFG-5145
Producing I and II
Two semesters: 3 credits per semester
Multifunctional and multidimensional in approach, the role of a producer is to initiate, coordinate, supervise and control all matters in the realization of a film project, such as fundraising and hiring key personnel. These courses will cover key aspects of documentary production from pitch and budget preparation to production set-up, crew management and postproduction workflow. Students will learn how to analyze a project and apply this analysis in cost and project management, from preproduction rights to editing and film distribution. The spring semester will focus on the practical experience of creating a written body of work in preparation of the thesis film. Topics will include archival research, production management, budgeting and story producing. 

DFG-5240 / DFG-5250
Visionary Journalism I and II
Two semesters: 3 credits per semester
From finding and researching a story to writing a treatment and a shooting script, understanding the ever-evolving ethics involved in documentary filmmaking and the established journalistic ethics are of primary importance. These courses will engender a full understanding of the ethical standards inherent in print and broadcast journalism, and nonfiction writing as they relate to social documentary. Working within these structures, we will approach how to successfully tell a story—from origin of concept to finished product. The second semester will delve deeper into ideas of documentary filmmaker vs. journalist and matters of ethics and journalistic integrity. 

DFG-5520 / DFG-5525
Process and Style I and II
Thursday 6:00-8:50
Two semesters: no credit
Independent voices from the field will share their professional experiences and offer diverse perspectives in documentary film. Lecturers will discuss a range of specialized topics, including: new technologies and new platforms, film festivals and distribution, the relationship between subject and filmmaker, the pitch, international production, rights and clearances, archival research, job opportunities, career advancement. Many sessions will highlight documentary filmmakers who will screen their projects and share details and anecdotes about the field. 

DFG-5700
Thesis: The Pitch
Spring semester: no credit
Getting an idea off the ground and maintaining the momentum is often one of the most difficult facets of a production, even for talented filmmakers. Yet without the proverbial green light, the most prescient ideas atrophy by the wayside. Individual meetings with a faculty panel are designed to address one of the most important skills in the filmmaking process—the pitch. Using their own project ideas, students will articulate their vision clearly and concisely and deliver this vision to a panel of film industry professionals. Students will answer questions and address comments posed by the panel. The course objective is to arrive at the final thesis production topic. 

Second Year 

DFG-6120 / DFG-6125
Process and Style III and IV
Two semesters: no credit
Instructor: R. Vincelli Gustine
Independent voices from the field will share their professional experiences and offer diverse perspectives in documentary film. Lecturers will discuss a range of specialized topics, including new technologies and new platforms; film festivals and distribution; the relationship between subject and filmmaker; the pitch; international production; rights and clearances; archival research; job opportunities and career advancement. Many sessions will highlight documentary filmmakers who will screen their projects and share details and anecdotes about the field. 

DFG 6260
Visiting Artists: Documentary Masters
Fall semester: 3 credits
To help forge relationships between the masters of the documentary film and MFA SocDoc students, these seminars offer in-depth study and discussion of the craft of documentary storytelling. Seminar topics will vary each year based on student interest and changes in the field.

DFG-6520
Thesis: Directing
Fall semester: 3 credits
This course will guide students through the process of bringing their thesis ideas to fruition after a summer of filming. Of central focus will be the aesthetic and overall style considerations for thesis films. Emphasis will also be placed on the student-director’s communication with the producer, cinematographer, sound recordist and other personnel who will assist on the project and help to make each student’s thesis vision a reality. 

DFG-6530
Thesis: Directing Lab
Spring semester: 6 credits
Bolstered by critiques of professional film directors and fellow classmates, students will gain additional insights and the technical resources to develop their thesis films. Directors’ cuts of thesis films will be screened and analyzed, and students will have the opportunity to incorporate valuable suggestions into their final work. 

DFG-6570
Thesis: Editing
Fall semester: 3 credits
On average, there are 10 hours of footage shot for every minute of a final film. This course will address the challenge of managing the sheer bulk of media that will have been amassed for the thesis film. While shooting may continue throughout much of this period, students will be required to block out the basic sequence from what has already been filmed, and hew the narrative together into a film trailer and eventually into a rough cut. The goal is to bring projects into readiness for fine-tuning and completion in the spring semester. 

DFG-6580
Thesis: Editing Lab
Spring semester: 6 credits
This course will encompass all of the finishing touches for thesis film projects, including opening titles, closing credits, sound editing and film scoring. The lab will be supervised by a professional editor, under whose guidance students will strengthen their editorial acumen while completing their thesis films. 

DFG-6610
Thesis: Producing
Fall semester: 6 credits
Half of producing is getting the film made; the second half is getting the film seen. This course will focus on film marketing and distribution. It will build upon previous producing classes to strengthen skills for conceiving and pitching ideas, executing projects on budget and finding the most advantageous position in the marketplace. From understanding the rights division for theatrical, television, DVD, VOD, digital downloads and mobile uploads to crowd funding and film festivals, the course will round out what students need to know to get their thesis films out into the world. 

DFG-6900
Thesis: Review and Presentation
Spring semester: 3 credits
During the final semester, students will present their thesis projects to faculty advisors for review, advice and critique, and will introduce their documentaries to the film community at large. Students begin to will research, target and submit their thesis to a required number of film festivals, both domestic and abroad. 

DFG-6950
Thesis Extension
One semester: 3 credits
Instructor: M. Chermayeff
This course is designed for students who need an additional semester to complete their projects. Students will have access to all facilities, receive critique from faculty and continue to work with their thesis advisor.

 

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