If you are looking for an intensive and focused introduction to the process of making documentary films this summer, I encourage you to investigate the Summer Documentary Film School at MassArt. I believe this is one of the best intensive education options available for emerging documentary makers. This is the fourth summer MassArt is offering this unique program and it runs from June 3rd through July 3rd.
The program consists of five classes:
- Documentary Video Boot Camp with yours truly, June 3 – 7
- The Documentary Camera with Stephen Maing, June 10 – 14
- Documentary Sound with Eric Masunaga, June 17 – 21
- Editing the Documentary with Julie Wang Mallozzi, June 24 – 28
- Producing the Documentary with Maria Agui Carter, July 1 – 3
You can register for only one or two of the classes, but for the most holistic experience, I encourage you to register for the entire program unless you have prior production experience. MassArt offers a residence option so you can live on campus if you’re coming in from out of town. To register for the Summer Film School visit the MassArt Professional and Continuing Education Summer Film School page. If you have specific questions about the program, don’t hesitate to leave a comment on this post or contact me directly via my contact form.
I will be teaching the Documentary Video Boot Camp, an intensive one-week course that kicks off the MassArt Summer Film School. During the first three days of the boot camp you will be guided through a series of hands-on explorations of sound, camera, lighting, and editing technique. Then during the last two days you will produce a complete micro-documentary working in a small team. Your experience this week will help you establish the foundation for further study and practice including the the summer film school courses that follow the boot camp.
To help you get a better idea of what to expect from the summer documentary film school experience, I recently spoke with my Summer Film School colleagues about their classes and here are some of the highlights of our conversation:
Tamés: Eric, why is sound so important in documentary film?
Masunaga: We’ve all been brought up watching movies, but the leap from viewer to filmmaker is marked by realizing the way we hear film is equally or more important. Sound carries emotion and the message in docs.
Tamés: How is that addressed in this class?
Masunaga: It’s a rare opportunity to get into the nitty gritty in kind of a two-pronged approach: Students will be asked to think about what makes effective film sound and then we’ll go out and get it. Each day we’ll record, then evaluate, and I’ll try to impart twenty five years worth of tips, tricks and rules-of-thumb. We’ll listen to alot of movies.
Tamés: What will students come away with?
Masunaga: By the end of the week students will have a solid set of skills for strategizing, recording, and presenting effective sound for their documentary work.
Tamés: Steve, What is the role of cinematography in documentary?
Maing: Nicolas Roeg once said, “I can’t think how anyone can become a director without learning the craft of cinematography.” At its core cinematography is the idea that the way a film is shot is not just a series of technical and aesthetic questions but a direct articulation of one’s intentions and identity as an artist, as well as their relationship to the subject.
Tamés: What approach will you take with your class?
Maing: This introductory class will look at the filmmaking process from the perspective of a documentary crew’s director of photography as well as from the perspective of one-man band filmmaking. How we translate ideas into visual language will be considered through discussions, demonstration and hands-on exercises on composition, movement, lighting, exposure control, focus, depth of field, hand-held vs. tripod shooting and overall camera handling. We will explore scene “coverage” and how the camera operator physically moves through a space to tell a story. And, we will consider the implications of each technical and aesthetic decision we make as being a conveyor of new meaning and information. We will also dig into camera menus, settings, color temperature, frame rates and location sound for videographers.
Tamés: Julie, what role does editing play in the process of documentary construction?
Mallozzi: Editing is my favorite part of filmmaking, through editing you shape the overall vision of the film but also play with a million smaller details to give the film style and humor.
Tamés: What will students be doing in the editing class?
Mallozzi: We will start looking at the big picture of what can be achieved through editing: story order, dramatic emphasis, rhythm, pacing, associative meaning. Then, working with both your own material and footage I provide, we will work through the mechanics of the editing process. How do you organize your material? How, and why, do you make a paper cut? How do you build a scene? How do you edit hours of interviews into a few pithy comments? Where does structure emerge from? How do you watch your own film with an editor’s eye – and how can you as an editor work with another director’s vision? We will edit several exercises to try out different techniques and develop a sense of editing style. If students bring cuts of films in process, we will provide constructive critique. All along the way, we will hone editing technique using Final Cut Pro X.
Tamés: Maria, why would a student want to take a producing class?
Carter: If you want to get your film distributed in the industry, you need to know how to produce.
Tamés: How would you describe producing?
Carter: Producing is understanding the business, the legal and the industry landscape around creation and acquisition of your artistic work. It’s not just about putting together crews and cameras, it’s about understanding how to manage people and resources, and finding ways to build partnerships and articulate a vision with all those you ask along on your journey to finishing your film, from funders, to programmers, and to your audience.
Tamés: What, specifically, will you cover in your class?
Carter: This will be a jam-packed mini-course on production from an industry veteran with films in educational, home video and broadcast distribution. I will help you avoid the common pitfalls of production, save thousands of dollars in mis-used time and resources, and allow you and your team to concentrate on the creative side of media making.
Tamés: Julie, why do you think Boston is such an amazing place to study documentary?
Mallozzi: Its cultural landscape is incredibly diverse, which means almost everywhere you turn there are great subjects for films. It’s a fun town to live in as a student, because there are so many colleges and it’s easy to get around on foot, bike, or public transportation to all the fun things to do. And it’s the center of a vibrant documentary community, the original home of legendary filmmakers like Ricky Leacock, Fred Wiseman, the Maysles Brothers. Here you’ll find the headquarters of flagship PBS station WGBH and the home of many notable documentary filmmakers including Adrianna Bosch, Rebecca Richards Cohen, Ross McElwee, and of course, Errol Morris.
Maria Agui Carter has extensive experience as a director, writer, and producer of documentaries. She produces films for PBS and cable and is an advocate for Latino and social issue filmmakers, serving as Chair of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, and past Chair of Filmmaker’s Collaborative. I recently posted an in-depth interview with Maria about her new film Rebel: Loreta Velazquez, secret soldier of the American Civil War. The film premiered this past weekend as a National Prime Time special on PBS.
Stephen Maing has worked in both documentary and narrative films as director, cinematographer, and editor. His documentary about two Chinese citizen journalists, High Tech, Low Life premiered at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival, and screened in the festival circuit including IFFBoston and Hot Docs.
Julie Mallozzi is an independent filmmaker whose works have been screened at festivals and broadcast on PBS. She’s also been a producer for a number of PBS programs. Julie studied filmmaking as an undergraduate at Harvard and earned an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute. Her most recent film, Indelible Lalita, will have its broadcast premiere on PBS World.
Eric Masunaga is among the best qualified sound experts in Boston. For the past decade he’s been a Sound Mixer and Finishing Supervisor at Modulus Studios, a picture mastering and sound mixing facility in Brighton. His current projects include editing a Ravi Shankar concert and scoring a zombie film. Recently he mixed Secundaria, a documentary by Mary Jane Doherty about Cuban ballet.
David Tamés is a documentary maker whose works have screened at US and European film festivals and museums. His short films include Remembering John Marshall, about the late ethnographic filmmaker and the award-winning Smile Boston Project, a profile of artist Bren Bataclan. He is currently co-directing Farm and Red Moon, a feature-length documentary about humane farm animal slaughter and serves on the Filmmakers Collaborative Board of Directors.
Photos courtesy of Anne Marie Stein.