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DRAMA 407 A: Documentary in Performance

Meeting Time: 
TTh 9:30am - 11:20am
HUT 150
Kwame Braun standing outside in a grey jacket
Kwame Braun

Syllabus Description:

The first films ever made were documentaries: simple static shots of ordinary people doing ordinary things for the newfangled gizmo, the kinetograph. Fantastical storytelling quickly eclipsed the mundane, but, for the most part, film has remained a fundamentally documentary medium, showing real people doing real things. In a sense, every movie is a document of its own construction, even when it comes entirely out of a computer. And the hallmarks of any good documentary—focus and inquiry, careful observation and perception, a sense of visual narrative, and humane engagement—are attributes of any serious fiction as well.  Reality may not be as entertaining, but it is always more important: it’s where we live.

This class is a workshop in video production for documentary, with a focus on performers and performance, in any of their myriad creative expressions. During this course, I will provide you with the opportunity to learn and apply a range of conceptual and technical skills, including pre-visualizing and planning; use of cameras, sound recording equipment, and lights; and editing.  In addition to several exercise shoots, you will use this technology to research and document some aspect of people crafting a performance to present to an audience.

You will be working with a classmate to design and produce a common collaborative project that is practical, relevant, and suitable for audio-visual documentation.   Projects will focus on a narrowly defined group of people engaged in a compelling and specific performance activity.  You should have ready and sustainable access to the people you are working with (both before and behind the camera), yet have sufficient distance to maintain an enduring curiosity and critical perspective. Mutual accountability and candor are also indispensable.  Above all, your efforts should be grounded on a research question that is both cogent and open-ended:  you want to learn something you don’t already know.

This is a demanding undertaking, especially over the course of a single quarter term.  Be prepared to put in long hours throughout the course of the project.  Not only will you have to put in significant time with your chosen subject, but you may well find you need to meet with your colleagues regularly to reevaluate and revise your approach.  And editing your material into a coherent and succinct report is invariably the most time consuming effort of all.  If you are unable to commit to unusual demands on your schedule, do not take this class.

Course Activities

In addition to hands-on activities in class, you have three individual assignments:

  • Prepare and deliver a project pitch during the 2nd class meeting
  • Shoot individually a simple exercise to generate material for your first editing
  • Write a 2-page project report and self-evaluation at the end of the term. 

Most other activities will involve planning, shooting, and editing your collaborative project. Grades for completed project assignments will be awarded equally to all members. 

  • Production Plan & Schedule
  • Videotaped interview, approximately 10 minutes long
  • Complete transcript of subject interview
  • Paper edit of subject interview
  • Video edit of subject interview
  • Group midterm report, including production plans & timetables
  • All “principle photography” footage complete
  • All footage logged & captured
  • Complete assembly edits
  • Complete rough cuts
  • Complete fine cuts, including polished soundtrack
  • Compressed video file of finished project—H.264


Grading is based on the satisfactory completion of individual exercises and assignments, and in completion of the multiple steps to the finished group project, and on your performance as a collaborative member of your team and the class as a whole.  Bis the pivot point: do everything assigned, and you get a B.


A:  Work at the best of your abilities, exceeding expectations with committed, well-developed work, demonstrating both a focus on craft and expanding conceptual ambition and sophistication.  Full participation in class activities, critiques, and assignments.

             A+:  Rare as hens’ teeth.  Astonishing, standout work;  A-:  flagging drive and participation.

B:  Consistently fulfills expectations; solid, completed exercises and projects, technically competent with minor lapses, unnecessary conceptual compromises or underdevelopment, and deviations from assignment parameters.  Steady, if not enthusiastic participation.

            B+:  Added commitment and effort;  B-:   Lapses in focus and participation.

C: Work that is adequate but less effective in responding to the assignment, fulfilling the central intentions only in general terms, with simple applications of basic technique, but inattentive to details. Project concept rudimentary and undeveloped, production insufficiently planned and executed.

D:  The bare minimum.

F:   Less than that—frequently missing assignments, multiple unexcused absences, disregard for activities of the class.


There will be no exam.  You will occasionally submit documentation of various types.




We will cover all the technical information you absolutely need to get started in class, but won’t have much time to go into depth.  If you would like it all written down in greater detail in one place, The Filmmaker’s Handbook, by Steven Ascher & Edward Pincus (latest edition, 2013) is practical, matter-of-fact, and comprehensive. 

This class does not have production equipment attached to it.I will bring in my own equipment for class demonstrations only. If you do not have camera or sound equipment of your own, you may reserve and check out video cameras and DSLRs out of the Kane Hall Student Tech Loan Program, and Zoom H2n audio recorders from DXArts in the basement of Raitt Hall. Reservations are short-term and equipment availability is not guaranteed. If you’re in a pinch, use your phone—I really won’t hold it against you.


IMPORTANT: If you are going to borrow equipment, get a SDHC (or SDXC higher capacity) card of your own to record your shoots on—16GB is probably the practical minimum. If you haven’t got one of your own, you have to “capture” your footage to a computer or drive before you return the camera. If you DO use a STF camera, make sure to REFORMAT the SD card—erasing the footage already on it—so that you can use its full capacity. Label your own SD card somehow so that you don’t get them mixed up. While you are at it, get


If you already have an editing program on your computer, you are welcome to use it—just make sure to bring it to class for critiques. If you are new to computer editing, your options depend on whether you have a Mac (Final Cut) or a PC (Premiere). I’m much more comfortable with Final Cut myself, but I can teach you the basics (all you really need) of Premiere, which is currently ascendant. If you can’t afford to buy or subscribe to either program, both programs are available on computers in Hutchinson 155, and in various computer labs throughout campus, including Odagaard Library and the Computer Center in the School of Art and Design across the street (which also has some cameras and audio attachments).

Your team should have a portable hard drivefor storage of your video files.  This will allow you to move between and edit your project on any of the editing stations (or at home).  Get as much storage capacity as you can afford; in addition to stored footage, editing programs generates “render” files that can take up lots of space.  All makes are not equal—research first.  Note:  If your project partner is on one platform and you are on the other, you’ll have to pick one or the other; moving back and forth between them can create more problems than it solves.


Term Schedule

Week Zero                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Thurs. Sept. 27:    Getting To Know Ourselves Better (Mixer).  Presentation and discussion of course objectives and structure. Community Norms & Tech Policy

                                    1stIndividual Assignment: prepare your pitch for term project.  All pitches in next classTuesday, October 1st.

                                    1stIndividual Exercise: Simple Shoot: shoot someone doing a routine physical task made up of several different repetitive procedures. Bring shots to class as transferable Quicktime files (.mov or .mp4) Oct.10.



Week One                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Tues. Oct. 1:           Pitches!  Project and Team Selections.  Lecture: How to Make a Documentary in Three Easy Steps:  Production structure, planning, coordinating, & schedule.

1stTeam Assignment: Create production plan.  Finalize project concept, write a treatment, and draw up timeline/schedule.  Email final document to me, Sunday Oct. 13, by 9:00 PM.

Reading for Thursday: Filmmakers Handbook: Chs. 3, 4 & 5: The Video Camera, The Lens, The Video Image

Chap. 13 & 14: Picture & Dialogue Editing, Video Editing

Thurs. Oct.3:         Writing with Electrons and Pixals:  Videography!  Basic principles of cameras, lens, and exposure.  In-class exercise shoot—BRING A CAMERA TO CLASS!

2ndTeam Assignment: Organize and shoot first event relevant to your project. Footage due by Tues. Oct. 15.  Individualedits due Tues. Oct. 22.

Reading: Filmmakers Handbook: Ch. 9: The Shoot, and Chap. 10 & 11:  Sound Recording Systems; Sound Recording Techniques


Week Two                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Tues. Oct. 8:          Talking to Strangers:  The Art of the Interview.  Basic sound and microphones.

3rd Team Assignment, Pt. 1: Conduct and record an interview with one of your subjects, using an audio recorder orcamera as audio recorder only.  Complete transcription due Thurs. Oct. 17. 

Reading for Thursday: Filmmakers Handbook: Chap. 13 & 14: Picture & Dialogue Editing, Video Editing

Thurs. Oct. 10:      Sculpting in Time:  Introduction to Basic Editing.  Scene, sequence, continuity, & montage. 




Week Three                                                                                                                                                                                                

Tues. Oct. 15:         Present Revised Production Plan.

It Depends How You Look At It:  Point-of-view, Shot design & Composition; matching angles & pre-editing; coverage & shotlists. 

Addendum to 1stTeam Assignment: Add shotlist to production plan.    Due Oct. 22.

Reading for Thursday: A&P, Ch. 16, Sound Editing and Mixing

Thurs. Oct. 17:       Editing with Scissors and Glue:  transcribing; transcripts & logs;  paper edits.

What They Said: Basic Sound Editing.   Adjusting levels; trimming sound clips using waveforms; unlinking sound from picture; “J” & “L” cuts. Interview transcipts due.

3rdTeam Assignment, Pt. 2: Print up your transcript, do a paper edit, then edit your interview recording. Finished edit due Oct.24, with hardcopy of both transcript and paper edit.


Week Four                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Tues. Oct. 22:        Screen and Critique 1stProject Edits

Thurs. Oct. 24:      Audit Interview Edits.

Talking with ConfidantsConfidence:  Human Subjects, Ethics, and Consent. Legal and Institutional Limits.  Release forms.  Expanding your collaboration.  Issues of Copyright and Fair Use.

Assignments for Individual Team Meetings next Tuesday.


Week Five                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Tues. Oct. 29:        Individual Team Meetings / Editing Session: come to class prepared to work with your project partner and to discuss your project’s progress with instructor.

Thurs. Oct. 31:       Editing workshop.  Midterm Check-In: How We Doin’ So Far.

Reading for Tuesday: A&P, CH.12, Lighting.


Week Six                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Tues. Nov. 5:         Out of the Dark Into the Light:  Exposure and Lighting.   Controlling brightness, contrast & color; available light; supplemental lighting.  Workshop.

LightQuest—Seeing Exercise: Find a space on campus (no more than 10 minutes’ walk from Hutchinson) that has interesting available light which can illuminate someone. If possible, revisit it again on Wednesday morning to assess the light at approximately class time.

Thurs. Nov. 7:       LightQuest Tour: in 3 or 4 person groups, visit, evaluate, and SHOOT in each team member’s selection. Bring your cameras & tripods. DRESS FOR WEATHER.


Week Seven                                                                                                                                                                                             

Tues. Nov. 12:        Review LightQuest images: bring your best pictures to class. BRING EDITING LAPTOP TO CLASS:Multicam Editing.

Thurs. Nov. 14:     TBD or Editing Work Session


Week Eight                                                                                                                                                                                                

Tues. Nov. 19:       TBD or Editing Work Session

Thurs. Nov. 21:      Thanksgiving   NO CLASS


Week Nine                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Tues. Nov.27 :       Screen Assembly Edits

 Thurs. Nov. 29:    Screen Assembly Edits


Week Ten                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Tues. Dec. 4:          Work Session / Rough Cut Screening. Class Evaluations.

 Thurs. Dec. 6:       Final Class: All Rough Cuts Screened

 Final Individual Assignment: Write Project Report and Self-Assessment. 2 pages. Due Wednesday afternoon.

Final Project Assignment: Complete your Fine Cut and export it as an H.264 .mov file to bring to final screening on a USB stick or hard drive.


Week Eleven                                                                                                                                                                                              

Wed. Dec.12:         10:30 to 12:20  FINAL SCREENING: FINE CUTS.  Pie.

                  Turn in Personal Project Reports & Finished movie files


Keep going.

Catalog Description: 
Video production for documentary, focus on performers and performance. Covers a range of conceptual and technical skills, including pre-visualizing and planning; use of cameras, sound recording equipment and lights; editing. Use of this technology to research and document some aspect of people crafting a performance to present to an audience.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:13pm