Documentary Filmmaking: From Idea to Reality (Online)

Aimed at new and emerging documentary producers and directors, this 5-week online course provides a detailed overview of the whole pre-production process, from research, casting, proposal writing, and taster-tape making through to funding and pitching.

Price £165 / £155 Students / £145 UCL Students

We often think of documentary filmmaking as being organic, “in the moment”, and impromptu. And this is all, of course true. But there is also a huge amount of prep work that needs to be done in order to turn a film idea into reality. In this course we’ll go through the whole pre-production process in detail, from research, casting, proposal writing, and taster-tape making through to funding and pitching. The course is aimed at new and emerging producers and directors, with a focus on presenting creative independent documentary film formats. Students are encouraged to prepare a real or hypothetical film to develop and “pitch” at the end of the course. This course will leave students feeling enabled to take the next step with their film ideas, and with a thorough understanding of how rigorous planning and preparation can lead to a better film.

Session 1

In this session, students will learn how and where to find documentary ideas, and then, once sought, how to dig deep. We’ll discuss how and why we research our topics and what this involves. We’ll then consider character, how to “cast” for a documentary, and what it means to build a relationship with our contributors.

Homework: start researching a documentary

Session 2

This week we’ll discuss how to tell a story in a documentary, how to develop our film ideas into a narrative, and then how to translate this into a written proposal and script.

Homework: write synopsis of film idea

Session 3

Make a taster. Pitching, funding, commissioning

During this session, students will practice reading out their film synopsis with feedback from the tutor. Students will then learn about the “industry” and how to get their films funded or commissioned. We’ll look at different examples of taster tapes and learn more about pitching our ideas.

Homework: Make a taster tape

Session 4

Figuring out logistics, budget, equipment, thinking about the look and style of our film

After watching each other’s taster tapes, we’ll then start to think more about the practicalities of filmmaking. Students will learn how to write a budget, and how much money we actually need to make a film. We’ll think about insurance, equipment and start preparing the paperwork we need to have with us on a shoot.

Session 5

Feedback session

Share synopsis and taster tapes of our film ideas and give feedback.


Photo credit: Adam Pietraszeswki.

This course will be delivered via online distance learning, and students will require a computer or other internet connected device.

This course takes place across 5 Wednesday evenings (7pm to 9pm) from 22nd November to 20th December 2023.

Booking closes at 1pm on 22nd November.

1x Universal Credit bursary place is available for this course. Please see our bursary policy here.

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If you still have other questions relating to a specific course or request, please get in touch with us via emailing shortcourses@opencitylondon.com

or call us at +44 20 3108 7586



Chloe White


Chloe White is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and photographer and director of Whalebone Films based in Hastings and London, with frequent travels around the world to collect stories and images.

Her films are intimate, considered portraits, focusing mainly on the female experience.

Her clients and partners include the Guardian, Topic, Nowness, BBC, Channel 4, Oxfam, Save the Children and the BFI and she has had films screen at festivals internationally including at Camden International Film Festival, Open City, and Sheffield Doc Fest.

Chloe lectures in Documentary Film at University College London and London College of Communications. She has also given talks and workshops at the BFI, Frontline Club, the Roundhouse and is a fellow of Macdowell.