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Shooting Documentary: An Introduction

Learn the camera skills needed to shoot and create documentary films, with filmmaker Jessica Bishopp.

“I’m curious. Period. I find everything interesting. Real life. Fake life. Objects. Flowers. Cats. But mostly people. If you keep your eyes open and your mind open, everything can be interesting.” – Agnès Varda (director)

“What I try to achieve in my documentaries is a familiarity, an intimacy with people, in the hope that audiences will respond to them as human beings rather than dismiss them as stereotypes. I think that by focusing on the human drama and trying to tell a story through character rather than communicate facts through interview and voice-over, you can portray more of life’s inherent complexities and contradictions.” – Molly Dineen (in ‘Imagining reality: the Faber book of the documentary’)

On this three-day course students will learn the camera skills needed to shoot and create documentary films. The course is taught through a series of hands-on exercises that increase in complexity over the three days. Students will have access to professional camera and sound equipment for the duration of the course, as well as access to the edit suite for one month following the course.

Course content

Through a mixture of watching filmic examples, shared discussions and a series of camera exercises you’ll learn the following filmmaking skills:

  • hand-held shooting technique using a professional video camera
  • how to use a tripod
  • intelligent use of automatic controls
  • getting good sound for interviews
  • filming a sequence
  • filming uncontrolled action (observational filmmaking)
  • filming for the edit
  • an introduction to what makes a good documentary “character” and “story”
  • an introduction to documentary form

The course is led by filmmaker Jessica Bishopp, who, by using filmic examples and personal work, will go through the editing process with raw material and explain why certain choices were made in bringing together a scene. Together with her editor Xanna Ward Dixon, she will also explore how these thought processes in the edit can impact your choices in pre-production and production filming. 

Who is this course for

This course is suitable for beginners.

There are no prerequisites required to apply for this course.

Benefits of taking this course

Taking this course you’ll

  • be taught by a professional documentary filmmaker
  • have access to professional camera equipment
  • have unique access to a filmmaker, who’ll guide you through how footage can then be used in the edit.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course you’ll have an understanding of how to:

  • use a hand-held professional video camera
  • get good sound
  • film a sequence
  • film uncontrolled action
  • a basic understanding of what makes a good documentary “character” and “story”
  • a basic understanding of the diverse forms of documentary filmmaking

You’ll also have an understanding of what it means to ‘film/shoot for the edit’.

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Jessica Bishopp


Jessica Bishopp is an award winning director and documentary filmmaker fascinated by subcultures and myth, as well as exploring universal themes embedded in our daily lives and thoughts. Her work has been screened internationally at film festivals such as Sheffield Doc/Fest, Aspen Shortsfest, AFI DOCS, CamerImage Festival and New Orleans Film Festival. Her artist film Lifespan was broadcast on Channel4 as part of their Random Acts program. Her documentary films have featured on The Atlantic, WeTransfer, NOWNESS, The Guardian Documentaries and Aeon, receiving several Vimeo Staff Pick awards. She was selected from over 3,000 applications to represent the UK as a director at Berlinale Talents 2020. Recently her BFI Doc Society funded short documentary, Skyward, premiered at the BFI London Film Festival 2022 and her new film, Puffling, supported by the Rooftop Films Fund, IF/Then and Field of Vision, will have its World Premiere at SXSW 2023. Jessica is also a lecturer at UCL on their MA Ethnographic and Documentary Film.