Open City Documentary Festival

Using Video for Ethnographic Research

Sep 21 — Oct 12
A four-week course which takes place every Saturday (10am-5pm)
£400 / £300 for students / £275 for UCL students

Generate more insightful and meaningful footage for your ethnographic research, and learn how to capture authentic human behaviour on video for documentary films.

This four-week short course will teach you how to capture authentic human behaviour on video, generating more insightful and meaningful footage for your ethnographic research. You will learn basic camera skills and master the art of distilling a large amount of footage into a short documentary film.

In this course, we will discuss the difference between  conventional documentary making and filmmaking for research. You will learn the basics of observational documentary filmmaking for research, how to film an undirected reality, record good sound and picture and edit your findings into a film. This course will go beyond the ethnographic interview to learn how to capture authentic human behaviour on video, generating more insightful and meaningful footage for your research. You will learn how to analyse visual data and create a compelling narrative in the edit, and master the art of distilling a large amount of footage into a short film.

As part of the course, you will make a short 5-minute ethnographic research film. You will be provided with a full shooting kit which you will share with a partner.

Session Breakdown:

There are 8 sessions and each session is 3 hours. Sessions 4 and 8 will be mostly self-led however a tutor will be on hand for practical support. Camera and editing equipment will be provided for these sessions.

A full resource pack will be available to you digitally with useful links. A collective Vimeo site and GoogleDocs file will be provided for use during the course. Students must bring with them a notebook, a hard drive (minimum size 500GB) and 2 x 32GB memory cards for use during the course.


Session 1: Introduction to the use of video for ethnographic research

We will discuss the history of the use of video for ethnographic research as well as its growing use in business and academic research.

We will learn about the difference between conventional documentary and filmmaking for research, both as a tool and as a way of sharing your findings.

Some example video clips will be shared and discussed.

Session 2:  The Matrix/ Research Brief / Participant Contracts

This session will look at how to interpret a research brief/ matrix and plan your ethnographic fieldwork with video in mind.  We will discuss how to find key participants, make contact and choose the most revealing moments in their lives to film. We will also discuss the complexity of your relationship with participants,  ‘incentives’ and release forms.

At the end of the session, I will share a research brief with you on a subject that will be filmed on campus.

Homework between week 1 and 2:

Interpret your ‘matrix’, find your participants and arrange a time to film with them.


Session 3: Camera and Sound Basics

We will learn the basics of operating a lightweight digital video camera with an onboard microphone and radio mic set. You will learn about choosing the right settings, focus, framing, working with available light, and recording good sound.

We will learn how to shoot great interviews that go beyond talking heads and reveal meaningful insights. We will discuss interview techniques, how to give the subject space to talk, open up and give you more. You will also learn how to shoot B Roll, and capture authentic human behaviour in action on video, generating more insightful and meaningful footage for your research.

Session 4: A practical filmmaking exercise.

Here you will shoot your campus-based research film, including an interview, filming actuality/ behaviour and B Roll with your key participant. At the end of your filming session, you will be sent a fieldwork questionnaire to fill out or you can design your own.

Homework between week 2 and 3

Complete your field notes then watch your footage to see how much of your interview you have remembered!? Share your field notes with your group online and read each others to see how they differ.


Session 5: Analysis Session

We will discuss our participants and do an analysis session around the subject we have been filming. We will discuss what video has added to our ability to capture, remember and interpret findings including insights. This will be rounded up with the group making a group edit plan.

Session 6: Editing Basics

We will discuss the basics of editing using Adobe Premier, including how to categorize and sort through your footage, create bins and timelines according to your edit plan. We will discuss how to make introductory portraits for each participant, and the role of narrative in telling their stories while getting to the truth. You will begin you 20-minute edits and then finish them in your own time.

Homework between week 3 and 4:

Finish editing a 20-minute participant edit and share them with your group on Vimeo. Watch other students’ videos and download onto your hard drives for use later.


Session 7: Analysis Deep Dive

In a group, we will discuss the participant edits and pull out the main themes that are coming through and discuss how we would make an editing plan for thematic films that highlight our findings.

Session 8: Thematic Edits

Each student will take a theme and edit a 3-5 minute film on that subject from excerpts from the 20-minute edits.

The course will conclude with an evening screening of the final edits after a short supper break.

If you’d like to be added to this course’s mailing list for future running dates, please get in touch with

This short course is kindly supported by the Ipsos Ethnography Centre of Excellence.



Pinny Grylls

Course Leader

Pinny Grylls is an award winning documentary filmmaker and ethnographer. In 2010 she was featured in the Observer as one of a crop of innovative young directors working today. Her short documentary "Peter and Ben" has had over 350,000 views on YouTube and won a number of awards  such as the FourDocs Best Documentary, Best Documentary at Aspen Shorts Fest and The Grand Jury Prize in SXSW Click. Her other much loved documentaries include "Mr and Mrs Smith", "Who Do You Think You Were?" (Channel 4).

Specialising in the Arts, Pinny has also made a variety of commissioned documentaries for clients such as the Guardian, BBC, Channel 4, The Arts Council, The National Theatre, The Royal Opera House, and the Tate, as well as commercials for British Gas, Dove and Aldi. Most notable have been her behind the scenes films for The National Theatre ("The Hour") and The Royal Opera House ("Becoming Zerlina") both of which have attracted substantial audiences online due to the exclusive and fascinating insight they give into the lives of the performers who work at these great British arts institutions.

For the last 10 years Pinny has also worked as a freelance video ethnographer for both Ipsos Mori and the U.K. government, filming everything to gypsies and travellers to young carers for studies that have influenced government and corporate polices. She was part of the pioneering team at Ipsos Mori Ethnographic Centre for Excellence that developed the use of video for researching and understand human behaviour for both the public sector and commercial brands. The team went on to win several MRS awards for their innovative work.

Pinny also co-founded the Birds Eye View Film Festival in 2002 and is a published children's author.