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TV Practicum: Documentary and Social Change, RTV 4467-02

Syllabus by Prof. Andy Opel, Florida State University

Course Website


From the newsreel footage of the civil rights movement to films such as The Thin Blue Line, documentary film and video has played a central role in shaping the lives of individuals and society as a whole. This class will emphasize the power of documentary and the potential to address issues of social significance. Given our privileged location in the capital city of one of the largest states in the nation, this class will encourage you to tap the political, social and cultural resources within Tallahassee.

This class will explore the contemporary world of documentary video production with an overview of the history and major trends in documentary production. The course will combine critical viewing skills with practical instruction in documentary production. This class will be organized as a workshop, requiring weekly participation and collaboration among the class members. Just as you would expect to read great work in a writing workshop, we will view and critique a range of contemporary documentary work. You will learn to critically "read" documentaries at the same time that you learn to critically "write" documentary in the form of a final finished piece that will be submitted to a film festival and possibly aired on WFSU-TV.


After completing this course, students will be able to:

  • plan and create videotapes which communicate specific, identified messages to particular audiences;
  • utilize visual and audio technology in a technically competent and creative way;
  • successfully operate and maintain a variety of video cameras and recorders, microphones and mixers, and television projection devices;
  • use non-linear video editing software and hardware with skill and elegance;
  • act as a member of a video production team; and constructively critique other's creative work.


Michael Rabiger, Directing The Documentary, 3rd Edition, 1997. Focal Press, Boston.

Other readings will be put on reserve outside my office.


Documentary Video Project - 40% - Details Forthcoming

Ideas Assignment - 5%

Documentary Resources - 5%
Each student will explore the Internet, library, bookstores or any other source to find an interesting and/or useful documentary resource. This could be a website with someone's documentaries on it, or a magazine that focuses on documentary, or a listing of festivals or anything else that you discover that is documentary related. We will share these with the class.

Documentary Biography - 10%
Each student will write a brief biography of a documentary filmmaker. In class, each student will summarize their work and provide a handout to the class. This is not a formal presentation, rather a sharing of what you learned.

2 Written Response Essays - 20%
Each student will be expected to write two short (500 words) response essays.

Attendance and Participation - 20%
Students are expected to attend class and participate in classroom discussions. Tuesdays will be "Viewing" days that require little or no preparation. Thursdays are "Theory and Practice" and will require you to come to class having read the material. A 2-point quiz will be given on most Thursdays.

Spring Class Schedule 2003


1/7 Introduction to Course - Begin topic choice discussion
Viewing: Student Work

1/9 A Brief History of Documentary
Viewing: Nanook of The North, Man With A Movie Camera, Triumph of The Will
Rabiger -- Chapters 1, 2

1/14 Theory and Practice: Oganization, Planning, Interviewing Readings: Rabiger Chap. 14 + 15. Gray 87-95 (On Reserve outside my office).

1/16 Theory and Practice: Documentary and You, Camera Update
Rabiger -- Chapters 3 + 4.
Ideas Assignment Due. Production Team Assignments

1/21 Viewing: Paradise Lost I

1/23 Theory and Practice: Modes of Production; Camera Workshop
Readings: Nichols p.32-75 (On Reserve outside my office) Project Treatment Due

1/28 Viewing: Paradise Lost II

1/30 Theory and Practice: Sound and lighting Readings: Rabiger Chap 11, 12, 13 Documentary Resources Assignemt Due

2/4 Viewing: Stranger with a Camera , The Golf War

2/6 Theory and Practice: Documentary Theory and Representation
Rabiger: Chap. 26-30 First Sample Footage Due

2/11 Viewing: Panama Deception

2/13 Theory and Practice Readings: "Media in a Capitalist Culture" by Barbara Trent (On Reserve outside my office). Biographies Due

2/18 Viewing: Manufacturing Consent Reading: "Manufacturing Consent" by Noam Chomsky Detailed Project Outline Due

2/20 Manufacturing Consent Con't

2/25 Viewing: Experimental Docs Essay # 1 Due

2/27 Theory and Practice: Editing and AVID Readings: Rabiger Chap 19-22 Second Sample Footage Due

3/4 Music and Documentary Viewing: Monterrey Pop, Woodstock, Year of The Horse

3/6 Theory and Practice: TBA Readings TBA


3/18 Viewing: American Dream, Harlan Country USA

3/20 Theory and Practice Essay # 2 Due

3/25 Viewing: Thin Blue Line, Mr. Death

3/27 Theory and Practice: Project Critiques Readings TBA Third Sample Footage Due

4/1 Viewing: Afghanistan Docs.

4/3 Theory and Practice: TBA Readings TBA

4/8 Viewing: Roger and Me, The Big One

4/10 Theory and Practice: Critique Student Work Rough Edit Due

4/15 Viewing: TBA

4/17 Theory and Practice

4/22 Viewing: TBA

4/24 Last Class View Student Work FINAL PROJECT DUE