Columbia Journalism School
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  • The Documentary Program Class of 2015
  • Celebration at Doc '15 Graduation
  • Rachel Boynton CJS '97, award-winning producer and director, speaks at Doc '15 graduation
  • Celebration at Doc '15 Graduation
  • Docprogramslideshow
  • The Documentary Program Class of 2015

The Documentary Program

Students produce documentary shorts that have run in The New York Times, aired on PBS, and garnered awards at film festivals around the world

The Documentary Program is a full-time, optional semester for M.S. students who wish pursue intensive video master's projects.

The program is designed to train students as independent film producers and directors. Successful candidates have leveraged their films to include magazine articles, NPR radio stories, and newspaper articles. Watch the trailers below of the films that screened at the DocFest 2015.

Documentary program students receive additional training in visual storytelling, camera work, sound recording, and editing. They generally work in teams, and receive one-on-one coaching from advisers who are recognized in the field. Students also learn the business side of documentary production— grant writing, negotiations, rights and clearances, and how to develop a winning production trailer. The resulting film, the capstone of these students' studies at Columbia Journalism School, is expected to publishable online, over the air, or at a festival.

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Admittance to the documentary program is part of the admissions process.  Students are grouped together during the core reporting class, and test into either Video 1 or Video 2 (note: inexperienced videographers are expected to work extra hard to develop their skills). They workshop story ideas as a group during the fall semester in a Documentary Masters' section, and stories are greenlit by the time the spring semester begins. They gain automatic entry to the required spring documentary seminar. A special graduation event, held in December, honors third semester students.

Past graduates of the program are now working for broadcast outlets like CBS Evening News and CBS' Sixty Minutes; NBC's "Dateline," BBC Radio, NPR; for online publications like the Daily Beast and The New York Times; for a variety of video startups, and as independent documentarians in their own right.

Members of Columbia Journalism School's accomplished broadcast faculty who advise these projects include June CrossBetsy West, Pamela Hogan and Simon Surowicz.

Documentary Seminar

This course teaches long-form visual narrative; and is a prerequisite for those who want to complete a third-semester master's project. Students are encouraged to work in teams and, by the end of the semester, pitch a five- to seven-minute work-in-progress trailer to a team of commissioning editors from major outlets. In the past, those editors have included representatives from Frontline, the Sundance Documentary Fund, HBO and CNN.  Filmmakers are assigned a faculty advisor, and complete their master's projects in either the summer or the fall after completing the course.  The documentary projects are showcased at the annual Columbia Journalism School DocFest Film Festival.  

DocFest 2015 Trailers


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