Course: Documentary North Carolina
Instructor: Todd Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org 962-2248)
Required Materials: CCI laptop; The Raleigh News and Observer, Bamberger and Davidson,
Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory; four AA
In "Multimedia North Carolina," each student will author documentaries about current issues
important to North Carolinians. Each documentary will be published on the World Wide Web and
will incorporate text, photographs, audio, and video composed by the students. In these
documentaries, students will tell creative, well-researched, carefully crafted, true stories about
intriguing people and places in terms of how they relate to a pressing issue. The goals of the course
are for native and non-native students alike to deepen their understanding and appreciation of the
state, to improve their writing skills, and to conduct research with immediate, real-world
You will author at least three papers, one defining documentary work, one proposal for a
documentary project, and the documentary project itself. Your writing will receive feedback from
the instructor either in person (in conference) or through recorded mp3 audio comments, and you
will draft multiple versions of each major paper. The instructor will provide all of the necessary
equipment, except for your CCI laptop. No advanced computer experience is necessary.
Multimedia North Carolina is an APPLES course, requiring 3-5 hours of community service-
learning per week instead of typical homework.
Teaching and Learning Methods
This courses relies upon active-learning methods in which students take responsibility for their own
learning. We’ll study documentaries and aspects of making them through a case-study seminar in
which we will examine particular documentaries for homework and then analyze and discuss these
models in class. For example, in the first week of class, we’ll use a Web forum to collect and archive
preliminary definitions of a “documentary.” We’ll complicate those initial definitions by comparing
and contrasting a montage of excerpts from a variety of works, from documentaries like Let Us Now
Praise Famous Men to reality-based television shows and to NPR radio segments. You’ll write a mini-
documentary the first week of class in which you photograph and compose a biography about a
classmate. The classmate biography assignment is intended to relay to you an immediate sense of
the difficulty of being a documentrian, especially the ethical and editorial choices you must make,
while simultaneously giving you a sense of what it feels like to have someone else represent you. In
the second week, we’ll focus on two documentaries composed in different media: the film Hoop
Dreams and the book Closing. We’ll examine these works microscopically in class and through
written homework assignments. One of the goals of such analysis is to establish two of the major
themes of the semester: (1) how editorial choices actively construct rather than merely mirror reality
within the documentary genre, and (2) how different media engender different possibilities and
constraints for making documentaries. The first major assignment, the “defining documentaries”
paper asks you to perform a similar but more extensive kind of analysis on a documentary (one that
we have not discussed in class). We’ll then turn our attention to documentries in five different
media: the Web, text, images, audio, and video. On Tuedsay of each week, we’ll discuss samples of
work in each of these particular media. On Thursday, you’ll deepen your understanding of the
prevoious Tuesday’s discussion by working and reflecting in that particular media. We'll spend the
opening fifteen minutes of every class studying the Raleigh News and Observer online.
The final third of the course is an intensive workshop in which you develop your own project and
respond extensively to your classmates’ work in progress. The course is designed to move you
gradually from being a student of documentaries to becoming a documentarian yourself. Thus,
documentaries like Closing and Hoop Dreams will serve initially as our “textbook”; however, by the
end of the semester, you will study and discuss each other’s work as the “texts” for this course. You
will conduct extensive field and library research to inform your project. We will have at least one
field trip and one professional documentarian as a guest speaker. We will take advantage of new
media as way for first-time documentarians to publish work containing writing, images, and
recordings they have composed themselves. Consequently, you’ll learn basic HTML authoring.
Plan to showcase your work in the second annual Johnston Center Multimedia Festival.
"Defining documentaries" paper = 10%
Integrity Documentary project = 10%
Project proposal = 10%
Multimedia documentary = 30%
Community service learning = 20%
Class participation, conferences, field trip, etc. = 20%
Week One: Introductions
Week Two: What is a documentary?
Week Three: Reading and composing HTML
Week Four: Reading and composing text
Week Five: Reading and composing images
Week Six: Reading and composing audio
Week Seven: Reading and composing video
Week Eight: Field trip and guest documentarian
Remainder: Documentary development workshop
"Defining Documentaries" Paper (10%)
Briefly consider common-sense definitions of "documentary"; then challenge and expand upon
those definitions. Do not cite a dictionary. Offer a clear thesis that makes an original argument
about how we should define documentaries or about principles that should guide effective
documentary work. Your paper should provide abundant, concrete examples to support your point.
It should also refer to authorities on the topic. You might examine a single documentary or analyze
many projects. You might explore narration or point of view. You might discuss the role of editing.
You could discuss techniques used by specific documentarians. There is no specific page-length for
this assignment; your paper should be as long or as short as needed to make your argument
effectively. Bring a print copy and an electronic copy (on your laptop) of a first draft to class on
Tuesday, September ?. Bring a print copy and a disk copy of your revised draft to class on Thursday
September ?. The instructor will collect these papers and give you (on Tuesday, September ?) a mp3
recording of suggestions for revision. Final drafts are due by 5:00 on Tuesday, September ?. We'll
discuss the final drafts in one-on-one conferences. Taking your papers to the UNC Writing Center is
Integrity Documentary Project (10%)
Working in teams, your will compose two video clips, of about 30 seconds each, as part of the
campus honor code and integrity initiative. You will (A: Sept 1) scout locations, (B: Sept 2)
practice composing video, (C: Sept 2-4) shoot 3 b-roll segments, (D: Sept 5 or 6) organize and
conduct the interview/shoot with a campus leader, (E: Sept 8-9) study tape, (F: Sept 8-10)
digitize and edit your segment, and (G: Sept 11) help guide the compilation edit. This ten minute
compilation film will be showcased on campus and shown as a trailer in front of each student
union film during integrity week in late September.
Project Proposal (10%)
To help formulate and commit to an issue for your documentary, draft a proposal for the John
Hope Franklin Student Documentary Awards. The criteria for these proposals are online
(http://cds.aas.duke.edu/jhf/index.html). Completing all aspects of the proposal, except the letters
of recommendation, will enable you to focus on a real audience for your project. At this stage, an
annotated bibliography about your issue and a writing sample will serve as the “sample of work”
required in the Franklin proposal. You are encouraged, but not required, to submit the proposal to
the awards jury in the spring.
Documentary Assignment (30%)
You will author a professional-quality video documentary about an historica site in Orange County.
A preliminary version of the documentary will be published electronically on the World Wide Web.
Each composition will incorporate text, photographs, audio, and video. These multimedia
compositions will be "documentaries" in the sense that they will tell creative yet well-researched,
carefully crafted, true stories about intriguing peoples and places. Why? Writers write better when
they are personally invested in their work. Too often, student writers write about academic topics
that are disconnected with their lives. However, if you write about issues and people that you
encounter and "document" through interviews, audio recordings, and the lens of your camera, you
cannot help but to connect with your subject.
Your project should be intriguing, original, intellectual, well researched, and socially meaningful. Like
most documentaries, your study will want to focus on the lives of a few main characters as
representative of a larger social issue. You may chose to make overt statements about the issue at
hand, or you might compose your work so that the characters relay most of the story on their own.
Primary imperatives for this assignment
Ethics: at every moment you should consider the well being of the people you include in
Safety: your personal safety is essential. Under no circumstances should you risk your
personal safety. For example, you should not study people involved in potentially illegal or
immoral activities. If you have any doubt whatsoever whether your project will put you at
risk, check with the instructor before proceeding.
The project should include:
a carefully designed, attractive web page,
at least 1500 words of original writing (interview transcripts are not original),
at least 5 original photographs taken by you (web),
at least 30 seconds of audio recording (web),
at least five minutes of professional-quality video.
A first-draft of the project must be formatted as an application to the Franklin Awards.
Therefore, it should reflect well on the Franklin Awards and the Center for Documentary
Studies. The application should also demonstrate promise.
The first draft should fulfill all the criteria listed in the Franklin Award call for submissions.
All of the components of the application package (cover letter, resume, narrative), must
complement each other.
The project should be exceptionally well written and free from grammatical errors.
The fieldwork should be extensive and detailed, providing in-depth observation, detailed
accounts, and especially vivid portraits of a particular person or people. The project should
center on thick, carefully crafted and selected description.
The project should propose to answer or explore a socially meaningful question about the
The narrative should demonstrate a deep interest in and concern for the people being
studied; the individual needs to show enthusiasm and express a passion for their topic.
The author needs to show originality and give academic as well as social insight into their
The project needs to be feasible while also imagining innovative approaches to documentary
The topic and the narrative should be intellectual, interesting, intriguing, stimulating.
Community Service Learning (20%)
The APPLES service-learning program will help coordinate and communicate with our community
partners. Credit for this segment of the course will be based upon completion of the required
internship in a mature, responsible way. This internship is intended to serve as your central
opportunity to conduct field research for your documentary, the point being that there is no better
way to investigate your topic than by working first hand with those who live with the issue daily.
Service learning of this kind enables you to deepen your appreciation of the gravity and complexities
of a particular social issue in ways that purely academic study cannot. And, working one-on-one
with the community leaders and volunteers who dedicate their lives to addressing social problems,
improves your ability to help them tell their stories in their own words respectfully.
Class Participation, Conferences, Field Trip, etc (20%)
Years of teaching this kind of course have taught the instructor that this class has some unique
demands. In order to make the best use of class time and to make each meeting as meaningful and
productive as possible, it is essential that we each remain exceptionally focused. This course is
extremely cumulative and incremental, meaning that you cannot afford to miss class, fail to complete
a homework assignment, or be off-task. In a sentence, if you blink, this course will pass you by.
Composing a multimedia documentary within the space of a single semester is a tall order, but it can
be accomplished if you keep pace. You cannot "cram" for this course. Consequently, attendance,
class participation, and preparation are essential and are a large part of your grade. Hopefully, this
will not sound threatening to you. In fact, college courses can be much more enjoyable and
productive if you and your classmates work together, maintaining a steady, even pace, rather than
trying to accomplish too much at the end of the semester when your work load is already at its
highest level. Thus:
Attendance, preparation, and participation are essential.
Conferences with the instructor are mandatory.
When learning new technologies as a group, you must listen extremely closely and resist the
natural urge to be distracted by other activities.
Students must come to class prepared--including readings, drafts of papers, and preliminary
study of computer procedures.
The instructor will use the online grade book to track and reward full participation.
Students are responsible for checking the course Web site constantly for important
Students must plan/schedule your use of in-class and out-of-class technologies very carefully
Students must work together.