CINE 72-Online Syllabus

Denise Bostrom – Instructor – CINE 72 - ONLINE: Spring 2017 (37351 831)  
Cinema Dept. Office hours: By appointment - email me

Syllabus & Class Information – CINE 72 - Online

Required Reading for CINE 72:

Writing, Directing and Producing Documentary Films and Videos (4th edition), Alan Rosenthal

Screen Writings: Scripts and Texts by Independent Filmmakers, Scott MacDonald - (purchase used and resell)

How to Write a Documentary Script:

FYI: Essential Reading for Continuing Nonfiction Scriptwriters:

An Introduction to - Writing for Electronic Media, Robert B. Musberger

The Scriptwriter’s Handbook: Corporate and Educational Media Writing, Willian J. Van Nostran

Producing with Passion: Making Films that Change the World, Dorothy Fadiman and Tony Levelle

Cinematic Storytelling, Jennifer van Sijll

Bookstore Suggestions:

City College Bookstore:

Chegg – renting and purchasing online textbooks:

Class Expectations:

This is a script writing class.  My goals for you include developing stories you’re passionate about, mastering the art and craft of professional script format, and learning to revise to deepen the work. 

Expect to spend about 6-8 hours/week in reading, research, structuring and/or writing your film script.  There are weekly writing assignments and you will deliver EITHER: 3 five-minute nonfiction scripts OR: 1 fifteen-minute nonfiction script as a final project.

Missing class:  this is an online class, which means you may be anywhere with Internet service and participate.  However, if you are ill, or expect to be without Internet service, CONTACT ME.  I’m here to help, but I need a heads-up - 48 hours - in order to assist.

Weekly participation is essential to creating original work + participating in class critiques and discussion.  Participation includes posting assigned work on time.  Each week opens on Monday and ends on the following Tuesday.  10 days to post weekly writing work.

If you plan to travel during the semester, it's not a problem -- you are free to log into class wherever you are.  Keep in mind the course is geared toward weekly participation with your cohorts.  Once a class closes work can no longer be credited.


Weekly posted original writing + visual materials & Critiques of other students' work - 25%

Weekly Discussion Postings based on readings and/or film screenings – 25%

Script Development Postings – 25%

Final scripts: EITHER: 3 short nonfiction scripts (5 minutes each), OR: 1 long script (15 minutes)  – 25%

Student Learning Outcomes for CINE 72 - ONLINE

A. Examine how early nonfiction cinema developed and influenced content development, story structure, and cinematic grammar of today’s nonfiction films.

B. Assess a nonfiction story idea and evaluate essential components required to research and structure the idea to reach a targeted audience

C. Organize, appraise and interpret a range of researched materials and interviews, and integrate these into a professionally formatted nonfiction script.

D. Analyze and criticize diverse nonfiction script styles, with specific attention to content development, story structure, and cinematic grammar.

Weekly Assignments:

 Week 1 - Overview – Early Nonfiction Filmmakers: The Emergence of Nonfiction Cinema

The emergence of American nonfiction cinema coincided with technological, economic, social, and cultural changes at the turn of the 19th century into the 20th century.


Task 1: Readings

Read Rosenthal’s chapters 1 – Introduction (pages 1-5) & 2  - Clearing the Decks (pages 9 – 18)

Task 2: Visit web sites this week:

Early films: Watch at least 2 film clips listed in class site.

Task 3:

Discussion Forum #1 (respond to one  -- or more of your fellow student's forums). Introduce yourself: your writing experience and plans for taking the class.

Task 4:

Discussion Forum #2 (respond to fellow student's forums, too). What film clips did you view? What first struck you about each clip: its historical content, social, or cultural? If you were a filmmaker at that time, what else would you have filmed? What more did you want to see?

Task 5: Preview for Week 2

Think about two story ideas you want to develop for a “How To” Film.

Watch posted "how to" films.

Week 2 Overview – Beginning  an Educational or  “How To” Film

Nonfiction and fiction filmmaking conform to cinematic grammar: narrative coherence, identified characters with clear goals, and a specific style and genre.

Task 1: Readings - Rosenthal, chapter 3 - Getting to Work (pages 19 – 32) 

Task 2: FYI: Research these web sites

·      Short Film Ideas:

·      Formatting two column scripts:


Task 3: Script Reading: Read the attached script – posted on Cine 72 class web site

Note:  “video” – what is seen - is written in the left column

“audio” – what is heard: narration, dialogue, sound effects, music, etc. is on the right column


Task 4:  Writing #1 

Write the story idea you want to develop for your first short or longer film in 4 sentences:

Sentence 1: What does your film teach us, or what information does it present?

Sentence 2: What is a key problem in learning the topic?

Sentence 3: What don’t you know about the content and have to research?

Sentence 4: What are some visual ways you will convey the information?

Task 5: Writing #2 – 

Write the first 2 scenes 

Week 3 – Overview – Research Rocks:

What do you know about the content of your film idea?  What don’t you know about it?

Task 1: Readings

-       Rosenthal, Chapter 5 – Research (pages 56 – 64)

-       Resources for researching documentary films:

Task 2:  View 2 Film Clips from any of these sites:


Watch the film, “Hobbies” on the site, Shooting People:

Trailers, International Documentary Association:

Task 3: Discussion Forum #2 (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too)

Brain-storming a Research Plan for your story 

a. List all the Primary, Secondary and Tertiary items of research you would like to use

b. Who are the proposed experts you will include?

c. What do you know about your subject and what must you research?

Task 4: Discussion Forum #3 (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too) 

Learning to Structure Your Nonfiction Story

Week 4 – - Overview – Story Structure Sets up a Good Film:

Task 1: Readings

-       Rosenthal, Chapter 4 – Writing the proposal (pages 33 – 55) – this is an FYI chapter.  We will not cover proposal writing in depth.

Task 2:  Discussion Forum #1: View 2 clips in any of these sites (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too)

10 Tips for Creating Better Movies:

Why we should hire you:

Simplest Card Move (Scam School):

Task 3: Research web sites – writing a funny script

-       How to Make a Funny Movie:

-       How to Write a Funny Script: 

-       How to Write an Exciting Interview:


Task 4: Discussion Forum #2: List two people you want to interview

Task 5: Discussion Forum #3 (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too) 

Bring in a revised version of your script: revised scenes + 1-2 new scenes.  Also post the last draft of your script

Week 5 – Overview: Revisiting Levels of conflict and the levels of research:

Task 1: Readings

-       Rosenthal, Chapter 6 – Shaping the film (pages 65 – 89)

Task 2:  Discussion Forum #1: View A Film Clip boys double-dutch

How to jump Double Dutch Rope: (Respond to one of your fellow student's forums, too)

Task 3: Research web sites – the setting of a film

What makes a good location: makes-a-location-quot-good-quot

What makes a good short film: 

Task 4: Discussion Forum #2 (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too) 

Watch the short film, “How to find a dream job,” 

Task 5: Discussion Forum #3 (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too) 

Discuss both the External environment of the film (what we see) & the Internal Environment of the Primary subject (health & psychology - what we can infer)

Week 6  -  Overview – Opposing Points of View

“Is there a good argument going on?  It all starts with a fight or disagreement.” – John Guare, playwright

Task 1: Readings

-       Read: Rosenthal’s chapter 7 - Beginning the first draft, pages 65 - 89

Task 2: Discussion Forum #1: View A Film Clip (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too)

Making Good Ideas Infectious:

Task 3: Research web sites – Conflict is essential in stories: conflict builds a story

-       Dramatic Conflict:

-       Documentary Storytelling: The Drama of Real Life:

-       Conflict is a Writer’s Best Friend:

Task 4: Discussion Forum #2 (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too) 

Watch the Film Clip:

Task 5: Discussion Forum #3 (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too) 

Post your revised “How To” script, and also post the last revision.  And reflecting on this first script writing process so far:

Week 7 –  - Overview – Section 2: Opposing Points of View in Memoir/Experimental Films

Task 1: Readings

Read MacDonald’s Screen Writings, Introduction, pages 1 - 14

Task 2:  Discussion Forum #1: View A Film Clip (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too)

Here’s a lovely memoir film that some refer to as a documentary, others call it a memoir, and still others say it’s a hybrid of memoir/documentary. You can see how these definitions blur into one another.  Regardless, the film is about personal change.

Here’s the film clip:

Task 3: Research web sites –

-       Tips on how to write a memoir:

Memoir film -

-       Mr. Wright’s Creative Writing Six-Word Memoir Film 2012:

Experimental films -

-       OffOn, Scott Bartlett:

Task 4: Discussion Forum #2 (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too) 

Task 5: Discussion Forum #3 (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too)

Go for it and write a possible scene you may use.  Any scene.  it may not end-up in the script and may not even be the idea you end up developing: the task here is to stay loose and write a random memoir scene.  (In 2-column format)

Week 8 – Research + Plan Your Memoir or Experimental Script

Task 1: Readings

-       Read MacDonald’s chapter Yoko Ono & her mini film scripts, pages 15 - 30

Task 2:  Writing #1 – Environments in Your Memoir/Experimental Script: Choose 2 Film Clips of Yoko Ono:  


Yoko Ono’s Performance film in 1965, Cut Piece:


Yoko Ono and John Lennon interviewed on David Frost, July 10, 1969:


Yoko Ono’s 1985 music video, Hell in Paradise:


Task 3: Research web sites –

-       Discussion on Yoko Ono’s performance piece: Cut Piece:

-       Short history of Experimental Film:

-       Research your memoir: mining memories:

-       The hybrid content of memoir:

Task 4: Discussion Forum #2: Researching your memoir/experimental film (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too)

Watch 1 or 2 scenes of these very different films and consider the levels of research (primary, secondary & tertiary) that went into making them:

Aboriginal Dreamtime Story:

Experimental Film (mid 1940s), The Private Life of a Cat (Maya Deren & Alexander Hammid):

Task 5: Writing #3: Continue Your Content Outline 

Short film: After the story point, Inciting Incident, that starts your script -

Week 9 – Overview – Section 2: Stories are about confronting conflict:

Memoir’s conflict arises between characters: a protagonist and antagonist and/or antagonizing characters

Experimental film’s conflict arises within its cinematic grammar: light, texture, pacing, sound, and movement.

Task 1: Readings

-       Read MacDonald’s chapter: Laura Mulvey/Peter Wollen, Riddles of a Sphinx, pgs 94 - 114

Task 2:  Discussion Forum #1: Increased conflict in Act Two and what is the Midpoint? –

You are going to watch a 3 short film clips and you’re asked to:

1.     Define the levels of conflict in each clip

2.     Track how the conflict intensifies

3.     Continue your Scene Outline: Complete the first part of Act 2 and the Mid point

You will also develop the conflict in your 2nd script and continue the Scene Outline in Act Two and the Mid-point of your story.

Task 4: Research web sites –

-       Further discussion and clarification on Mulvey’s The Male Gaze:

-       The male gaze versus the female gaze:

-       That “mid point thing,”

Task 5:
Discussion Forum #2 - Researching your memoir/experimental film 

1.     Choose 2 people to interview

2.     List your interview questions + post

Task 6: Discussion Forum #3: Continue Your Memoir or Experimental Script

(Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too) 

1. Post revised Memoir or experimental script + 2 new scenes  

1A. Post revised Longer script + 2 new scenes

Week 10 – Considering Cinematic Elements: Showing conflict + subtext

Task 1: Readings

-       Read MacDonald’s chapter Trinh T. Minh-ha, pages 190 - 224

Task 2:  Discussion Forum #1 – Shaping and Deconstructing Content – due 10/27

Watch Trinh T. Minh-ha’s lauded first film, which is considered a hybrid of experimental and ethnographic styles, Reassemblage:


Task 3: Research web sites –

-       Trinh T. Minh-ha is interviewed last year:

-       What happens in Act Two:

Task 4: Discussion Forum #2 – due 10/27: Orchestration of characters  + the Wise Person  

Read this site on writing subtext and then continue below:

In taking stock of different characters who may be in your memoir + longer film, consider these ideas:

-       Each character has his/her own desires, needs and relationship with the protagonist

-       Each character has his/her own contradictions

-       As conflict develops, characters react differently and against one another.

Task 5: Discussion Forum #3: Reconsidering Your Midpoint – due 10/27

Read this short and punchy essay, Short Films Need Big Ideas, about short films:

Week 11: After the midpoint, the second half of Act Two

Task 1: Readings

-       Read MacDonald’s chapter Hollis Frampton (text of Poetic Justice), pages 70 - 90

Task 2:  – Discussion Forum #1 - the Obligatory Scene – due 11/3

Read what these two websites have to say about an Obligatory Scene:

The obligatory scene – Steven Pressfield combines “Crisis” and “Climax,” but it’s semantics, it’s a good read:

A melodramatic description of an Obligatory Scene, and again combining Crisis and Climax, but it’s another point of view:

1.     Continue your Content Outline up to the End of Act Two – Crisis (part of the Obligatory Scene)


Task 3: Research web sites –

-       Nostalgia, an extremely interesting experimental film by Hollis Frampton:

-       Hollis Frampton’s sardonic take on educational films:


-       Short blog on personal memoir films:


Task 4: Discussion Forum #2 - Emotions into Images – due 11/3

Watch these three evocative hybrid memoir/experimental film clips:

Crooked Beauty Trailer:

Gravity, a poetic documentary:

Basketball, a poetic documentary:


Task 5: Forum #3 - Revise + continue your Memoir, Experimental or Longer Script – due 11/3

Consider the experimental filmmaker, Hollis Frampton’s, perspective and read both the links, a bio and essay on his film, Poetic Justice

Hollis Frampton Bio:

An essay on Hollis Frampton’s experimental film, Poetic Justice:

Now watch at least the first 10 minutes of Poetic Justice, as it asks viewers to consider the “truth” of images we see in film:

The film also asks us to reconsider our own “truths” that we feel so certain about. 

Week 12 - Crisis, Climax & Resolution

Task 1: Readings

-       Read Rosenthal chapter 8 (Completing the first draft), pages 103 - 128

Task 2:  – Discussion Forum #1: Three Act Structural Synopsis  - due 11/17 (2 weeks for this)

You will watch an entire feature documentary, Born into Brothels

Born into Brothels:

Released in 2004, it won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. 


Task 3: Research web sites –

-       An engaging article on the science of nostalgia, and how it’s good to indulge in nostalgia:

-       An amazing collective of filmmakers, who began distributing their films in the 70s, New Day Films:

-       A site devoted to story-telling:


Task 4: Forum #2: Complete Content Outline for your Memoir or Longer Script – due 11/10

Look over these sites on story structure and, in particular, the key story points signifying the end of Act Two and Act Three: Crisis, Climax and Resolution.

This is an interesting synopsis of a Master Story Class at Pixar:

Here’s what Game Designers say about three-act structure:

Here’s three-act structure boiled down to its essential elements in children’s books:

Your task is to complete

1.     The three act Structure Outline of your memoir or longer film

Task 5: Discussion Forum #3 – An ideas for a Documentary Script 

Next week, Week 13, signifies the last nonfiction genre covered, the documentary script. 

The same principles of research, characters, story structure, and format apply, but documentaries combine the human elements of memoir with the factual information of educational films.  However, docs vary in style and content, as you found in watching Born into Brothels.

To get started, while you may have many ideas for a doc at this point, look over these sites:

This is kind of a staid site that’s all about developing ideas for a doc:

For grand inspiration, check out the fine and varied work on PBS’s POV site:

Week 13 - Overview: Writing a short documentary script

Task 1: Readings

Begin with this excellent monograph, How to Write a Documentary Script, by Trisha Das. 

Read pages 1 – 13, which give you an overview of writing docs, and introduces researching a script idea:

Read Rosenthal chapter 9 (Budget & Contract) 129 – 145 – great for background info

Task 2:  Discussion Forum #1 –  Researching your doc script – due 11/17

In addition to Trisha Das’ monograph and Rosenthal’s chapter on research (pages 56 – 64), look over these sites on researching your idea:


Read how different students at the International Centre for Documentary and Experimental Film in the U. of Westminster research their films:


How students at the U. of Georgia researched the docs, Foot Soldier for Equal Justice, and Hamilton Earl Holmes, the Legacy Continues:


Task 3: Research web sites –

-       Using documentary filmmaking as a research tool:


-       A very sad news item on a doc filmmaker who dies engaged in making his film – which is to say, read this and take the advice of always having a buddy along when you film:


-       A great site with exhaustive links to creating a Study Guide to your doc:


Task 4: Discussion Forum #2:  Compelling Characters Make a Doc Film

Look over these sites regarding considering characters to include for your script:

Creative treatment of life:

A good magazine, Videomaker, offers basic, but essential tips on interviewing folks:

A rather basic, but also nuts & bolts site on documentary tips that include considering your characters:

Task 5: Discussion Forum #3: Structural Synopsis for Act One

(Respond to your fellow student’s work too)

You don’t know a lot about your idea yet, but once you begin to brainstorm and do some research, complete Act One of your Content Outline, knowing that this will change.

For some ideas on style and types of research, check out the short docs on the NY Times' site:

Then complete:

1. Act One Content Outline of your documentary

2. Or - post your continued Content Outline of your developing script

Week 14 – Overview: Writing a short documentary script

Task 1: Readings

Continuing with How to Write a Documentary Script, read pages 16 – 37: Essential Script Elements, which offers a good summary of different visual and sound elements to consider in your script:

Rosenthal’s chapter 5 – Research (review): pages 56 - 64 & chapter 10 - Preproduction 146 - 164


Task 2:  Discussion Forum #1 – Difficult content + Structuring a doc script

(Respond to your fellow student’s work too)
You will watch the feature length documentary, Two American Families, and consider the film’s Act 1 and 2 structure, as well discuss your favorite scene or scenes in the film:

Task 3: Research web sites –

-       A wonderful organization for doc filmmakers - International Documentary Association (IDA) -

-       A great news service and potential source for research for your film ideas, the Center for Investigatory Reporting (CIR):

-       Terrific public news service and another source of reserach: ProPublica:


Task 4: Discussion Forum #2: Consider subjects for your script(Respond to your fellow student’s work too)

Read Rosenthal’s chapter 12, Directing the Interview: pages 177 – 192

And read over the PR and look at the film clips of the award-winning film, The Island President

And for some background, here's an interview with the film's director, Jon Shenk:


Task 5: Discussion Forum #3: The first scenes of your doc script

(Respond to your fellow student’s work too)

20 Feet From Stardom - won an Academy Award as Best Documentary.  It's a strong doc, but could have had a scene or two cut in Act Two and it would have been stronger.  

Here's a link to some of the key points and scenes in the film, FYI:

Consider watching the whole film, as there are some excellent scenes and music in it.  

What elements of the film worked for you and would you consider using any of them in your documentary?

Write and post the opening 2-3 scenes of your documentary script.

Week 15 – Uncovering layers of conflict + finding wisdom in your documentary script

Task 1: Readings

Continue with the monograph, How to Write a Documentary Script: Putting a Script Together: 38 - 46

Rosenthal’s chapter 11, The Director Prepares

Task2:  Discussion Forum #1 –  Plotting your story: Act Two + Act Three – due 12/1

Watch the acclaimed and amazing documentary made in 1994, Hoop Dreams:

Check out the website of the indie production company, Kartemquin Films:

After you’ve wiped your tears and gathered yourself, write out a Structural Outlines:

1.     Three acts for Hoop Dreams

Task 3: Research web sites –

The Big List-- This week is dedicated to doc filmmakers and distributors who make films that look at personal and important issues that matter to many:

-       Producer - Kartemquin Films:

-       Producer – Independent Feature Project:

-       Producer: Film Independent:

-       Producing + Distribution: Third World Newsreel:

-       Distributor – Women Make Movies, Inc.:

-       Distributor – New Day Films:

-       Distributor – California Newsreel:

-       Film Support: Pacific Arts Movement:

-       San Francisco Film Society:

-       Film Support: Black Association of Filmmakers West:

-       Film Support: International Documentary Association:

-       Film Support: Independent Film Alliance:

Task 4: Discussion Forum #2: External and Internal Story Environments:(Respond to your fellow student’s work too)

Watch two of the excellent short docs on this Vimeo site:

After watching two, answer these questions: guyonahoop

  1. What films did you watch?

  2. How did the environments in each film contribute to the story's: development of conflict, emotional arc, and overall theme?

  3. List some environments you’re considering in your film. Post photos if possible.

Task 5: Discussion Forum #3: An unexpected scene in your doc script.  (Respond to your fellow student’s work too)

Post an unexpected scene that might be included CancerSurvivors

Week 16 – Different environments in your documentary

A film’s environments are key to showing conflict, as well as subtext by revealing the conditions of peoples’ lives: their homes, work places, areas of relaxation, community and public squares, places of commerce and spiritual spaces – to list a few. 

Environments define class, gender, culture, education, age, hopes, dreams and personalities.

Task 1: Readings

Continuing with the excellent online monograph, How to Write a Documentary Script, Trisha Das, Read pages: Writing a Great Script, pages 47 – 50. 

NOTE: Das’ last chapter on script format is not an industry standard; Typically, audio is contained in the same column, so look over her format suggestions in the last chapter with this in mind.

Rosenthal’s chapter 17 - Making Your First Film

Task 2:  Discussion Forum #1 –  Writing + additional research for film 

Stories are not written in one sitting, nor are they researched in a weekend, or even one month.  Rewriting and research occur right up to the when picture is “locked” and the sound is mixed.    

Watch the amazing Errol Morris film, The Thin Blue Line:

Task 3: Research sites:

Cool info sites:

-       Creative cow offers a mix of interesting and informative links to filmmakers and artists:

-       A great magazine on the art and politics of cinema, Cineaste:

-       Leftlion, a provocative online site from England that looks at all kinds of cultural events, including film:

-       Indiewire – kind of commercial for bearing this title, but you can find some interesting articles among the fluff:

Task 4: Discussion Forum #2:  Story Structure  

You will visit the POV site at PBS and watch one of the streaming films for the week:

Task 5: Discussion Forum #3: Photos of your environments 

Post photos of the environments of your doc or longer film

1.     Be sure to identify each location

Task 6: It’s a wrap

Continue your scripts!  See you in another Cinema class! 

Denise Nicole Bostrom,
Jul 30, 2013, 12:54 PM