Please note that this course has changed title from MA Documentary by Practice to MA Digital Documentary.
Documentary stories are being told in cinemas, on TV, in galleries, on tablets and on mobile phones. Whether you want to make a non-fiction feature film, podcast, or 360° project, there are boundless ways to bring your documentary idea to life. Creative technologies are constantly evolving, exposing new content to fresh audiences. At Royal Holloway we nurture a talented new generation of creative and innovative non-fiction directors, producers, cinematographers, editors and commissioners.
Whether your aim is to make a high-end feature documentary or a no budget short, this is your opportunity to receive expert advice from industry leaders who will help you shape your story and find your audience and platform. Key Skills you will learn:
- How to develop documentary stories which are truly multi genre and multi platform.
- How to innovate and experiment
- Edit technique and shaping your story
- Strategies for finding your vision and audience
- Advanced technical skills in camera and editing for film and 360
- Sound recording for podcasts
- An introduction to VR
- New contacts and ideas for raising finance
- Pitching your idea to commissioning editors
- Different funding routes, from traditional broadcast to DIY options
- Advice on distribution, marketing and networking
- Knowledge and understanding of a new world of exciting non-fiction content.
This programme is primarily run from our newly refurbished central London campus in the heart of Bloomsbury.
The MA programme is taught by:
- Professor Victoria Mapplebeck , BAFTA award winning writer, artist and director. Victoria has been experimenting with the frontiers of documentary and creative technology for the last two decades. Her smartphone short Missed Call was the first commissioned film to be shot on the iPhone X and has won numerous awards including a BAFTA. Her latest VR piece The Waiting Room won The IDFA DocLab Award for Digital Storytelling and was selected for Forbe's Top 50 XR experiences of 2019
- Marc Isaacs, who has been making shorts and feature docs since 2001. Marc has won RTS and BAFTA awards for his work and recently a collection of his films has been released by Second Run and featured in Sight and Sound.
- Helen Littleboy, a Grierson and BAFTA nominated director and executive producer whose recent work includes the acclaimed and impactful BBC documentary Hospital which in 2018 won the Royal Television Society award for Best Documentary Series.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the practice of documentary film-making. You will look at eclectic notions of the genre, exploring the conceptual and formal challenges of creative documentary filmmaking, and examine ways of translating observations and ideas into both visual and aural imagery. You will also consider experimental forms of narrative, focussing on the boundaries between fine art and documentary.
In this module you will develop an understanding of commissioning institutions and their political and financial structures. You will look at contemporary forms of distribution, from the internet to theatrical, and consider the three fundamental stages of production management in for documentary films - pre-production, production, and post-production. You will gain practical experience in the production of short taster tapes and the writing of proposals and treatments, covering the basics of budgets, schedules, copyright, legal compliance and marketing. You will also have the opportunity to participate in a number of field trips and attend sessions with industry experts.
You will produce a substantial documentary production of 20-minutes in length. You will develop an understanding of documentary film genre and its changing boundaries, as well as emerging technologies and their impact on genre. You will look at the process of making a documentary film, from initial concept to final form, and the various stages of production. You will consider the current and changing platforms for documentary film, including cinema, television and the internet, and examine the ways in which the documentary industry is being reinvented.
All modules are core
Teaching & assessment
Assessment is carried out by a variety of methods including project work, photo essays and written production papers.
This MA Digital Documentary is 100% practice. Throughout this twelve month course you will create interesting projects in the medium of either film, audio-only or 360/Virtual Reality, as well as giving presentations. Part of your final assessment will also include the creation of a Director’s Website, which will stand as a fantastic showcase for your productions after you graduate. You can look forward to receiving an exciting programme of discussions, exercises, technical workshops, development labs, talks and screenings. The whole course is tailored to develop your storytelling skills and challenge your creativity.
You will also receive guest lectures from high profile commissioners and directors. Previous and forthcoming speakers include:
- Charlie Phillips from Guardian Films
- Matt Shaw from The Lush Film Fund
- Adam Gee, former Head of Multiplatform at Channel 4 and currently commissioner at Red Bull
- Chloe Lambourne – Editor of the BAFTA winning documentary feature, For Sama
- Pawel Pawlikowski Oscar winning Director of Ida (2013) and editor David Charap
- Jon Bang Carlsen, one of Denmark’s most revered filmmakers
- Katharine Round, crowd-funding expert who broke records on Indiegogo when raising money for her Netflix feature The Divide
- Trim Lamda whose innovative multi-award winning Cracked Screen proves no budget is no obstacle to success
- Catherine Allen, an inspiring pioneer in non-fiction VR,
- John Smith, Artist/Filmmaker who has created over 50 works for independent galleries and cinemas
- Jessica Bishopp – award winning short form director. Her films have received numerous Vimeo Staff Picks
- James Bluemel whose series Exodus used smart phones to tell the hidden story of migration to Europe
UK Honours degree or equivalent, in Literature, Fine Art, Media or a related discipline.
Normally UK 2:1 (Honours) or equivalent in Literature, Fine Art, Media or a related discipline but we will consider high 2:2 or relevant industry experience. Students with degrees in other subjects will also be considered, as will those with creative experience. Where a ‘high 2:2’ is considered, we would normally define this as reflecting a profile of 57% or above. Suitable candidates will be interviewed.
To be considered, you are asked to submit the following documents as part of your application:
- A short documentary or an extract of a film you have made, directed or produced - no longer than 10 minutes in duration. Please send this via link on either YouTube or Vimeo;
- A two page synopsis for a documentary film you would like to make. Give a clear account of the story; describe the narrative approach and visual style; try to make reference to the work of known film makers/photographers/artists as a way of describing your idea.
International & EU requirements
English language requirements
All teaching at Royal Holloway is in English. You will therefore need to have good enough written and spoken English to cope with your studies right from the start.
The scores we require
- IELTS: 6.5 overall. Writing 6.5. No other subscore lower than 5.5.
- Pearson Test of English: 61 overall. Writing 61. No other subscore lower than 51.
- Trinity College London Integrated Skills in English (ISE): ISE III.
- Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) grade C.
For more information about country-specific entry requirements for your country please see here.
Your future career
Our students have gone onto become award winning Directors, Editors, Animators, Producers and Commissioners . Recent graduates have been nominated for and won many awards, including The London International Film Festival, BBC Storyville, International Women’s Film Festival, Open City Docs, CineGlobe, The One World Media Award and an EMMY.
Recent Graduates include:
Whilst at Royal Holloway, Iris won a One World Broadcasting Award. Her film Feeding The Void, won First Prize at Open City Docs Fest. Iris was also selected for Mini Meet Market at Sheffield Doc Fest 2014 . Since graduating she has interned at BBC Modern Times and worked as an Editor on Text Me, a cross platform Documentary which won the 2014 Pixel Lab Award. Iris is now a successful Self-Shooting Producer-Director and had made films for Channel 4, France 5 and CBBC
"I enjoyed the MA as I was surrounded by passionate and talented people. Our tutors and professors were all professionals who excel in the industry. Thanks to the MA, I developed a network of friends and colleagues that help me through my career” – Iris Lebrun
Masumi’s film, 'Motorbike Midwifes', won a One World Broadcasting Award whilst she was at Royal Holloway. Motorbike Midwifes went on to win twenty Awards, including, BBC Storyville Prize for documentary narrative excellence at CineGlobe, Winner of the International Short Documentary Garden State Film Festival and The Gold Award Winner at the California Film Awards. Masumi is now in charge of international programming at NHK World TV and Fuji TV.
"During the MA, I had many valuable and enjoyable experiences. One was shooting in Ghana and the other was spending time with my international classmates. The fact that I was able to go to Ghana by myself was made possible with the support of my university professors. What I learned on the MA has been the basis of my creator's life" - Masumi Higashi
Jeong One Park
Jeong One's film 'Kung Fu Grannies' won a One World Broadcasting Award and was nominated for a One World Media Award. Kung Fu Grannies went on to win First Prize at the International Women’s Film Festival, Best Short Film at the Society for Visual Anthropology Film Festival and Best Short Film at the Cineffable France. Since graduating Jeong One has worked as an Editor and Producer at Channel 4, BBC and Reuters.
"The MA course guided me through the whole production process from pitching an idea to putting a film out at festivals, whilst at the same time giving me a forum to explore and shape my own storytelling style, receiving excellent advice and feedback across these different aspects." - Jeong One Park
Since graduating from the MA Documentary course, Ryan has been living in Nashville, TN and working in television. Ryan works primarily on live sports productions for various networks across the United States, but also loves the occasional job in film or entertainment. His work on the 2018 US Open Tennis coverage with ESPN earned him an EMMY award.
"The course was a unique opportunity for me to pursue a passion film with the help and support of industry professional tutors . Victoria and the other tutors help bring your film from an idea into reality. Additionally, I loved how diverse the backgrounds of my fellow coursemates were and found it rewarding getting to work with and hear their feedback. It's a very collaborative and supportive environment" - Ryan Vennell
Fees & funding
Home and EU students tuition fee per year*: £9,400
International students tuition fee per year**: £17,900
Other essential costs***: Optional field trip approximately £400; memory card costs approximately £100.
* and ** These tuition fees apply to students enrolled on a full-time basis. Students studying on the standard part-time course structure over two years are charged 50% of the full-time applicable fee for each study year. All postgraduate fees are subject to inflationary increases. This means that the overall cost of studying the programme via part-time mode is slightly higher than studying it full-time in one year. Royal Holloway's policy is that any increases in fees will not exceed 5% for continuing students. For further information see tuition fees see our terms and conditions.
Please note that for research programmes, we adopt the minimum fee level recommended by the UK Research Councils for the Home/EU tuition fee. Each year, the fee level is adjusted in line with inflation (currently, the measure used is the Treasury GDP deflator). Fees displayed here are therefore subject to change and are usually confirmed in the spring of the year of entry. For more information on the Research Council Indicative Fee please see the RCUK website.
*** These estimated costs relate to studying this particular degree programme at Royal Holloway. Costs, such as accommodation, food, books and other learning materials and printing, have not been included.