Documentary and the Three-Act Structure


At heart, documentarians are storytellers. Telling stories that people want to watch means engaging audiences in your narrative, which requires an understanding of their needs and desires and of the tools developed over time to answer those needs. This class is designed to provide those tools. In this class, students will view and learn to dissect narrative films for the elements of traditional three-act structure, the most common storytelling format in the industry, and then apply those lessons to their own work. By understanding how and why this structure creates memorable and tightly paced Hollywood films, students will be able to apply it to their own nonfiction work, and will actively workshop those ideas in class and small group discussions and exercises. In melding the sensibilities and conventions of documentaries with an easily identifiable narrative structure, students will not only identify ways to adapt their subject matter to the appetite of a story-hungry contemporary documentary audience but also learn how to deliver commercially viable documentary films for today’s selective environment. Students are expected to bring potential or active documentary projects for evaluation and workshopping. (16 hours/All Levels)

Joshua Dasal is a director, producer, screenwriter, and marketing creative director. A graduate of the prestigious University of Southern California (USC) film school, he has creatively developed, written, directed, produced, and consulted for entities like the Discovery Channel, PBS, Sony Screen Gems, and director Wes Craven. His work has screened at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Director’s Guild of America, and USC’s First Look Film Festival. Dasal was awarded a Mid-Atlantic Emmy and Silver Telly for his PBS work, the HDFest Best Documentary prize for The Mars Underground, and five regional awards, including “best film,” for his 48 Hour Film Project short, Cake. Dasal has been a screenwriting instructor at Missouri State University, as well as a communications manager at North Carolina State University and a freelance video marketer.


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