Jack McDonald is an Emmy Award-winning writer and director of documentary films for National Geographic Explorer, Discovery, TLC and PBS. His films include a PBS special, West Point; Legendary Lighthouses of Hawaii for Oregon Public Television and PBS; Tornado of the Century, for the Discovery Channel; Great Palaces of the World, written and produced for TLC; and Avalanche!, written and coproduced for NOVA/WGBH. He has also written a 13-part series for the Discovery Channel, titled The Himalaya, as well as a score of films for National Geographic. His producing and story work encompasses formats from worldwide broadcast to online media, from mass audience to NGO and advocacy, working with subjects that span the sciences, humanities, and current events -- and geographically, around the world. Jack has been teaching for over a dozen years with high praise from his students.
While thoughts for documentaries abound, the key to realizing the idea is the development of it into a doable, sellable, and compelling documentary treatment or proposal. This course is for writers, producers, directors, and independent filmmakers who have a documentary project that they want to develop, write, and sell.
The workshop provides an overview of how documentary ideas become films. Students learn what works and what does not, how to research a story, outline an idea, develop a treatment, structure a documentary, introduce and develop characters, and create a satisfying and effective experience for viewers. In addition to participating in lectures, screenings, readings, and one-on-one consults with the instructor, students practice pitching their projects in class for critique. Students learn and practice types of writing that powerfully aid the story development process, techniques of drafting and freewriting that are not about polished pieces, but about a way of generating and evolving ideas and structures.
The class covers a wide range of documentary forms and styles, including nature and science, social and current events, history, and biography. Students come away with a firm understanding of how to put their documentary ideas into a format that can be marketed and made.