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New York Film Academy Documentary

1-Year Hands-on Conservatory Documentary Program

Documentary Showcase Documentary school students film with a camera on set A NYFA documentary student films a subject in Union Square A NYFA documentary school student shooting footage by the water A group of NYFA documentary students with camera

Overview of Our 1-Year Documentary Program

Documentary programs include an exotic one-week trip
Documentaries have never been hotter or more commercially promising – whether you are looking for a career or are out to change the world. And no documentary program is hotter than the one at the New York Film Academy. In fact, it’s has already been awarded a coveted slot on The Independent magazine’s list of the Top 10 Academic Programs For Documentary Filmmakers, and for very good reasons. The curriculum challenges each student to make six documentary projects of increasing difficulty. Successful graduates leave with real craft skills, a quality documentary education, a portfolio of work, a resume that opens doors and a network it would normally take years in the business to cultivate. (They’ll also have a great time doing it.)

NYFA Student Work: Documentary Highlight Reel

A Reel of 2015 and 2016 student documentary work (shown as trailers) from the Los Angeles Campus.

Our faculty is comprised of award-winning filmmakers. We attract students from all over the world, some of whom are already getting their films distributed and making an impact before they graduate. An extraordinary feature of the Academy’s curriculum is the Master Class series that offers students the priceless advantage of working directly with documentary’s working masters. Every year, throughout the program, executive level editors and producers from HBO and Discovery, and multiple Academy Award, Peabody Award, Emmy Award and top festival winning filmmakers, producers, editors and cinematographers work with our documentary students in small, intimate Master Classes. Their involvement means that students graduate not only with an indispensable education and films in their portfolio, but they also become part of a remarkable professional network.

A student films a waterfall while standing on rocks Extraordinary access to the world of documentary television represents another singular facet of the program. Currently in the US, over 20 top tier cable channels are dedicated to non-fiction programming 24 hours–a-day, 365 days-a-year. With nearly every other cable channel, from HBO to MTV to Sundance and Bravo dedicating increasing percentages of their airtime to documentaries and doc-style series, and networks shifting ever further into the realm of "unscripted" programming, the opportunities are unprecedented. The New York Film Academy’s documentary program is distinctive in the in-depth and cutting-edge education our students receive from top professionals in the non-fiction television industry.

In recent years, filmmakers like Michael Moore (Fahrenheit 9/11) and Marilyn Agrelo (Mad Hot Ballroom) have radically transformed the commercial environment for documentaries, conferring on newcomers a theatrical landscape routinely populated by documentaries that draw mass audiences. Television has nearly inverted the traditional ratio of fiction to non-fiction programming, and the internet has opened up a myriad of new avenues for documentary distribution as well as "cyber- docs" and "web-isodes." New York Film Academy Documentary graduates are uniquely situated to jump right into this thrilling and evolving field.

Review Of The Documentary Filmmaking Program


  • Conceive, produce, direct and digitally edit a nonsynchronous 16mm short "Observational" film of up to 2 minutes.
  • Conceive, pitch, produce, direct, and digitally edit a short "Character" documentary of up to 5 minutes.
  • Conceive, pitch, produce, direct, and digitally edit a series of 4 personal Vlogs (Video Blogs) for release via the internet.
  • Conceive, pitch, research, develop, produce, write, direct and edit a rough cut of a social issue documentary of up to 10 minute in length.
  • Earn credits as cinematographer, sound recordist and assistant camera on your crew-mates’ films.
  • Learn the basics of visual non-fiction storytelling.
  • Train in the underlying skills necessary for documentary production: producing, research, story development, interviewing, writing, cinematography, sound recording and editing.
  • Learn the fundamentals of digital video shooting, sound recording and editing.
  • Study the history and stylistic range of the documentary genre with a focus on film language, techniques, aesthetics, structure and other elements of cinematic storytelling.


  • Edit, color correct, sound mix and screen Semester 1 social issue documentary.
  • Conceive, develop and pitch a documentary television series
  • Collaborate in the production, editing and pitch presentation of a 5-10 minute "sizzle reel" of a documentary television series
  • Conceive, research, pitch, produce, direct, digitally edit and finish a thesis documentary of up to 30 minutes, to be presented at NYFA’s Documentary Film Festival, travel the festival circuit and compete for an airing on the Documentary Channel
  • Earn credits as cinematographer, sound recordist, coproducer, and/or co-editor on your crewmates’ films.
  • Master the craft of visual non-fiction storytelling.
  • Perfect the underlying skills necessary for documentary production: producing, research, story development, interviewing, writing, cinematography, sound recording and editing.
  • Expand and enrich knowledge of digital video production and digital editing.
  • Master the art of the pitch, and learn to produce highintegrity, commercial non-fiction television programming.
  • Develop the skills to enter and thrive in the documentary and non-fiction television industries.

Course Description

One-year documentary program tuition includes exotic one-week trip
  • Documentary Craft I The ongoing Documentary Craft workshop provides the spine of the program: a forum in which we manage the development, production and post-production of each project. Students collaborate in the management and trouble-shooting of each other’s films and learn to navigate the myriad of real world craft, production and storytelling issues inherent in documentary filmmaking.
  • Film Dynamics Students delve delving into the language and grammar of film, and equip themselves to communicate with sophistication in the cinematic idiom. Subjects range from an in-depth consideration of the language of "the shot" to a survey of editing theory, experiments with the use of music and sound and an exploration of the various inflections of non-fiction cinematic elements, ranging from interview and narration styles to the endless variety of approaches to archival materials.
  • Camera, Lighting and Sound In hands-on classes and production workshops, students learn to operate and maximize the functions of both 16mm film and 24p DV and HD cameras. Lighting classes help students maximize the use of available and natural light, as well as traditional lighting for interviews in controlled situations. In hands-on sound classes, students learn to operate and utilize shotgun and lavaliere microphones and a field mixer to record quality sound in field as well as controlled shooting situations.
  • Producing I The Producing classes of NYFA’s documentary program run throughout the entire program. Student documentarymakers are wearing their producer’s hat whether they are researching the stories and developing the relationships necessary to begin a documentary or navigating the logistics and wrangling the equipment, crews, permits and releases that make production possible.
  • Editing Editing classes teach students the fundamentals of editing with digital editing software, and guide students through the process of editing their films.
  • Writing I The bulk of "Writing" in the documentary context means storytelling. While students do have classes in narration writing and pitching, the vast majority of classes focuses on story. "Elements of Narrative" introduces students to the three-act structure and to the concept of character, conflict and stakes.
  • Documentary Craft II This ongoing workshop provides the spine of the second semester. From developing, pitching and jointly creating "sizzle reels" for their TV projects to planning and producing their thesis docs and preparing themselves for the real world to follow, students collaborate on each other’s projects and geometrically increase the practical documentary-making experience they will need to integrate themselves into the industry and tackle their independent careers.
  • Producing II In the second semester, students learn to post-produce their films, locating and legally clearing archival materials and music. In a series of MASTER CLASSES, a range of documentary and non-fiction TV luminaries walk students through a variety of producing scenarios. A pre-graduation series also covers resumes, reels, websites, trailers and industry networking, and prepares student to navigate the festival circuit and distribution landscape with a finished documentary.
  • Editing II Documentaries often find their true form in the editing room. Second semester editing classes give students the opportunity to learn how to craft a film’s structure and perfect its look. MASTER CLASSES with top documentary editors enrich students’ knowledge and guide them through the process of editing their Semester 1 and Thesis films. Technically oriented editing classes also instruct students in advanced digital editing software and introduce them to additional post-production programs including Motion, Color, After Effects and Pro Tools.
  • Writing II "Advanced Narrative" explores a full range of narrative and dramatic storytelling concepts, structures and techniques running the gamut from Aristotle, to Hegel to Joseph Campbell and the Hollywood tradition. In a Grant-Writing mini-course at the end of the semester, students write a full grant proposal for whatever project they plan to pursue after graduation.


One-year documentary program tuition includes exotic one-week trip
  • Observation Film Each student produces a visual, non-fiction story about a process, activity or place. Students are challenged to find the most effective shots for telling their story to an audience. Use of camera angle, shot-size, focal length, and editing patterns are also emphasized. (Each student develops, directs and edits a film of up to 2 minutes.)
  • Transmedia Each student creates a series of personal cyber-films for use across digital platforms. Students are challenged to utilize the intimate dimensions of the web or mobile player window to their advantage, to attract the interest of the web-surfing audience, and to motivate them to share. (Each student directs, shoots, and edits 3 films, each of up to 90 seconds.)
  • Character Film Each student is challenged to tell a verite' story about an extraordinary or extremely ordinary person using only image and synchronous sound. Students are challenged to record life as it happens using only unstaged "scenes" from their subject’s life - rather than narration, interviews and staged scenes. (Each student develops, directs, shoots, and edits a film of up to 8 minutes.)
  • Social Issue Film In this film, students may provide a fresh perspective on a social or political issue of their choosing or tell a local story that has larger implications. Students will research their subject matter and write a shooting script before beginning, and will use interviews and narration as basic building blocks for this film. (Each student writes, shoots, directs, and edits a film of up to 10 minutes.)
  • Non-Fiction TV Series Students work collaboratively to develop a non-fiction or unscripted television series pitch. Using documentary techniques learned throughout the first semester, students are challenged to develop a show that obeys classical story conventions and meets the demands of the television industry. Each student pitches a series both verbally and in writing to a network or production executive. Students also have the option to produce a “sizzle reel” for use in their pitch.
  • Thesis Film: Independent Documentary Each student is challenged to make a short, independent documentary that tells a compelling, cinematic and authentic story. Using an approach and visual style of the student’s own choosing, the film should be well-developed in advance of shooting, employ good narrative structure, and demonstrate both producing and technical proficiency. (Each student produces a thesis film of up to 30 minutes in length, using the approach of their choosing.)
  • The New York Film Academy Documentary Film Festival At the end of the second semester, students premiere their thesis documentaries at The NYFA Documentary Film Festival. The festival screening includes a diploma-granting ceremony and is open to friends, family and invited guests. Students take their finished films with them and are encouraged to their work submit to the many film festivals in the U.S. and abroad.
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new york film academy special student expedition

*The expedition is planned and supervised by NYFA faculty and staff. Please note: participants pay for the costs of their transportation, accommodation, and food. The trip is scheduled during a school vacation or semester break. It is offered as an optional experience, students and alumni are not required to participate.

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