FAQ 2019 students premiere their films for a packed house

1. Are there any other documentary filmmaking programs like the Institute?

No. There are no other intensive graduate documentary filmmaking programs in the nation like the one here at GW. Our six-month program leads to a Certificate in Documentary Filmmaking and, for the past 30 years, we are the only institution that makes this offering. The unique scope and depth of what our students experience at GW, in spite of its accelerated pace, has made us known as one of the top ten documentary programs in the U.S.  

2. Do you need to have any media experience in order to be considered for the Institute?

No. You do not need to have any media experience, technical or theoretical, in order to be considered for the Institute. In our admissions decisions we seek the most diverse group of individuals possible. What unites our student population is all have an expressed passion for engaging in the art and craft of non-fiction filmmaking, regardless of past experience.  

3. Since this is an accelerated short-term program, how and what information is covered? 

We have provided a detailed course outline for students interested in how the program is conducted on our website. Please review the drop down menus at the bottom of the page for detailed information on the progress and conduct of this intensive six-month program.  

Be aware that because our emphasis is on the theory and practice of documentary filmmaking, the business of marketing and distributing documentary films is addressed in only the most general of terms. Throughout the term of the Institute, we direct you to professional development programs and courses offered by our partners so that you can round out your documentary industry and business skills. Frequently we are able to provide discounts for our students to these events.  

4. Can I be considered for the program if I work a full time job?

Yes. But please be aware that this is an intensive program that will demand a lot from you. Further, once we begin technical training, there are several required weekend training sessions and some periodic during-the-day group exercises. Finally, we recommend that individuals who work request time off from their employers in the all-important period of production of the group film in May and June. Therefore, it is our recommendation that you alert your employer as to these requirements early in your application process and plan to take vacation and annual leave that will allow you to participate fully in all of the mandatory and voluntary production opportunities.  

Above all, success in this program, like many educational opportunities, depends heavily on what each individual student puts into it. The more you commit yourself to the academic and practical experiences that we offer, the more accomplished and confident you will become. Becoming a documentary filmmaker is a career-long endeavor. Given that there is no substitute for commitment in the world of documentary overall, your commitment begins with the total immersion that is our six-month intensive program.  

5. What are my financial aid options?

Federally subsidized financial aid is not available for certificate programs. For financial assistance options for which our students are eligible, please access our tuition and financial aid page here. You will find private alternative loan and payment plan options to suit your financial needs.

6.  What are my internship opportunities while I’m in the Institute?

The Institute offers a substantial internship program that is available to all program participants. Indeed, we recommend that to most fully benefit from the Institute experience, that you participate in an internship. 

Internship placement begins in January and interns can expect to serve 15-20 hours per week and continuing through May 1. Interns have been successfully placed at National Geographic Television, The Kennedy Center, WETA, as well as with many highly experienced independent filmmakers.  

Find out more about specifics of our internship program here.  

7. Are there event/networking opportunities through the program?

Yes. When you become a member of the Institute, you become part of a community that we have been building for over a quarter century. You will have the opportunity to attend film screenings, panels, and professional development seminars offered by us and our many Documentary Center partners. You will meet alumni of the program and benefit from their advice and expertise. Upon completion of the program, we continue to mentor you for years to come and provide you with opportunities – educational and professional – to help you along your journey towards becoming an accomplished documentarian.   

8. How is earning a Certificate in Documentary Filmmaking different from receiving a Master’s Degree?  Will that affect how future employers view my experience and skill set?

Making documentary films is not an “academic exercise.” You need to learn about what documentary films are all about and you need to engage in production. We believe that our six-month program provides the basic tools to launch yourself as a documentary filmmaker in a way that is no different than longer, more expensive, degree programs. The Institute is highly regarded in the documentary world and our graduates do very well as they launch themselves on the life-long journey to becoming successful filmmakers.  

If there are aspects of what you have learned in the Institute into which you would like to delve further after the six-month term, we will help you identify opportunities that will provide you even greater depth and accomplishment.   

9.  I have a film idea of my own that I’d like to make, can I do it during this program?  

No. Applicants to the program should not expect to either make a film on their own or on a topic decided upon before beginning the program. Filmmaking is a collaborative effort and we emphasize this fact throughout the term of the Institute. If you have a film idea that you’d like to offer to the group to produce in May and June, that is up to you. But be aware that many ideas will be vetted and yours may or may not be the one selected.  Lastly, (but not least), we believe your ideas about documentary filmmaking will change profoundly as you go through the Institute experience and that will inevitably affect how you might later approach the film that you now think you want to make.  

10.  How does a team decide on what film project to do? How does the production process work?    

Beginning the first week of May, students will be divided into groups. Each individual will provide three potential film ideas. Out of those ideas will emerge two ideas that seem the best suited to the following 8 weeks of production.  A final “pitch” will be made to the Institute instructors and then each group will achieve consensus on which film idea will lead to the best film possible.  Every student will have the opportunity to choose what role they would like to serve on the production team.  Of course, The Institute Director and instructors will be providing assistance and critique throughout the period of production.