Change the World: Make a Social Issue Documentary | Jill Jones | Skillshare

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Change the World: Make a Social Issue Documentary

teacher avatar Jill Jones, Story Producer

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Why Social Issue Docs?


    • 3.

      Choosing an Issue


    • 4.

      Finding a Character


    • 5.

      Writing a Logline


    • 6.

      Extra Credit!


    • 7.

      Closing Thoughts


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About This Class

In this class, you will develop a concept for your own social issue documentary. You don't need any filming equipment. We are starting with the most important part of the film: the idea. 

I will be using my own documentary film  as an example throughout the class. 

Who is this class for?

Anyone who is curious about documentaries or excited about making a difference in the world. You don't need to be an experienced filmmaker. Just bring your heart and your mind.

Artwork Acknowledgment: 

Blackfish Poster by CNN Films & Magnolia Pictures

The Act of Killing Poster by Joshua Oppenheimer & Final Cut for Real

Jackass Poster by Paramount Pictures & MTV Films

Spectrum logo by artist Bess Yontz

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Jill Jones

Story Producer



I work in Los Angeles as a Story Producer and Supervising Producer for documentary and unscripted TV.

I have produced content for CNN (UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA), ESPN FILMS (What Makes Us), NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, (The Raft), ANIMAL PLANET (Treehouse Masters), A&E (Scientology & the Aftermath), BRAVO (Top Chef), ABC (Extreme Makeover: Home Edition), MTV (Catfish), and CBS (3). 

In addition, I produce independent documentary work with the company CLAY. We create live action and animated branded content for non-profits like the Young Storytellers Foundation. 

I produced a social issue documentary for PBS about autism and sensory perception. The film premiered at the United Nations for their International Day of Persons with Disabilities. ... See full profile

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1. Intro: sound speed and clapping. Hi, my name is Jill Jones, and this class is about creating an idea for a social issue documentary. I am a documentary filmmaker and a story producer. I live in L. A and I've worked for ESPN Films, National Geographic, Empty View, CBS and most recently I produced a documentary about autism and sensory perception. In this class, we're going to be covering the first step to making a documentary, which is just coming up with an idea and writing a logline. A logline is just a one sentence description of your idea. It's very simple. This is something that you can do today. It's not something that you have to think about for months. We're gonna just go with your gut, find something that already matters to you and write it down, and we'll put it in the project gallery. And then hopefully I can give you feedback and other people can give you feedback, and you can take the next steps to actually making a document. You don't need to have any experience to take this class. You don't need to know how to work a camera or sound or lights. Anybody can start out and make a logline for a documentary film. Really, You just need to bring your heart and your mind, and that's all you need to take this class, so make sure to enroll and let's get started. 2. Why Social Issue Docs? : I think that social issue documentaries are really having a renaissance used to documentaries for something that kind of bored everyone you picture just like a picture slowly moving that can burns effect even though I love Ken Burns. But now the documentary format is evolving. It's becoming very personal. People are making documentaries about themselves, about the people that they love about issues that are really important to them. And that's why I think that everyone is excited about the opportunity to tell your story. So in this class, I'm going to be using a project that I worked on as an example for each of the small steps that you're going to take. The documentary that I made is called Spectrum, and it's a documentary about autism and sensory perception. Spectrum. I started the project about 23 years ago, and we finished this past year. We premiered at the United Nations in December for their International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and that was a huge payoff and having the film screen in front of leaders from around the world who can actually affect disability policy. It was like a dream come true, and something that I think anybody can dio and all you have to start with is an idea 3. Choosing an Issue: So for the first step in this project, we're going to identify a social issue for your project. I'm gonna list a few that I think maybe are a good starting point. And then I want you to just go with your gut and pick the one that matters to you the most . So a few social issues that I can think of just off the top of my head. Women's rights, climate change, homelessness, suicide, education, civil rights and police brutality. So as you can see, social issues span a really wide range, they can be pretty depressing, and they can be very serious. Um, and they can also be inspiring and light hearted. Often you want to choose a social issue that maybe you have some personal experience with. That is something that really matters to you and for my film spectrum. My cousin is autistic, and he's about 22 right now, and I grew up with him, and he every year it Christmas would not want to open his Christmas presents with the rest of the family because it was too loud and chaotic in the room, and I really wanted to understand him, so I went to work in a nonprofit for people with disabilities, and I just got super interested in the subject matter. So I had something personal tying me to that project. So when you're thinking about which social issue you want to choose, there might be something that's just kind of under your nose that you care about That is so part of your life that you don't even realize it's something that you want to talk about or tell a story about. But I think the best kind of projects are things that are really personal, um, things that have changed your life and impacted your life. 4. Finding a Character: So when you're trying to find a subject for your documentary, there's a few different things you can dio. One is to consider. Who do you already know that is making an impact with the social issue? That could be you? It could be your brother. It could be your spouse. It could be a teacher that you formally had. It could be an acquaintance that you saw on Facebook has done something really interesting . And if you don't know anybody, I think it's great to just start Googling. So I recommend going to Google News and typing in your social issue. And what will happen is you'll see it Some characters that maybe have been in the local news like, for example, if you chose homelessness and you might find someone who used to be homeless, and now they're running a nonprofit program helping other homeless people. That person probably has an amazing story, and maybe it hasn't been told yet you could reach out to them and end up having an amazing film. So for the documentary that I made spectrum, I went to a conference with Dr Temple Grandin, and she is probably the most well known autistic woman in the world, and I watched her speak at this conference, and I just fell in love with the way she communicated. And so I found a connection through some my extended family that she was doing a talk in their town, and I got her email address, center and email, and she agreed to be the documentary. And having someone who has a little bit of traction or exposure was extremely helpful for getting funding and getting interest in the documentary. I've worked in casting for TV, and this is actually the same process that they use when they're going to cast a TV documentary, Siri's. They just find the concept that they're looking after and they start posting on Facebook. They start looking in the news and finding all of the authorities and blog's on that subject matter. And eventually, by the end of one day, they will have a list of 20 interesting stories because there are so many stories in the world that deserve to be told 5. Writing a Logline: So now that you've picked a social issue and you have an idea of who maybe could star in your documentary, we're going to do the really hard task of writing a logline. It's a lot of work, you know. Just write one sentence. So I think you can do it. Um, gonna go down in the project gallery and you're gonna right the sentence that explains what your documentary is about and who it's about. So I have some example log lines from other documentaries that we can go over just to give you an idea of how to break down a story into one sentence. The 1st 1 is Black Fish. The Logline is a documentary following the controversial captivity of killer whales and its dangers for both humans and whales. Another one is for the documentary The Act of Killing and the Log. Lane is a documentary which challenges former Indonesian death squad leaders to reenact their mass killings, in which ever cinematic genre they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers. This is the logline for Jackass. The movie Johnny Knoxville and his band of maniacs perform a variety of stunts and gross out gags on the big screen for the first time. I don't know if that would classify as a social issue Documentary. My Logline for Spectrum Waas Spectrum is a live action and animated documentary about autism and sensory perception featuring Dr Temple Grandin. So as you can see in these sentences, it just gives a little bit of contacts down, then often the name of the character. They don't have to be really complicated. It's just giving the seed of the idea of what the film will be. All right, so you can go ahead and upload your logline to the Project gallery. If you want, you can upload multiple versions of your logline, and we can help figure out what's the most simple way or what's the most compelling story for you. 6. Extra Credit!: for extra credit assignment is to, I don't know what you get for extra credit. Just the thumbs up, maybe an extra comment. But the goal is to find an image that represents your story and your social issue. The documentaries are a very visual medium, and images can help brand your story and get people excited about it and get people to care . They can also help show the angle that you're gonna take. So, for example, for my film spectrum, I had a new artist and best Yonts. She's my boyfriend's sister. Design a logo for the film. You could see it here, and the logo to me represented the aesthetic that we're going for. Because the documentary is both live action and animation. Eso it's it looks creative. A lot of autism documentaries are very depressing, and my goal with that film was not to be depressing. It was going to be an uplifting film about seeing something from a different perspective and seeing something from a different mind. So I felt like the image gave across that idea of Oh, this is interesting. This isn't a scary like don't vaccinate your Children crazy occupy autism documentary This is something that might be just like fund toe watch eso When you're coming up with your image, think about the tone of the film that you want to make if you are making something really kind of heavy. For example, a story about homelessness or injustice and the tone of your documentary is hard hitting news journalism. Then the image should reflect that, and so you can choose something that portrays that seriousness. So that's extra credit. You can just pull it off of Google or make your own image or whatever you want to do, but I think it will help sell your idea to other people. 7. Closing Thoughts: for closing thoughts. I'm super excited to hear from anyone who has an idea that maybe they've been thinking about for a while and wants to share a little piece of it with the world s. Oh, go ahead and going the Project gallery and write your logline for your documentary. You just need to mention which social issue you'll be tackling and who's gonna be in your film. And I will be happy to give you guys feedback. Um, and I'm excited to see what you're caring about and what's really tugging at your heartstrings after this lesson. There's so many more steps that you can take. Thistle is bite size. Just come up with the idea, come up with the logline. But after that, I'm gonna have some videos about using your logline to get access to your main subject. Funding, production, post production and distribution and everything that I would want to go over is all bite size because it's very overwhelming. Documentaries can take a long time to make, and I think the only only way to do it is one little step at a time. Even if you're taking one small step. Sending one email every day for the next year. Eventually, that's how a project gets done. So if you check on the description, I've also included a pdf with a bunch of resource. Is that I think you guys might like. I have some logline examples. I have links to free sources, toe watch documentaries to really just get you excited. So thank you guys for listening. I'm really excited to hear from you. And if you want to check out my film, the website is spectrum story dot com. You can watch a trailer, um, and let me know what you think. I'm excited to hear from you guys. Thank you so much.