Our trainees cover their experience of the start of the online residential training

On Monday 10 August 2020, our selected 2020 Grierson DocLab trainees gathered in a Zoom meeting room to begin their week-long programme of factual training...



I thought instead of recapping the day I would recap my thoughts. It was an exciting rollercoaster of a day, which can most definitely be seen in how my own thoughts moved throughout the day:

Oh wow there is a lot of us

Is this how you work zoom?


“Sorry forgot I was muted”

I hate introducing myself oh no

Why is it so nerve wracking talking on zoom than it is in person?

That was such a good point why can’t I put my words into a sentence like that?

I need to pee

Oh thank god a break

Tea Tea Tea

How have I learnt more today than I did 4 years at university?

I am way too aware of my own face right now

They have a very nice bookshelf


Can I go to the toilet or do I have to ask?

Hey, I knew that word!

I’m hungry

Oh a guest speaker

Hahah someone’s coming in pretending to be Louis Theroux


Oh that’s actually Louis Theroux

That is THE Louis Theroux

Can I call my dad in??

Think of smart question think of a smart question think of a smart question

Did I actually just zoom with Louis Theroux

What a nice man

Can I make a documentary about a documentarian?

Right Erin get up and walk about

How have I been on zoom for 6 hours????

Everyone is so nice

Oh people didn’t like Missed call

It’s okay Erin people have different opinions

Did Louis Theroux actually come on this Zoom like 2 hours ago or am I in a lockdown dream?

I need to make my own dictionary of new terms

Okay I need a nap

That went so quickly

Can’t believe its 33 degrees in London

Can’t believe I met Louis Theroux

That was a good day.

Just from one day I can tell this week is going to be the most informative and inspiring experience I have had. Experiences like the one I have had today completely solidify my passion for tv and factual and I cannot believe I get to spend a whole week talking and learning about it.


After a few rounds of “you’re on mute!” we were ready to roll. We all took it in turns to introduce ourselves and share our pitch ideas. There was such a great variety of ideas and I was excited to get to know the team better.

We started the day by being inspired by a wide variety of factual clips from Carol including films and programmes such as the brilliant editing and sound in Night Mail. We shed a tear watching Educating Yorkshire and Seven Up! and we learnt more about fixed rig programming. We had a good session of busting lingo and by the end of the day we were getting to grips with the differences between formats and constructs, access stories and single narratives, to arm us in preparation for our pitches later on in the week.

We then took it terms to pitch an existing programme back at the group. This was a really fun activity that I will be using in the future to get my brain going. Our team had ITV’s Long Lost Family which we renamed to Separated at Birth. This was a really useful exercise as it helped us to understand the process of developing an idea from the inside out. Another favourite was the renaming of The Great British Bake Off to Cakes, Bakes and Patriotism. I really learnt the value of being able to encapsulate an idea as an Elevator Pitch in two sentences or less.

All of a sudden, who should appear on screen but acclaimed documentarian Louis Theroux! Our surprised expressions have been immortalised in Zoom and Ramla definitely won the Number One Fan award for having his new book at the ready too. I was very chuffed that I got to ask a question. I wanted to know more about how we can make meaningful connections with the people that we interview, and he said that it is important to have “conversation that feels both informed and sympathetic”. He also went on to say that “being with a team makes you feel like you have a superpower. Having a camera makes you feel unafraid”. Already with my new Grierson team members I was beginning to feel unafraid and ready to get creating.


Having this year’s DocLab training online was new for all of us, but didn’t stop me being any more excited to get stuck in! We kicked off the training week on Monday by introducing ourselves over Zoom, and pitching our documentary ideas to each other. This was a really nice way to get to know the group, as everyone’s docs were so personal and said so much about their personalities and what they were interested in.

With the wonderful Carol Nahra to guide us on our journey into the world of documentary and factual, we plunged straight in with a discussion on a clip of the Gogglebox cast watching Educating Yorkshire. This discussion was really useful for identifying the different types of documentary and led into further discussions on the history of documentary, as well as industry lingo. We then put into practise what we’d learned by pitching existing factual TV shows under a different name and making the rest of the group guess what the originals were.

After the lunch break we broke out into smaller groups to discuss the two films we’d been asked to watch ahead of time, Lift and Missed Call. I really enjoyed these discussions as it was interesting to hear different takes and see the films from a different perspective to my own.

Later in the day, just as the afternoon heat was getting to us, we had a surprise visit from Louis Theroux! This was such a great surprise, I could hardly believe he was really there on our Zoom call with us! Louis was really forthcoming about his career path and experiences, and very kindly answered some of our burning questions.

To close out the day we had a look at some clips of docs people in the group had chosen to present to the group. It was really lovely to hear all about what other people enjoy watching, and I came away with a few new recommendations that I might not otherwise have gravitated towards.

Grierson DocLab 2020 trainees with Louis Theroux



Our trainer, Deborah Aston got us to really think about what inspires us to tell the stories we want to tell, and how to find that inspiration too. I loved the task where we had to come up with an idea for a film from the news we read. In our groups we all shared our news articles and tried to come up with a story that we could turn into a programme. I found an article about self-expression, fashion and religion, and turned it into a format suitable for BBC Two, about women in Islam and how they balance faith with new fashion trends. Each group then had to pitch the idea back to the rest of the trainees. This task showed us that inspiration is everywhere, even in the news we read. It also showed us how to find engaging and timely ideas for programmes as well as which formats would fit our ideas. Learning on how to build on our ideas was also very useful, it’s not just enough to have a good idea, we need a good hook, compelling characters and a gripping journey. All in all, it was a pretty great all-rounder, on the bread and butter of filmmaking something that I’m sure I’ll remember and implement throughout my career.


We were split into small groups and tasked with choosing news stories and creating a documentary idea from one of them. We had to use what we learnt from earlier today and yesterday to think about the characters, conventions and a hook. My group had found an interesting article about a mother who chose to see her daughter again through VR. I enjoyed getting to know my fellow trainees in a smaller group and developing an idea. We were able to use TV terminology and confidently pitch our idea to the rest of the group.

After we were taught in depth about how to build a story and the different conventions which could be used to do this. We were introduced to new genres and shown examples of these. Then we learnt more about how to present a successful pitch and it helped me to build confidence for my pitch on Friday.

Steve Humphries gave an insightful talk on how to approach interviewing, He showed us examples of his work and spoke about the importance of the relationship between yourself and the interviewee. He provided me with lots of tips and tricks that I will definitely be taking into the future.


Guest speaker Steve Humphries showed us clips of previous documentaries he has made and explained to us the importance of building a relationship with contributors and showed how much more willing the interviewee is to tell their story when you are respectful. We went on to ask Steve lots of questions, about his interviewing methods and the different clips he showed us, which was fascinating. Once Steve had finished, our trainer for the day, Deborah briefly recapped the day and we had a chance to ask her some more questions. We then finished up with clips of a documentary called Mind The Gap which both Fatima and Leonie had chosen, which was great (I went on to finish watching it that night in my own time). After giving feedback to Jane, Yen, Hannah and Deborah we finished up for the day.

Grierson DocLab 2020 trainees with Steve Humphries

Read about the middle and the end of the Grierson DocLab online training week.

Published: 27 August 2020

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