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Workshops

SOC BPJ workshop

Workshops

Bill Gentile helps students hone their skills and acquire the knowledge they need to be successful in the field. Watch video from past workshops.

We are now at an extraordinary juncture in the history of mankind, technology and communication. Ordinary citizens wield the power to communicate instantly, globally and in a language, the visual language, that supersedes both the written and the spoken word. This visual language knows no frontiers. It needs no translation. It is contingent on no corporate support. It is the most powerful cultural tool of our time.

Backpack journalism is the embodiment of this visual language. It is the embodiment of this power. The Backpack Journalism Workshops with Bill Gentile and American University enable you to harness that power to document and to change the world you live in.

In a four-day, intensive workshop Bill Gentile draws upon three decades of field experience to teach you the full range of skills for effective visual storytelling, from story conception to shooting to scriptwriting, narrating and editing a crafted story.

Backpack Journalism Workshop

Participants will:

  • Learn to use filmmaking equipment and software to make compelling, character-driven documentaries.
  • Discover how to tailor your work for greatest impact.
  • Learn to package your presentation and to mold your message for major broadcasters and Internet outlets.
  • Work side-by-side with some of the best video documentary makers, journalists and storytellers in the field.
  • Gain exposure for yourself and your work.

Applications for individuals and institutions are accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis and space is limited. To apply, please contact Bill Gentile.

SOC BPJ students in workshop

Workshop FAQs

What are the Backpack Journalism Workshops?

The Backpack Journalism Workshops with Bill Gentile and American University are intensive, four-day immersions in the craft of "backpack journalism" defined as character-driven television/web production with hand-held digital cameras by a single practitioner. The workshops cover the gamut of this storytelling craft from the genesis and shaping of story ideas, to shooting powerful images that drive the story, to the capture and use of sound, to script writing, narration, and editing with Macintosh computers and Final Cut Pro. 

Who should attend?

The Backpack Journalism Workshops with Bill Gentile and American University are for beginners with some experience as well as more seasoned practitioners who want to sharpen their skills and acquire new ones. We welcome photojournalists making the transition to film and video. Print journalists seeking to expand their skills will find the workshops particularly useful. Broadcast journalists accustomed to the technology and techniques preceding today's hand-held digital cameras will find that the newer equipment delivers a more immediate, intimate version of visual communication than their predecessors. Video journalists, documentarians, filmmakers and independent storytellers who want to expand their skill set and learn from one of the pioneers in the field also will benefit from the workshops. We welcome mid-career professionals who want to learn new skills or to expand existing skills. We welcome institutions, NGOs and government services that seek to inspire and to instruct employees on this new methodology of visual communication. You must be at least 18 years old to attend.

What will I learn?

You will learn how to use the power of visual information. You will learn to use hand-held digital cameras to document and to change the world you live in. You will learn a new dialect and you will learn to participate in the international dialogue that is visual communication. You will learn how to make powerful television and web productions, to tailor your work for greatest impact, to package your presentation and to mold your message for major broadcasters and Internet outlets. You will learn how to compete with some of the best video documentary makers, journalists and storytellers in the field. And you will learn how to pitch your work for broadcast or the Internet.

Bill Gentile in Afghanistan shooting a documentary for PBS NOW

Who will teach the workshops?

The primary teacher is Bill Gentile, an independent filmmaker teaching at American University in Washington, DC. He is a pioneer in the craft of backpack journalism and character-driven documentary, and is one of the first to use the hand-held digital cameras that have revolutionized visual communication for television and the Web. He worked for Video News International (VNI), precursor of The New York Times Television Company, and has completed assignments for The Learning Channel, the Discovery Channel, National Geographic Television, ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel, NOW on PBS, Court TV and Lion TV. He shared the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Human Rights Reporting, Honorable Mention, for a story on rape during the 1994 Rwanda Genocide. He shared two National Emmy Awards and was nominated for a third.

Gentile's most recent work for NOW on PBS includes "Nurses Needed", about the critical shortage of nurses in America. He also traveled to Afghanistan to shoot and produce "Afghanistan: The Forgotten War". Gentile was embedded as Correspondent/Producer for nearly three weeks with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province along the border with Pakistan.  Both pieces were broadcast by NOW on PBS. For the Afghanistan piece, Gentile won the Best of Competition Award in the Broadcast Educators Association (BEA) Short Form Faculty Documentary Competition. He also was nominated for a National Emmy Award.

Gentile brings over 30 years of field experience, most of them in visual communication, to these workshops. He began in 1977 as reporter for the Mexico City News and correspondent for United Press International (UPI) based in Mexico City. He spent two years as editor on UPI's Foreign Desk in New York, then moved to Nicaragua and became Newsweek Magazine's Contract Photographer for Latin America and the Caribbean. His book of photographs, "Nicaragua," won the Overseas Press Club Award for Excellence. He is featured in two award-winning documentaries about international journalism in Nicaragua, "The World Is Watching," and "The World Stopped Watching." See his bio and examples of his work at: Bill Gentile, American University, the Foreign Correspondence Network and American Today.

Gentile brings a number of accomplished assistants to the workshops to ensure that participants have sufficient support.

SOC BPJ at NBC

Where and when is the workshop being held?

The time and location of the Backpack Journalism Workshops With Bill Gentile and American University are scheduled on a case-by-case basis, depending partly on client needs. The 11 March through Sunday 14 March 2010 workshop, for example, was held at the NBC News bureau in Washington, DC. Daily sessions will run from 9 am until 9 pm. NBC News is located a block from the American University campus at the intersection of Nebraska and Massachusetts Avenues in Washington, DC. 

What are participants required to bring?

Participants are required to bring his/her own digital camera, Mac computer with Final Cut Pro, external hard drive and tape. We suggest mini-DV cameras with manual capability to allow practitioners to control aperture, shutter speed and focus.

How much does it cost?

The four-day workshop costs $1,495.00 per participant. Group rates are also available.

Does the fee include room, board or travel?

The fee does not include room, board or travel. Although workshop organizers will attempt to negotiate with local providers for reduced, group costs, all expenses incurred are the responsibility of the participant.

How do I enroll in the workshop?

Contact Bill Gentile, billgentile@billgentile.com   

Applications are accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis. Space is limited so don't wait to apply.

Can I get a refund if I have a sudden change of plans?

You get a 100 percent refund if you notify us 14 days or more prior to the beginning of the course; a 50 percent refund if you notify us between seven and 13 days prior to the beginning of the course; no refund is available if you advise us fewer than six days prior to the beginning of the course.

Who can I contact for more information?

For further assistance, contact Bill Gentile.
SOC BPJ group photo

Student Testimonials

"That was a BLUR - but in the best possible way. Thanks to everyone for one of the greatest, most compressed (!) learning experiences ever!"

-- Dawn Cannon, December 2009

"I'm overwhelmed by the sense of how much I've grown in such a short time...I feel that solely through your experience and instruction I have myself 'turned the corner'. From coming into the workshop with little to no understanding of what makes effective visual storytelling to leaving with a stronger sense of the structure that lies beneath all good stories, I can't thank you enough...I wanted you to know how grateful I am."

-- Jon Haas, December 2009

"I really have to thank you, again, for an experience that surpassed my expectations. It was an  honor to watch your compelling videos with you and listen to your insight ... I can't thank you enough for what you have taught me."

-- Ahmed Selim, March 2009

"The workshop was a watershed experience for me and you have pointed me in a new and exciting direction with news presentation at my newspaper. If there has ever been a time to humanize stories in new ways such as web video, this is the time. The fire has been sparked!"

-- John Clarke Russ, March 2009

"I couldn't be more pleased with what I learned and how you taught it. You moved us all from A to Z on so many different topics, you made us move out of our comfort zones and showed us that we can go get stories and make films anywhere. I am very excited to start taking this knowledge and applying it."

-- Bruce Jones, March 2009