NFTS Scotland: How Stories Work in Documentaries

Short course


In person delivery, subject to government guidelines allowing, with COVID-19 protocols in place
Read our commitment to keep you safe while training with us

Making documentaries is tough, and one of the hardest stages is the edit.  There’s no easier place to get lost than in a cutting room while you’re trying to figure out how to make sense of hours and hours of rushes.

However, every good documentary or factual programme has a set of organising principles that are fundamental, easy to grasp and vital in helping you make sense of your material.

If you know what they are and why they matter, the problems you encounter throughout the film-making process will be more easily solved.

This practical course will:

  • Introduce you to the key elements of story structure
  • Explain how stories work in documentaries
  • Help you plan your film and pitch it
  • Show you how to prepare for the edit
  • Help you solve the problems that every film encounters in the edit

This course is led by Peter Dale, who produced and directed documentaries for the BBC for 18 years before going to Channel 4 as Head of Documentaries. In 2005 he conceived and launched More4, Channel 4’s third digital channel. His own independent production company Rare Day produces quality documentary and drama for broadcasters and other distributors. He’s now the Head of Documentary at the NFTS, as well as Executive Producer on a number of high-profile documentaries.

The course is aimed at producers at all levels including Development Producers, Edit Producers, Series Producers, Producer Directors, Assistant Producers and anyone who wants to know more about how stories work in documentaries.

Previous course participants said: 

'(I) gained a massive insight into what would appear to be basic story-telling, yet taught in such an insightful manner. Peter's method of teaching was perhaps the best I have experienced. I left the course with a totally changed perspective and approach to documentary from memory.'

'I have learnt to tell stories in a way that I have never thought before. Most importantly I learnt how to tell my own story and look at every story with a similar insight and empathy. Very clever way to introduce students into writing stories. Peter Dale didn't just share his wisdom, knowledge and experience as a producer but cared for, accommodated, engaged, interacted with us and empowered every single of us as one the greatest teachers I have ever yet met!'

'The highlight of the course was learning from a master like Peter, and hearing other people's fabulous stories. A very bonding experience! '

Fees and funding options

Fees for this course are as follows:

Freelance Rate: £525
Corporate Rate: £815

Bursaries, supported by the Scottish Government, are also available for those who are eligible.


A limited number of bursaries are available for all of our short courses. If you wish to apply for a bursary to contribute to the costs of your course, please read the bursary guidelines below carefully to confirm your eligibility. Please do not apply to a course unless you are sure you meet the bursary eligibility criteria, or can pay for the course by other means.

Please apply as far in advance of the course date as possible to give yourself the best chance of securing a supported place, as we may not be able to accommodate all applications. We aim to advise successful applicants no later than 10 working days prior to the course start date. 

Once you have submitted your course application, your bursary application, and supporting documents, should be submitted to

NFTS Scotland Bursary Guidelines (Word doc)

NFTS Scotland Bursary Application Form (pdf)

If you are not eligible for an NFTS Scotland bursary, please read our Alternative Funding Avenues document (pdf) which points you in the direction of a few other places which may be able to help. Please submit your application in plenty of time as timescales for funders differ. 

How to apply

Application deadline: Coming Soon

Dates to be announced. You may apply for this course to be advised of dates as they become available.  

Please complete the application form to apply. You will be required to upload your C.V. 
Please also read the Terms and Conditions of booking as payment of a successful application assumes acceptance of these. 

Begin your application