Humanitarian Bazaar | Focus: Storytelling for Film, Fiction, & Nonfiction
Humanitarian Bazaar produces projects focused on how peope survive war and disaster.
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Syrian Metal is War's first press in Rolling Stone. [Photo by Hazem Abdul Raouf]

Daniel J Gerstle’s story in Rolling Stone (Middle East) about Syrian heavy metal in Aleppo. Photo by Hazem Abdel Raouf.


Storytelling can succeed freestyle, but many strong creative writers first learn story structure and how past stories have succeeded before they innovated their own style. With examples from the best war journalism, literary nonfiction, screenplay, and short fiction, we illuminate how most stories succeed. Based on the goals of the trainees, we can focus on a specific goal, such as how to public feature nonfiction in magazines. Creative writing tips can even help the shaping of proposals and speeches. Choose your mode and price, and let us know at

Choose your mode and price ===>

A. Online Rapid Course Webinar

$40 = Webinar (2 hours) |  $80 = Webinar+ (2 hrs plus personal call with instructor for personal consultation or to call in to talk to your organization)  |  Free for past HB team.  |  We are currently rewarding donors to our War Survivors Advisory civilian protection project and past HB team members with attendance to our webinars! HB team members of the past can attend online for free. WSA donors who donated $40 or more are invited to choose one webinar as a reward! WSA donors who supported with $80 or more can choose one webinar and also get a direct consultation call with our trainer or a team member for personal advice, solve a question for your career, or call in to give a talk to your class room or organization. Let us know your interest and we will schedule a session with you!  Donate and then let us know which course and your best time frame so we can confirm with the trainer, or you can also plan the webinar first and then donate the day of the webinar session. Let us know at and go here to donate. ===> WSA

B. Full Intensive Training Workshop

$120/person = Weekend Rapid Course with Short Simulation (12 hours, minimum 6 people) or $240/person = Week-Long Intensive Course with Simulation (24 hours, minimum 10 people)  |  Request a full-scale in-person training workshop with practicum at your location! Ask us if there will be a training near you! Sometimes we have a number of people in key places–namely Berlin, Amsterdam, Sarajevo, Nairobi, Istanbul, Kabul, Beirut–who have put in a request and we just wait until we have enough of a group and we can write to you and plan a date, so just let us know your interest at

C. Contract 

$400/day+ transport & lodging for Expert > $150/day+ expenses for local Field Worker/Fixer (depending on location) for Project Implementation, Private Intensive Training, or Field Research. | Hire a trainer, consultant or implementing team to run a full intensive course designed for your organization, or have us build a consulting team on this topic to implement projects with you.

Review Our Curriculum ===>

Part 1  |  Story Theory

  • Every writer chooses how much to follow conventional rules, or break those rules. But, whether it is nonfiction, fiction, or film, even the successful rebels learn the core theories first before breaking them.
  • One of the core literary traditions which serves as a good starting point, either way, is the Three Act Play structure which originates in early Greek and Roman dialectical philosophy–“thesis vs. antithesis = synthesis”–and theater–“Act I: Who wants what? Act II: What barrier must they overcome to reach it! And Act III: Do they win or fail.” The punctuation is intentional; it is often shorthanded as “?!.”
  • For example, Act I. We meet the zookeeper, learn his and his family’s goals and context. Act II. But now the lion escaped, so the zookeeper must find the lion before it kills someone. Act III. Police arrest the zookeeper for trespassing on a wealthy family’s estate, and the lion gets away free.
  • If this is a true story, the nonfiction writer may start with the three act structure just to outline and keep organized quotes and notes. But then they may add a catchy “lede” to grip the reader on the beginning and then a “nut graph” which summarizes the whole point of the story, and then get to the character, barriers, and result. So in nonfiction the structure often grows from three to five points.
  • In fiction, especially film fiction, the same process was used by many writers to tell the story arc. But free from the shackles of real life events, the writer can more freely move things around, so the structure tended to be adjusted from a three-act story arc with increasing tension, increasing as the characters attempt to overcome the obstacles, and then win or fail to what fiction teachers call, “the hole.” Characters wakes up, falls in a deep hole, and then spends the whole story trying to dig out of the hole. With modern short-attention spans, these kinds of stories, sometimes stretching over the arch of an entire series of films, books, or shows, can be then broken down into sub stories. The character falls into an enooooooormous hole, a chasm actually, and then along the way of climbing out, keeps falling in little holes or tripping over rocks along the way and those are episodes, turning points, or plot points in the development of the bigger story.


Part 2  |  Choose Your Audience Early

  • Most writers have a story originate in some personal way. Others are asked to write a story based on another’s idea. Still others find a true life event that they must document. And so, many new writers come to the question of who their audience is later in the process. But doing so may force them to have to reconfigure the storytelling style from its inception in order to reach the true audience of the story.
  • For example, we could find an incredibly true tale of a doctor who was not permitted to escape a war until she was forced first to operate and save the life of a man who killed members of her family.
  • How differently would you write the story if your audience changed from (a) literary book, (b) literary magazine story which must be revised by the editor, (c) film script written with the doctor about her journey, or (d) fictional story “based on” the doctor? You can see how knowing which audience you will tell the story to early on will help you shape the core structure early enough that once you are heading forward through it you can focus on character and style.
  • Finally through this process of choosing an audience, most writers also have to choose how much money they need to earn along the way and this will further help or force them to choose the audience that works for the story, or the story that works for that audience.


Part 3  |  Writers Markets

  • Nonfiction reporting. We can explore how journalists find the write publications and audiences for their stories ranging from the New York Times level to the Syria Deeply level publications and freelancing.
  • Nonfiction literary. Much more competitive, and much higher quality, literary nonfiction writers have many options to publish, but must compete fiercely to get reasonable pay for literary feature stories. Where Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone (original global magazine) are already locked down by high profile writers and hard to get into, sometimes writers find the web version of such magazines, or a franchise edition may get one’s name in. And there are of course many publications that pay at least something symbolic as we will discuss.
  • Nonfiction documentary film. With documentary film, the markets are evolving rapidly. Most filmmakers must already have written out a strong proposal for their story, anticipating the arc of the story perhaps a year ahead of time in order to apply for grants for funding before filming. But this may mean losing the story, so many others go quick to film, and then suffer financial stress battling to finish the film for audiences still writing the story along the way with the characters. We can discuss films ranging from The White Helmets (Syria) to Beats of the Antonovs (Sudan, by filmmaker Hajooj Kuka who filmed for HB in the past).
  • Fiction film based on real events. We can discuss several examples ranging from Sid and Nancy (Sex Pistols) to Zero Dark Thirty (Story of finding Al Qaeda) to review how the writers chose which aspects to keep loyal to reality, and which aspects they could risk changing with or without harm to the people depicted.
  • Fiction. And for other forms of fiction film, novel, or short story, where rules are much more relaxed, how do many writers experiment with form to win or antagonize their audience?
  • Finally, depending on the trainee’s goals, we are happy to workshop stories. We can have participants submit stories ahead of time, ideally, so that other participants and the trainer can give each other feedback in group discussion about what works, what doesn’t, and why.

Meet Our Trainer ===>

Daniel J Gerstle  |  Founder & executive director of Humanitarian Bazaar, has served as a filmmaker, humanitarian aid worker, human rights researcher, and war journalist in Africa, West Asia, the Middle East, Caucasus, and the Balkans. More recently, he created Humanitarian Bazaar, formerly known as HELO Media, to produce projects focused on how people survive war and disaster. With Humanitarian Bazaar, he produced the Mogadishu Music Festival (Somalia 2013), Journey of Peace Kenya music festival in Dadaab refugee camp (Kenya 2013), and co-produced the first Afghan rock fest, Sound Central Festival (Afghanistan, 2011). Live from Mogadishu, his first feature length film as director, premieres in summer 2014. Find him at  |

Arrange Your Training ===>

  1. Check here if we already have a webinar or workshop scheduled which you can attend. ===> Training Schedule.
  2. Write us to reserve your space for an existing training or to ask for a training which could be scheduled with you. In the latter case, just let us know what windows of time would work best for you and we will see whether it is best to have others attend together or to have a training personalized for you and/or your organization. ===> 
  3. Right now we are accepting all payments for training as a donation to our War Survivors Advisory civilian protection project, and offering webinars as rewards for such donations, so you can either go right away to donate and let us know that you have done so, or schedule your training and then pay once you are satisfied with the training. The payment/donation button to support the War Survivors Advisory, along with a description of the project, can be found here. ===> Training Payment via War Survivors Advisory.