Documentary Script

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‘How to Write a Documentary Script’

HOW TO WRITE A DOCUMENTARY SCRIPT
A MONOGRAPH
BY

Page 1 of 52

‘How to Write a Documentary Script’

TABLE OF CONTENTS

- INTRODUCTION - WRITING FOR FILM AND WHY DOCUMENTARIES ARE DIFFERENT - SHORT INTRODUCTION TO DOCUMENTARY STYLES - RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH: YOU CAN’T SAY IT ENOUGH! - ESSENTIAL SCRIPT ELEMENTS - PUTTING A SCRIPT TOGETHER - WRITING A GREAT SCRIPT - SCRIPT FORMAT - REFERENCES

PAGE 3-4 PAGE 5-7 PAGE 8-9 PAGE 10-15 PAGE 16-37 PAGE 38-46 PAGE 47-50 PAGE 51 PAGE 52

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‘How to Write a Documentary Script’

INTRODUCTION
Gene Fowler once said that writing is easy, just a matter of staring at a blank page until your forehead bleeds. Well, if anything will draw blood from your forehead, it’s writing a brilliant documentary script! Often in our real lives, ideas and emotions, mind and passion, revolve in different spheres altogether. On film, if we see a dead body, we react immediately with emotion, perhaps even pondering the waste of life and questioning our own existence. However, if we were to see a dead body on a street as we drove by, our immediate reaction may be shock, even revulsion. Emotion may enter the picture long after the experience has ended. In real life, experiences become meaningful with reflection in time. In reel life, they are meaningful the moment they happen. A well-written film script is an instrument through which you can create emotion and epiphany at will. That is one reason why it is possibly the most critical aspect of the filmmaking procedure. The script is also, often, the most underrated aspect of the documentary process. A school of thought suggests that the documentary-making process should be fluid and organic, whereby the filmmaker experiences the film as he makes it. Many filmmakers write a ‘paper-edit’ after shooting in place of a script. This process has and does work with many types of films. Especially when the filmmaker is recording events beyond his control like political rallies, events, natural disasters, riots and demonstrations etc. However, in most films, the filmmaker will find himself asking the question, “What should I shoot?” Here, it is imperative to start out with a well-written script, whether or not things change during the shooting process. Often preparing a script beforehand can make the difference between a bad film and a good film. Or, at best, a good film and a great film. There are two stages of documentary scriptwriting: (i) (ii) The Pre-shoot or Shooting Script The Post-shoot Script

A pre-shoot or shooting script is like carrying a map when you set out on a road trip. You may stumble across many unseen barriers or unexpected surprises. You may discover wonderful, uncharted areas off the beaten track. You may decide to go in one direction or the next or perhaps even a third. A map helps you on your way and prevents you from getting lost. A shooting script is a conceptual map for your shooting journey. It consolidates research and outlines the film’s story, providing a visual guideline for the shoot. It uses the same format and elements as a post-shoot script and can be as comprehensive or generic depending on the information available to the scriptwriter at that stage. A shooting script should not be confused with a shot list. A shot list is a production tool which contains shot numbers, descriptions and transitions along with production details. Even though some director-scriptwriters often combine the shooting script and shot list, the two are separate entities. A shooting script rarely delves into detailed aspects of

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‘How to Write a Documentary Script’

production unless integral to the story. It is more conceptual in nature; descriptive, but leaving room for interpretation. The post-shoot script is the final version of the shooting script. This is often a modified or re-written version of the shooting script and is created between the shooting and...
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