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John_Moore
11-06-2005, 10:52 PM
Hi, I'm John Moore. I'm 16 years old, and not very experienced in the field of filmmaking. I have completed two mediocre shorts, one of which just took runner-up for audience choice in the San Antonio Independent Film Festival in October.

Both of these films were narratives, and I used Final Draft to write the screenplays. It wasn't very difficult, and having always been an avid writer, I took up the new format rather easily.

My problem is this: I have a documentary film which I'll be doing very shortly (mid-January I start filming) and though I COULD use the narrative scripting format, I'm not sure it's proper, or how to go about it?

Being as how it's a documentary film, I DO want to write it AND storyboard it thoroughly before we ever shoot. Since I know the subject of the main interview (Leonard Knight) and know the basic things he'll say, I can 'guess' his lines rather well, but I'm not exactly sure what tips/tricks/secrets there are in writing something of this nature.

I guess you could call it a biography/human interest documentary film. Phwew! What a title...

pmark23
11-07-2005, 04:14 AM
I don't think that a storyboard or screenplay are necessary. Being a documentary, you'll have very little control during shooting. Documentaries "happen" during the research and editing phases.

This has been my approach:

During research I figure out who needs to be interviewed, what they will say, and what locations should be shot. Here I'm looking for an interesting angle with a dramatic human element. This will guide the narrative, and keep the focus of the documentary tight.

I plan the story into "parts" (usually three), and split each part into "sequences". Each part and each sequence has a dramatic structure (high and low points).

Then I write out lists of questions to ask each person to get them to say what needs to be said -- keeping in mind the purpose of the documentary. Many questions get answered by different people to get their views of the same subject. These questions go into the plan to illustrate each of the "sequences".

Since I already know what the answers will be, I write out a shot list that can be used to illustrate the interviews.

The entire research and writing phase takes a few weeks -- mostly meetings.

Then I shoot the interviews, collect archive materials (photographs and old videos), shoot the filler and anything else that needs to be shot. This is usually done very fast -- a few days at the most.

During editing I go through the interviews and figure out who says the best things, and organize the interviews to best illustrate the story. Since different people answer the same questions, I can cut between them and it greatly increases the effectiveness of the interviews.

At this point the rough-cut is simply a bunch of talking-head interviews. If there's narration, I'll put a rough-track of this in as well. I may add music here as well if that'll help figure out the mood for each section. I don't move forward until I get the structure right.

Now I fill-in the talking-heads with shots (new or archive) to illustrate what they're talking about. Talking-heads are boring, and I use only a few seconds of each person -- usually before leading into a different subject or to show an emotion.

At this point I may go back and shoot some more material, for example some video of one of the interviewees re-living a particular event.

Finally, I force a few suckers into watching it, then I cut out all the boring bits and figure-out ways of tightening everything up. By this time I've spent a couple weeks editing.

Now the first official rough-draft is ready for the client to take a look at. Usually there's a few minor changes, but by this point it looks complete. If there's any translations to other languages, I give the client the transcript to get translated, and then add subtitles or narration as required.

That's been my process for the past several docs, and it works quite well for me. I use StoryView to outline everything.

I'd be interested in hearing anyone elses workflow.

dkphotos
11-07-2005, 10:25 AM
I agree that you don't need a script and storyboard in advance of production. However, I strongly disagree that the story comes together outside of production. You have a great degree of control of your shoots in terms of the choices you make as a filmmaker.

I commend your instincts to pre-conceive the film as much as possible. While you may not be able to fully realize your vision of the story (indeed, it may become something completely different than you expected), you will be far better prepared to make those tough decisions when they come.

Rather than write a script, I would write a film treatment. This is your best guess as to what will unfold onscreen: the structure of the story, the characters, and the materials (including visual sequences that go beyond being just "filler.") Typically, it is written like a short story with a tone that you think embodies the tone of the film.

I would also advise you to spend a lot of time deciding which questions you would like to ask your subjects. Formulate those questions carefully. Talking heads are boring only if they are saying boring things in a boring way. There's a lot you can do to avoid that.

John_Moore
11-07-2005, 10:38 AM
Thanks for the tips guys!

However, I'm firmly of the opinion that as much as can be scripted should be scripted. This is the view of all of the professionals I have spoken with as well. Perhaps you're right when you say just to write a treatment.

That might be just what I'm looking for.

However, I don't have a lot of money to waste throwing around at various things, driving places, etc. That's the reason for wanting to know, as much as I possibly can, what should unfold, and what doesn't need to. It'll allow me to be more focused in my filming, I think.

Storyboarding is going a bit far on a documentary, I'm sure, unless there is a very complicated reenactment of an old scene.

Shaun Patrick
11-07-2005, 12:03 PM
Rather than write a script, I would write a film treatment. This is your best guess as to what will unfold onscreen: the structure of the story, the characters, and the materials (including visual sequences that go beyond being just "filler.") Typically, it is written like a short story with a tone that you think embodies the tone of the film.


Conducting Pre-Interviews with subjects will really help you fill out your treatment/documentary proposal--giving yourself an idea of what the structure of the film will be using actual statements/stories from your subjects. The pre-interview (usually conducted over the phone but sometimes in person w/o a camera) also gives you a chance to build a little trust with your subject--something that is immeasurably helpful when the cameras start rolling. Also, the pre-interview serves as a way to refine your own interview questions and determine whether a subject is interesting enough to warrant an on camera interview. Coolness.

John_Moore
11-07-2005, 05:08 PM
Ah, Thanks for the advice Shaun! Particularly about that 'determining whether a subject is interesting enough to warrant an on camera interview.'

I wish I had that information a year ago. Heck, even two years ago woulda been great.

I still think I want to script it out as much as possible. Several of my favorite documentaries have been scripted front to back, and I figure if the pro's do it, and I can afford to do it, I should probably do it.

My only question was regarding the format...

As for the treatment though, that's brilliant. I'll start working on that right away.

Shaun Patrick
11-07-2005, 06:49 PM
Here is a good resource for documentary treatment/proposal formats. You'll probably be able to find it at your local library.

"Writing, Directing, and Producing Documentary Films and Videos" by Alan Rosenthal; Third Edition.

wabbit
11-08-2005, 01:20 AM
We use and love Final Draft A/V (not the regular Final Draft, but Final Draft Audio/Visual). It is a program designed specifically for documentary writting.

The approaches to documentary planning are as varied as the different type of documentaries. There are several good books on the matter. "Directing the Documentary" and the documentary book by Rosenthal are both really helpful in teaching you how to approach the planning for documentaries.

Basically, yes, the story does evolve and change from what you originally planned but the more planning you put in up front, the smoother the process.

Good Luck

John_Moore
11-08-2005, 11:09 AM
Yay!

I was hoping somebody would mention Final Draft A/V. I have Final Draft 7 (.1?) and have considered adding Final Draft A/V to my arsenal, but didn't really know what it was for, specifically.

Well. Interesting. I'll check that out. I'm in the process of ordering the Rosenthal book now.

Thanks a heap guys!

little bobby
11-08-2005, 01:48 PM
I'm doing a personal doc right now with my dad and grandad and myself as the subjects of the docs and exploring our lives. Anyways, to try and help you out, one thing that I did for the doc I am working on now and what i have done for radio and television commercials that came from interviews, I always transcribe the interviews and then read through it and pull out a story from it. This is where I get the through-line, which is what the theme of the doc is. It may be painful to write out each um and breath and everything that the interviewed person says, but it saves time in the end, I promise. Spending 4 hours transcribing is actually much quick than looking though all your footage trying to find that one place where that one golden line was. Also, with transcribing, every time you ask a question or the interviewee answers a question, it is a good idea to write down the timecode for easy reference when you go back a make a talking-head rough cut. Good luck!

John_Moore
11-08-2005, 03:45 PM
Thanks for the advice!

The reason I'm going to be scripting this, is because it's a documentary on the life story of a man named Leonard Knight.

He has a great history, and many other wonderful characteristics, but because it's about his past, I know I can script it for the most part, and that I probably should.

Barry_Green
11-08-2005, 04:21 PM
Okay John, this is wildly off-topic and for that I apologize, but...

You're 16? And you write like this? Congratulations and it gives me hope for the upcoming generation. All your posts are well-composed, intelligently written, thoroughly coherent, spelled properly and just overall very impressive. If I was hiring, I'd probably hire you just based off seeing how well you write! ;)

John_Moore
11-08-2005, 04:28 PM
Barry, I really appreciate the comments!

Yes, I just turned 16 on the 18'th of October.

Shaun Patrick
11-08-2005, 05:08 PM
I still think I want to script it out as much as possible. Several of my favorite documentaries have been scripted front to back, and I figure if the pro's do it, and I can afford to do it, I should probably do it.


John,

Just curious. What documentaries were you talking about?

John_Moore
11-08-2005, 05:19 PM
The funny thing is, I don't remember the names of all of them.

Here's one that I saw just recently though, 'The League of Grateful Sons'. It's available from Vision Forum (http://www.visionforum.com).

'Hussein: The Weapon of Mass Destruction' was over seventy-five percent scripted as well. Good documentary. They twisted a few things to better fit was they were trying to say, but I suppose that's common in political documentary.

'Who is this Jesus?' Was also scripted very closely. It's interesting how they scripted it too, because they had no clue what people were going to say, which must have presented some very interesting challenges. To work around it in the writing, they would set up a block, and allow each speaker a certain amount of screen time in his or her block.

I won't be doing that for two reasons:

1.) I'll be shooting with a man who is very predictable in his speech. Very easy to time and account for what he will say.

2.) It's a human interest documentary, and thus I don't need to present more than one side. There is only one side to present.



I wish I could remember the titles of more scripted documentaries, but at the moment, I'm stumped. I apologize!

Shaun Patrick
11-08-2005, 06:22 PM
No worries.

If you haven't already, you should check out this thread about well-made documentaries--the recommendations cover a broad range of documentary genres.:

http://www.dvxuser.com/V3/showthread.php?t=29825

Slightly on a tangent:

I have to strongly recommend the work of Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, Gates of Heaven, Fog of War) and Chris Marker (Sans Soleil). The Morris stuff is easy to find on DVD and his interviewing approach/style might be helpful to you. Sans Soleil, on the other hand, might be tough to find but it changed my life when I saw it around the time I was your age.

Anthony_Gilmore
11-18-2005, 05:59 AM
John,

If you haven't already, pick up a copy of Michael Rabiger's book, Directing the Documentary(you can find it at Amazon). It provides a great introduction to the entire process of Documentary filmmaking. There are treatment samples, script samples and other valuable advice and tutorials. It's a great handbook that I often visit for technical advice as well as inspiration.

Good Luck!

cpyle
11-22-2005, 12:35 AM
John, I have to second the above sentiment about someone your age being so mature. When I was 16, the only thing on my mind was my '69 Mustang. I only wish now I had pursued more intelectual topics earlier in life.... good job, man.

As far as scripting. I am in the process of scripting a documentary (historical biography of a man's life) that I have shot about 50% of. We have done all the primary interviews. I am now putting together a script/storyboard based on the sound bites. I am also using Final Draft. The one thing I am wishing in retrospect is that I had done more research (we did a bunch, but I could have done more) and had scripted out more of an outline of how I wanted to structure the film. Now I'm looking at my script coming together, and I find myself saying that I wish we had asked him about this...or that... or gotten him to say it in a different way. Anyways, I encourage you to script out as much as you can. Good luck with everything!

Chris Pyle
Wildland Films

riddleshawnthis
10-11-2007, 12:07 PM
We use and love Final Draft A/V (not the regular Final Draft, but Final Draft Audio/Visual). It is a program designed specifically for documentary writting.

The approaches to documentary planning are as varied as the different type of documentaries. There are several good books on the matter. "Directing the Documentary" and the documentary book by Rosenthal are both really helpful in teaching you how to approach the planning for documentaries.

Basically, yes, the story does evolve and change from what you originally planned but the more planning you put in up front, the smoother the process.

Good Luck
Do you, or anyone else, know much about FD Scriptwriter's Suite? According to you, the Audio/Visual version works great, but i'm trying to use what I have. Just wondering if you've used it and have any tips on how I can use it to help me write a documentary? Anything would be greatley appreciated.