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    Tips, Samples of Doc outlines/scripts
    #1
    Senior Member fatman's Avatar
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    Looking for some advice here as I have what I need in my head and other head's but apparently the translation to paper isn't 'fleshed out' enough for some parties.

    Right now our outline has been effective, but it's short (approx 5,6 pages) so I feel as though even though I didn't "write it" just collaborated, than now I need to write it out visually as if I'm picturing the film play in my mind.

    Is that the right way to go? Has anyone else experienced this type of situation? Our financing is fine with what we've done - our narrator is not (potentially)
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    Member joema's Avatar
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    I'd also be interested in this. Your question is very good, yet in all the interviews I've read with documentarians, I've never heard anybody discuss this.

    However there is wide variation, as was discussed in the book "The Practical Guide to Documentary Editing" by Sam Billinge: http://a.co/2IsNVU9

    "...Almost all documentary films come together in the edit. Some films arrive in the cutting room with only the loosest of scripts and, ever more commonly, in the absence of directors who are still busy shooting the rest of the film. The editor is charged with finding the story within the material, clarifying the information, making selections, then structuring and presenting the story in the most effective way. Even films that arrive in the edit with a robust script often leave transformed, as story ideas evolve during the editing process..."

    There are different types of docs. An archival doc like Ken Burns' Civil War may be based loosely on a book (in this author Shelby Foote's thee-volume set). A different type of archival documentary was the Emmy-winning "Challenger Disaster: Lost Tapes": In this case there was no new footage, no voiceover, no narration -- it was 100% edited from archival material. I doubt they had a formal detailed script before starting, because the material itself was discovered during the research phase and that in turn informed the editing sequence: http://channel.nationalgeographic.co...ining-2103027/

    The Laura Poitras documentary Citizenfour won an Oscar and it obviously was not highly scripted (before production, anyway) since much of it was shot live as events unfolded: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizenfour

    For a nature documentary, you can't really have a detailed script because you can't predict what the animals will do. You can have a treatment or an outline or a set of goals. You can described the planned thematic and stylistic approaches. You can have storyboards and visual shot lists of possible goals, but you can't be certain of getting those.

    For a current events documentary like human response to a natural disaster, it's likewise difficult to have a detailed script.

    There are types of docs where the filmmaker may have decided ahead of time the exact story or message he wants to tell, and he plans on bending the acquired material to convey his message. In those cases it might be more scripted, but you normally wouldn't script interviews unless they are portrayed as reenactments.


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    #3
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    Not sure where you are in the process, or exactly why the narrator is concerned. Is he/she famous and perhaps wondering if he/she wants to be associated with your project? Anyway...

    Before you've rolled any film, it's common (or at least not uncommon) to be asked to provide a minute-by-minute breakdown of what will be shown on screen and maybe said in VO. Not a huge deal for short newsmagazine and similar stories; mainly a tool to show that there really is a visual story to be told that needs/fills the length of time allotted. Becomes something a of a shooting script or plan...and at least a baseline for the story: "I know we can get this story and tell it this way...if something better unfolds during the shoot, we maybe able to get that that."

    Or are you partway or totally into post? Have you gotten to a paper cut or the beginnings of a radio cut? Again, can you get to a minute-by-minute description of how you think the edit may end up?

    I guess this depends on what the narrator's concern is. Has he/she provided any detail on that?
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    #4
    Senior Member fatman's Avatar
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    yes our target narrator is famous. I have not yet started production other than bits I've shot while doing (primarily) other shoots. So I would say at most 5% is shot. So this is very much pre-production stage. I don't know what the concern is beyond the 'fleshed out' comment. We've since sent out a longer more detailed document.

    I wonder if they want word-for-word narration- but I wouldn't want to do that until after speaking more extensively w/ them.

    I agree w/ the above comments and quotes that in a doc you're limited 'script' -wise. So that's why I'm a bit surprised - I always assumed getting financing would be harder than getting talent (w/ said guaranteed funds) - so it's not like anyone wouldn't get paid if they agreed... I'll update as we move forward.
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    #5
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    Sam Fuller, the great Hollywood director who also knew a thing or two about factual film making once said that there is only a single difference between making a feature film and a documentary. In a feature film, he said, you write the script before you film but in a documentary you write it afterwards. He was, of course, talking about observational documentaries but I think this applies to all types of the form in varying degrees. Even with a heavily scripted, presenter-led doc, the more you commit to paper beforehand, the more danger there is of it turning out as a stilted lecture to camera.

    I'd also add that when we've previously used famous actors for narration we approached them later in the process when we had a rough cut to show them.
    Last edited by jvc; 05-29-2018 at 01:17 AM.


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    Going through this on two of our documentaries we are filming. Honestly, we have broken down each film into buckets and as we film, we just try to fill certain buckets, it's so much broader than a script could contain because some buckets we thought would be compelling are just sitting there and not expanding and others that started off vague and not known are now filling up and overflowing. Our AE and my producing partner and me are going though the buckets but the film we are shooting is definitely a living, breathing document. The story changes almost with each interview because things are coming to light that we never knew about, we have politics that are changing things, one of our subjects was disgnosed with a rare form of Cancer and that has completely changed her story mid-stream.

    What I am learning, at least with my one documentary, is that you, as the filmmaker, have the paradox of picking subjects and crafting stories as you go, but if you get too pedantic about what those stories are, you could miss newer and more compelling threads that could make your film so much more engaging. The more we shoot this film, the longer I wish we could shoot because new story lines and elements keep popping up that we will never be able to complete or resolve because we will just run out of time and money and we have to end up with a finished film to try to sell at some point. For the kind of film I am making, I want it to represent a season in the characters lives and their lives will continue to evolve the second we stop production. We just have to make sure that the seaon we documented was the most compelling and interesting one we could make it to be.
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