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View of Georgetown campus from the Virginia side of the Potomac

View of Georgetown campus from the Virginia side of the Potomac

Documentary Video Production: 1. Pre-Production

Writing a Script

A two-column script is an easy way to structure and plan for your documentary project. Even if you don't know what your interviewees will say or what footage you might shoot, writing a script predicting what you want your final film to look like is a great way to stay organized. Once you do shoot your documentary, you can update your two-column script to reflect what video and audio you actually have to work with.



In the left column of your script you will describe all the VIDEO your viewer will see (b-roll, a-roll, photos, diagrams, screen captures, etc.). In the right column, you will describe all the AUDIO the viewer will hear (interview bits, music, narration, sound effects, etc.). Think of each row as one scene in your documentary, with the audio playing over the video.



(photo from flickr by xlibber AttributionAttributionSome rights reserved)

Creating a Storyboard

A storyboard is a visual representation of your digital story. A storyboard can be a helpful alternative or supplement to a script. You don't have to be a great artist to create a storyboard. Stick figures are okay!

Depending on how much detail you want to include, you can draw out every shot or every scene in each storyboard "box". Audio details and other information can be written under each storyboard box.

Click below to download and print a pdf of a storyboard template.

Choosing a Documentary Style

  1. Poetic
    This type of documentary often breaks spatial and temporal continuity and is focused more on conveying a mood or tone rather than presenting facts. Images are usually arranged into patterns, actors don't represent characters, and there are loose visual associations. (example: Koyaanisqatsi)
  2. Expository
    This type of documentary tries to persuade the audience with an argument, presented by a voice-of-god commentary or voice-of-authority commentary. This style relies on interviews and supporting b-roll images. (example: Spellbound)
  3. Observational
    This type of documentary is also known as "cinema verité." In this approach the filmmaker stays invisible and does not intervene with the events unfolding chronologically in front of the camera. The goal is to capture spontaneous behavior. Observational documentaries generally exclude voice over, supplementary music or sound effects, intertitles, behavior repeated for the camera, historical reenactments, and even interviews. (example: Our Daily Bread)
  4. Self-Reflexive
    This type of documentary exposes the process of filmmaking within the documentary. Subjects are seen interacting with the film crew and information about the production process is often revealed. (example: Man With a Movie Camera)
  5. Performative
    This type of documentary features the filmmaker, who is usually testing out a theory or undergoing a personal experiment, as the subject of the film. The filmmaker speaks directly to the camera or provides a first-person voice over. (example: Super Size Me)

Useful Links

Celtx - An excellent scriptwriting software. You can sign up for a free account or upgrade to get more features.

Cesar Chavez - A sample script for a history documentary about Cesar Chavez

Ten Tips for Effective Brainstorming - Great tips for getting the most out of your brainstorming session. Very useful for groups.

How to Write a Script - A detailed guide by UNESCO for writing a script.

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