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    How to Write a Documentary Script in 3 Steps

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    How to Write a Documentary Script in 3 Steps

    Starting a new documentary project can be incredibly daunting, especially when you don't have a ton of experience doing it. Luckily, just like in Hollywood, as documentary filmmakers, we can use scripts to help guide us and give our stories structure. Writing a script for a documentary may sound a little strange since you cannot predict what will happen in the real world, but trust me, taking the time to do this will save you a ton of headaches in post-production. In this article, I'll outline the three steps I follow to write a documentary script.

    Step 1: Define Your Story

    The first step in writing a documentary script is to define your story. This involves distilling your idea into one or two sentences that capture the essence of your story. This will help you understand the core of your story and also make it easier to pitch your idea to others. If you can't sum up your story in a couple of sentences, you may need to rethink your concept.

    For example, if you were making a documentary about an athlete with a dream to make it to the Olympics, you could define your story as: "This is the story of an athlete who dreams of competing in the Olympics and must overcome various obstacles to achieve their goal."

    Step 2: Plot Out the Narrative Arc

    Once you have defined your story, the next step is to plot out the narrative arc. Think about the key beats or moments that you want to capture in your documentary. Consider where your characters will start, the likely inciting incident that will push them towards taking action, the conflict they will face, the potential outcome, and how they will change over time.

    Using the example of the athlete's journey to the Olympics, you could outline scenes such as the athlete looking at childhood photos and reminiscing about their love for the sport, the moment they decide to commit fully to pursuing their Olympic dream, the obstacles they encounter along the way (e.g., injuries, competition), and the resolution, which could be standing on the podium or reflecting on their journey.

    Remember that this is a rough outline, and things may change during the shooting process. Be flexible and willing to adapt your script as needed.

    Step 3: Adapt and Rewrite as You Shoot

    The final step in writing a documentary script is to adapt and rewrite as you shoot. Documentaries are stories about real life, and unexpected things can happen. If your original plans deviate or unforeseen events occur, you need to be flexible and adjust your script accordingly.

    Throughout the shooting process, be prepared to rework your script based on new information and developments. This may involve throwing away scenes or ideas that no longer align with the direction of your documentary. The key is to keep reviewing and rewriting, ensuring that your story arcs have a clear beginning, middle, conflict, and resolution.

    By constantly adapting and revising your script, you give yourself the best chance of telling a compelling and cohesive story.

    That's it! Following these three steps will help you create a documentary script that provides structure and guidance during the filming process. Remember, scripts don't have to be rigid instructions; they are tools to help you stay on track and tell a compelling story.


    documentary, script, storytelling, narrative arc, plot, adapt, rewrite, shooting process, structure, story arcs


    Q: Do I need to have a detailed script for my documentary? A: While a documentary script doesn't have to be as detailed as a movie script, having a basic script that outlines the story and key beats can greatly benefit your project. It provides structure and helps you stay focused during the shooting process.

    Q: Can I change my script if unexpected events occur during filming? A: Yes, absolutely! Documentaries often involve capturing real-life events, and unexpected things can happen. It's crucial to be flexible and willing to adapt your script as needed to reflect the new developments in your story.

    Q: How can writing a script save me headaches in post-production? A: Having a script allows you to focus on capturing the necessary shots and interviews to tell your story effectively. It helps you plan your shoots, ensuring you get the footage and moments you need. This, in turn, makes the post-production process smoother as you have a clear direction for editing.

    Q: Is it necessary to follow a specific narrative structure, like the hero's journey, in a documentary? A: While many successful stories follow narrative structures, like the hero's journey, not all documentaries adhere to this framework. It ultimately depends on the nature of your documentary and the story you want to tell. However, understanding narrative structures can provide a helpful guide for creating compelling story arcs.

    Q: How often should I update my script during the shooting process? A: It's essential to review and update your script regularly to accommodate any changes or developments in your documentary. You may need to rewrite scenes, alter the narrative arc, or even entirely reshape your story. Continuously adapting your script ensures your documentary remains relevant and engaging.

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