How To Write a Documentary

A documentary is meant to show life in the raw…no sugar coating, no puppies and rainbows. Documentaries can shed light on important issues, causes, events, personalities and anything else under the sun of great import. Documentaries are first written before they are translated into film. Documentary writing captures the true essence of life and presents it that way. Here are a few suggestions in writing a documentary. 

  • Pick a subject. Writing is not an easy task. Writing about a subject that you are not too keen about makes the process more difficult. Write about something you love, enjoy or have passion for. Explore a subject matter that is close to your heart.
  • Identify your objectives. Once you have a subject in mind, list down the goals and objectives for the documentary. Are making an exposé or simply an in-depth narration? What do you want to accomplish with the documentary? What should the viewers take from the film?
  • Research the topic. Whatever the subject is, it has a background or a history. You need to find out all that you can about the subject matter you chose. Get your facts straight. A documentary is meant to be factual; it is not a work of fiction. When choosing sources of information, don’t rely on only one source. Depending on the subject of your documentary, you can do your preliminary research on the Internet. With the information you gathered from the web, confirm your research by checking out old publications in libraries, talk to people close to the subject, and pick the brains of experts. You need to have multiple sources of facts.
  • Create an outline. Based on your goals and objectives, begin making the outline for your documentary. How will the documentary start, progress and end? Mention possible locations, people to interview and materials to be included in the documentary. Think of the flow of your documentary.
  • Make a list of interview questions. If you plan to include a number of interviews in your documentary, create a list of questions that you think can help shed more light on your subject matter. Stay away from questions only answerable by a yes or a no. Instead, come up with questions that are thought provoking to elicit well thought off answers from the interviewees.
  • Take the footage. Work with a professional production crew if you have the budget or shoot the footages yourself. Do interviews and capture scenes and images that will be used for the documentary.
  • Revise the outline and write the script. Based on the footages you shot, go back to your outline. Include the scenes you shot in the outline where you believe they fit. Write the script including the voiceovers. When writing voiceovers, they should be able to pull your viewers deeper into the documentary. The documentary will come alive if your voiceovers capture the viewers’ attention. Make the tone natural so that the audience can easily relate to the voiceover. Don’t forget to indicate music that you will use for the documentary. You should end up with a script that you can present to a producer or filmmaker for possible consideration.

Documentaries are written by amateur writers and directors as well as by acclaimed filmmakers. It is a way of pointing the spotlight on an important subject matter in an interesting and thought-provoking manner. Writing a documentary becomes easier if you choose a topic that you are passionate about. Any good documentary is a well-researched documentary.


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