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Writing the Documentary Film

At a Glance

  • This workshop is essential for people writing or interested in writing a documentary
  • In four weeks, you will gain the skills needed to write a thought-provoking documentary
  • If you want to learn how to structure a documentary script, take this workshop.

We also offer a live, instructor-led online course.

Over the last few years documentary films have not only crossed over to a wider mainstream market, but the filmmaking techniques themselves have evolved. No longer are filmmakers’ encumbered—literally weighted down by carrying heavy cameras, sound and lighting equipment and relying on credit cards, limited granting opportunities, and rich relatives to make their films a reality. Digital technology has opened up the possibilities for filmmakers to bring their visions onto the screen. But one element of this process has not changed—and that is the key to a successful documentary—knowing how to write one.

Documentary films can question an event, profile a person, and uncover a secret. They can expose truths and tell the truth about how lives are lived throughout the world. They can influence and inspire and provoke. A collaborative medium, documentary writing requires research and an understanding of the audience’s expectations, and how the writer can keep an open mind when challenged by the unforeseen, including the exposing of surprising material and interview subjects’ unexpected responses. This course will examine and offer specific strategies for writing and planning a documentary.

This workshop is offered in two formats. The budget-friendly On Demand option (which is for sale here) gives you the option to work on the same great workshop materials as the Online option, only without instructor feedback. You'll immediately receive our comprehensive course in PDF format, which provides instructions and exercises on specific skills you will need to succeed as a documentary writer. You can purchase the On Demand option here. To get the Online option with instructor feedback and online discussions with other students, please click here.

In this online writing course you will learn:

  • The various documentary styles.
  • Tips on writing a thought-provoking documentary.
  • How to write a clear and focused premise.
  • How to convey ideas without spoon-feeding the audience.
  • Specific tools on outlining and implementing the narrative.
  • How to structure a documentary script.
  • How to avoid common writing pitfalls.
  • How to bring out the most of your characters.
  • Researching techniques.
  • Insights from other notable documentary filmmakers.

Course Outline

Session One: Types and Styles of Documentaries, and Finding Inspiration

  • Introduction
  • The documentary genre.
  • Styles of documentaries, such as Cinema Vérité.
  • Where to find inspiration.
  • Research techniques.
  • How to develop and implement ideas.
  • Audience expectations.
  • Writing the Premise.


Session Two: The Story, Journey, Conflict

  • Defining the message of the documentary.
  • Themes.
  • Topics and issues.
  • Why and how an audience will care about your project.
  • Plot and subplots.
  • Antagonist and oppositional forces.


Session Three: Script Element Essentials

  • Characters and characterizations
  • Visual elements; shots and sequences.
  • Storytelling devices; talking heads, and more.
  • Montage, Talking Heads.
  • Metaphor and Icon.
  • Sound, Ambiance, Music
  • Voice-over narration


Session Four: Structure and Points of View

  • The three-act structure
  • Linear and nonlinear narrative structure
  • Points of View (First, second, and third person)
  • Cause and Effect
  • Pacing and rhythm
  • Emotional beats
  • Settings

Product Details

  • Date available: 10/29/2014
  • Publication date: 10/29/2014
  • Return policy: This item is not eligible for return.

Return Policy

Your satisfaction is our top priority. If you are not satisfied with your purchase, please return the item(s) for an exchange or refund within 30 days from the purchase date, unless otherwise noted on the product page.

Ship the item(s) to The Writers Store via a traceable and insured method. You will be responsible for return shipping fees.

Please include a completed Return Form with your shipment. Refunds take up to one week to process once we have received the item(s).

Software returns must be deactivated and uninstalled from your computer before a refund may be issued. Please contact the software manufacturer if you need assistance uninstalling or deactivating your software.

The following items are not returnable: Hollywood Creative Directories, DVDs (opened), and Gift Certificates.

$99.99