How to Make a Documentary Script

Creating a documentary is an exciting project but can be a little overwhelming when youare just starting out. However, with a good plan and well-crafted script, youare sure to be off to a great start! This guide can help provide you with thenecessary tools to create a script for your documentary.

How to make a documentary script? Establish the overall message for your documentary and what conclusion you want your audience to make. Create scenes that ultimately lead to this conclusion and organize them into a structured format. 

For those of you who are in the wondering how to make a documentary script, you probably know, how challenging it can be to decide on putting all of the pieces together. 

It’s also going to be overwhelming at first. But, by breaking it down and gradually organizing your concepts and ideas into a more easily understandable format, you can surely create an excellent project. 

Here, you can find out some of the essential points to beaware of when creating a documentary script. We will also dig into thedifferent types of scripts, and some of the software you can use to assist youin the process.

Stages in Creating a Documentary Script:

1. Choose your topic

First and foremost, when creating a good documentary, you want to make sure it is a topic that you are passionate about! You also wish to have the right motivation in your project, so it is crucial that you can create something that moves you.

If you are making a film about something that you are excited about and that you already have some knowledge on, your documentary automatically has a much higher rate of success.

2. Research and Plan

Even if you are working on a film on a topic you are knowledgeable about; it is important to research and gather new information on your topic! By thoroughly researching, you are able to find more angles on your story, see different perspectives, and decide the types of content and resources you would like to use in your documentary. 

During this stage, you should also plan out how you want to tell your story. Think about the ways you can make it interesting and compelling to your audience. While planning, you also want to decide what kind of style and structure you want to use for your documentary. This will help you determine what resources you will need in later stages.

3. Establish your Message

This is an important step. It is where you are deciding what you ultimately hope your audience will get out of the film and what you want to achieve. Once you have a clear message and overall concept, it is much easier to figure out the more specific details needed to get your project started. All of your individual scenes and sections can be aimed at this overall goal.

4. Develop characters and plot points

This ties in with the research and planning stage, but this is where you take the information gathered and integrate it into a storyline. Based on this information you have collected, consider how you want to use that to tell your story. 

You will need to decide what characters or people you want to include in your story, and the different plot points or scenes you want to use. Some of the things you will need to consider :

  • the people you want to interview
  • what video footage you want to shoot
  • where you will need to shoot that footage

5. Create various scenes

Creating scenes helps you divide your overall message and story idea into various sections that you put into a sequence. It can be challenging to decide the order of these different scenes, but the first step is to develop the scenes.

At this stage, you don’t want to worry about the exact arrangement quite yet. Scenes can include interview segments and video segments with voice-over and music.

6. Organize your scenes

This is the tricky part because you will need to arrange your scenes and decide what you want to put where in your story.

With documentaries, it can be a little more difficult because there is more flexibility with the order of footage. It’s good to generally put your crucial scenes in the beginning ( to hook the audience), middle ( engage ), and end section ( Conclusion).

Beginning: It’s imperative to spend some time thinking about how you want to start your film. It’s crucial to have a strong start so you can keep your viewers hooked. It’s always a good idea to start with a controversial or particularly captivating incident.

Middle: Often overlooked, the scenes you choose for the middle of the documentary are essential as well. Many times people can get a little lost in the middle and add in details or storylines that might not be necessary. Always remember to connect your scenes back to the overall message and make sure they are fitting and relevant.

Ending: Everything in your story builds up to this. You must have a well-developed conclusion. You are tying back all the loose ends that culminate into an ending that helps the audience to derive a conclusion.

7. Choose a template for your script

For documentaries, scripts tend to be a bit different than they would for a fiction movie. It is often a little more challenging to write a script for a documentary since there is no perfect formula or sometimes structure.

Scripts help in providing a written description of the purpose of the documentary. However, there are multiple different types of scripts which are written for documentaries. Some use a more narrative style, while others use a multi-column layout.

What are the types of Documentary Scripts?

There are three main types of documentary scripts which include treatment, split script, and paper edit script.

1. Treatment

Treatment is one example of a documentary script. This type is written before any shooting takes place. With this format, the script is written in a narrative style and is predicting what will happen. 

It is forecasting some of the visuals and interviews that will occur. In treatment, it is not definite or exact as it occurs before shooting, but it guesses what types of footage and interview soundbites will occur. When writing this script, you may talk about what watching the particular scene would look like. 

You can create a shot list and interview question list. These can be short (1-2 pages) or longer detailed blueprints (10+ pages). There is no right or wrong here, and things are bound to change in the process of creating the film. Generally, these give an overall sense of what the film will look like. 

Split Script

The more common example of a documentary script that we generally see is called a split script. The split script is visually different than treatment as it uses a 2-column layout with the left side describing the visual imagery for the viewer. The right side tells what the viewer will be hearing. 

Sometimes these two can be in unison – for example, when an interviewee is speaking the sound is in sync with the visuals. Other times, they will be different – such as when a narrator is talking as we watch something in the story unfolding

. These may be written using exact words or quotes from interviewees or written more loosely. The split script is handy in post-production as it provides a detailed blueprint.

3. Paper Edit Scripts

Paper scripts can take different forms. Often they take on the type of split scripts but using exact and verbatim quotes from interviewees along with time codes and tape numbers to help the editors find the relevant page.

Other times they can be more similar to the narrative treatment but with the time codes, quotes, and reel numbers. They can also be put into a spreadsheet format. These types of scripts are beneficial as it makes it easy to find the material needed to edit in the film-editing program.

What documentary script writing software should you use?

Although not necessary, it is very useful to use some programs to help you write your script. There are various programs available to assist you in script-writing. Some popular programs include CeltX and Final Draft

Forstoryboarding, Storyboard Quick is another excellent program you can use. Scrivener and StoryX also can help you structure your information into an interesting storyline. Along with your video editing software, it can be helpful to use these types of documentary script writing software to help guide you in the process. 

What is the purpose of script writing?

Scripts are an essential part of the film-making process as they serve as a guide for your overall topic and the various parts of your story.

A well-written script simplifies your process and makes it easier for you to navigate and organize the segments of your project, whether it be before filming or in post-production.

A well-written script can help you and others involved imagine the final product honestly. Ultimately, this is what allows you to visualize what the audience will eventually experience on-screen.

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