As many of you have noted, making a documentary is not like making a fictional film where you have absolute control of the story and what the characters do. This feels more like a detective work looking for the story within. So in the spirit of sharing, I’m posting our process thus far, and I welcome any suggestions and comments. I decided to apply a few exercises from a creative writing class to the pre-production process:
1. Mapping out the characters
Taken from a creative writing class I took a while ago, I started mapping out the characters in our story with the following questions:
a. Who are they?
b. Relationship to other characters
c. What’s at stake for them?
d. Key action in the story
e. Why are they important to the story?
2. From Central Question to Action-Idea
I decided to develop a central question rather than an action idea first. Why? The central question helps you develop your ‘quest’ and define the action that answers that quest and focus the footage you have. For example, in Michael Tierno’s book he describes the action-idea of the Godfather (quick summary of the journey that the hero goes through) but the central question is: Will Michael Corleone become the Godfather?
So, when you have a clear central question you can start developing your arc, knowing that each ‘action’ needs to address that central question and by the end of the story you must have answered it.
NOTE: In news documentaries the intros usually spell out the central question with narration, in fiction it’s told through the action of the characters. You may be able to find a balance by extracting a key quote from your hero that speaks to the central question.
3. Draft Script
I used the template below. The most important being the ‘Notes’ sections where I explain the objective of each shot. Does it set up the scene? What’s the ‘crisis’? Does it answer it? What does this shot do for the story? Each section of the script needs to go back to the central question of the story.
Other helpful exercises we’ve done:
a. Video log like this helps organize all the clips and select your shots for your script.
b. Discovery shots: we have a lot of extra footage of the surroundings, the characters not being interviewed; this helps with getting to know the real end of the story.
TIP: We’re using google docs to collaborate online and edit documents a group.
– Adri, Team Pedro