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Writing a Documentary Treatment

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Writing a Documentary Treatment

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Class lecture introducing basic Documentary Film concepts and setting up information to prepare students to write a simple treatment. Most information from Bill Nichols and Anthony Friedmann

Class lecture introducing basic Documentary Film concepts and setting up information to prepare students to write a simple treatment. Most information from Bill Nichols and Anthony Friedmann

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Writing a Documentary Treatment

  1. 1. Documentary & Non-Fiction Writing Dr. Evan Kropp University of Georgia TELE 3110 – Fall 2014 Note: The primary textbook for this course is Writing for Visual Media by Anthony Friedmann
  2. 2. What is a Documentary? “A narrative based on or re-creating an actual event, era, life story, etc., that purports to be factually accurate and contains no fictional elements: A documentary life of Gandhi” --dictionary.com
  3. 3. What is a Documentary?  Bill Nichols: 1. Documentaries are about reality; they’re about something that actually happened 2. Documentaries are about real people 3. Documentaries tell stories about what happens in the real world  Often defined in contrast to fictional film… but where is the line?  Are docs reality, a reproduction of reality or a representation of reality?
  4. 4. What is a Documentary? “Documentary film speaks about situations and events involving real people (social actors) who present themselves to us as themselves in stories that convey a plausible proposal about, or perspective on, the lives, situations, and events portrayed. The distinct point of view of the filmmaker shapes this story into a way of seeing the historical world directly rather than into a fictional allegory” - Bill Nichols See media commons Article & Video
  5. 5. What is a Documentary?  Definition is…  Elaborate  Does not differentiate between types/styles  Changeable?  Change comes from… 1. Institutions that support production/reception 2. Filmmakers creative efforts 3. The lasting influence of a specific film 4. Expectations of audiences
  6. 6. Techniques  Reportage (e.g – film Hurricane Katrina)  Telling the story as you find it  Shoot first, develop perspective after  Catch natural behavior of people and situation  Observation (e.g – Nanook of the North)  Shooting events as they happen  People are aware of the cameras presence  Camera/crew presence can change situation/actions, etc…
  7. 7. Techniques (cont’d)  Interviews  Find the most appropriate subject. Is this a technique?  Investigation  Find a problem and probe into it. Investigative news on steroids.  Narrative  Best documentaries have elements of narrative, though this style does not preclude others
  8. 8. Techniques (cont’d)  Dramatization  Reenactments of events  Expository Documentary  Simple explanation, like “how to”  Think educational-style films  Propaganda  Politically or socially targeted messages.
  9. 9. Techniques  I want you to keep these techniques in mind as you complete your “at home” assignment next week and as you write your Doc treatments.  Are these techniques autonomous? Independent from one another?  Is there a right/wrong technique for a given topic or maybe just a best technique or even standard technique?  Is there always agreement?  Are Michael Moore’s films investigative? Propaganda?  Do you agree w/ the way Friedmann has presented this information?
  10. 10. Examples  The Thin Blue Line (1988 – Errol Morris)  Goal: To save an innocent man. Biased & persuasive  Ethics: Participants were not paid – film was a box office success  Filmmaker as actor (even if heard but not seen)  Staged events (reconstruction of events as told by different people. But what do you do when stories contradict one another?) What really happened?
  11. 11. Conveying Perspective  How is the filmmaker’s point of view conveyed? P.O.V can be explicit or implicit, even if not intentional.  Narration  Choice of interview subjects  Relative importance of speaker  Editing  How the images are put together/juxtaposed
  12. 12. Some general guidelines  Images can say 1,000 words. Narration is not always necessary. Let the images speak for themselves.  When using commentators, use more than one person  Don’t use clichés, they are predictable and distract from quality  Think about how your project can be unique!
  13. 13. Appeal of documentaries  Subject matter is limitless  People have desire to learn ‘truth’ in entertaining manner  Narrative nonfiction – tells a story WHAT STORY DO YOU WANT TO TELL?
  14. 14. How to construct a documentary?  Step 1: Develop an idea  Step 2: Decide a format. Talking head + b-roll? Other?  Step 3: RESEARCH!  Location research  Interviews  Picture research (need to make sure you have images to go with your script)  Write your treatment
  15. 15. What is a Documentary Treatment?  A treatment is the last pre-production phase  A detailed proposal for the film  Contains explanation of the topic (drawn from research)  Explains importance of topic and rationale for making the film  Provides purpose, context and point of view  Unscripted versus scripted: dictated by technique/style  Unscripted = wildlife and human centered documentaries (Earth)  Scripted = historical documentaries (Ken Burns)
  16. 16. What’s in a Treatment?  The “point” of the film  What’s so interesting about this topic?  What perspective is film coming from?  Point of view versus objective  POV = Michael Moore  Objective = PBS
  17. 17. What’s in a Treatment?  What’s the story you will tell and how will you tell that story?  What techniques are used to convey the story? (Reportage, Observation, Interviews, etc…we will discuss these in a minute)  Who is the intended Audience  What is the target length/scope
  18. 18. The Treatment Style  Written in the present-tense. This documentary tells the story of Evan’s life. NOT… This documentary will tell the story of Evan’s life.  Language that convinces potential financial backers that the film is worth producing  Entertaining and/or persuasive  Makes audience want more  Tells us what we will see, not what we might see.  Determine appropriate style/technique(s) for relaying your perspective
  19. 19. Assignment  Let’s review your Documentary Treatment Writing Assignment

Editor's Notes

  • http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/2013/04/04/blurred-boundaries-approaches-defining-documentaries-and-reality-television
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