Often the answer is that you have no choice. The subject obsesses you. It has been haunting you for years. It appeals to you. It appeals to your imagination, to your emotions, to your political views. Your topic covers a range of human experiences that you feel you have to talk about, an experience you feel you can best deal with on film.
However:Is there a good story there? Obsession, alone, is not a reason to make a film.
According to Rosenthal, if you merely have material for a discussion, then you should be making current affairs talk shows.
To make good documentaries, you need a strong narrative thrust and a tale that can be recounted in the most compelling, dramatic way possible.
Script or no scriptRosenthal says: …you can have a successful film without a script, or at least without a conventional script that defines the action and progression and carefully lays in all the narration or guidelines for the narration.
But there are also reasons to create a scriptTo put it simply, a decent script makes the task of filmmaking a hundred times easier.
Chumley says:A documentary “script” and a dramatic “script” are two very different things.One defines goals and objectives and tone; the other specifies dialog, action and detailed setting.
In Documentary Filmmaking, a script is as much an organizational tool as a narrative tool.
One:The script is an organizing and structural tool, a reference and a guide that helps everyone involved in the production.
Two: The script communicates the idea of the film to everyone concerned with the production, and it tries to do this clearly, simply, and imaginatively. The script helps everyone to understand what the film is about and where it is going. The script is particularly vital to the sponsor, telling them in detail what the film is about and whether what has been loosely discussed in conference has been translated into acceptable film ideas.
Three:The script is also essential to both the cameraperson and the director. It should convey the the cameraperson a great deal about the mood, action and problems of the camera work. It should also help the director define the approach and the progress of the film.
Four:The script is also an essential item for the rest of the production team because, apart from conveying the story, it also helps the crew answer a series of questions:What is the appropriate budget for the film?How many locations are needed and how many days of shooting?What lighting will be required?Will there be any special effects?Will archive material be needed?Are special cameras or lenses called for because of a particular scene?
Five:The script will also guide the editor, showing the proposed structure of the film and the way the sequences will fit together. In practice, the editor may read the original script but will eventually work from a slightly different document — the editing script (which may differ radically from the original script).
Caveats to scripting:The original script is a working document, not a literary document.The first objective of the script is to show what the film is about and suggest how its main idea can be carried out in the best possible way.In reality, the script is a best-guess guide to uncharted territory. It states where you want to go and suggests what seems, initially, the best route.The actual experience of filming may cause you to change many ideas.
The word script can be confusing, as it is used a half-dozen different ways. Here are the actual phases of the script:• the idea• the treatment or outline• the shooting script• the editing script• the narration script
No matter what the film, and no matter who is supporting it, it is essential that the boundaries of the topic and the purpose of the film be clarified from the start.Aim for a target definition, or basic assertion that state clearly what the film is about, what it is trying to say and to whom, and what it hopes to achieve.
The objective of a film cannot be discussed in isolation. It always goes together with a consideration of the audience for whom the film is intended.
In working out an approach, it helps to look for certain elements and qualities in the subject. One way is to start by exploring the following:Situational or personal conflictsThe existence of strong and charismatic characters involved in the story.Possible areas of focus.Character and situation change, either immediate or over time.
Leaving all discussion of approach until the research as been done is great in theory, but difficult in practice.In reality, you start thinking about approach from the beginning, and later research either reinforces your original hunch or shows its deficiencies.
The script must be capable of being executed within the confines of the budget.This is golden rule number one.
Chumley’s addition to the previous slide:“…confines of the budget” include time, and human and technical resources — not just money.
Questions to ask yourself about your ideaIs it practical? Is it feasible? Does it have strong and interesting characters who can carry the story? Would it be high- or low-budget? Does it have broad or narrow audience appeal? What approach could we take to the subject?Finally: can we sell this brilliant idea? If so, how?