The Initial Stages
1. Define your working hypothesis of your subject
2. Site and background research
Familiarize yourself with:
a. People/situations that you plan to film
b. What is typical of the world you are going to film?
c. What’s unusual and particular to the world that you are going to look at?
d. Use the internet to do research and get references/ideas you can find
e. Study publications covering your subject: magazines, newspapers, etc.
f. See films on the subject
g. Talk to any experts (which means more research)
3. Develop trust
Communicate: Make yourself and purposes known to those you want to film
Learn: Put yourself in the position of learning from your subjects
Hang out: Spending time with subjects can be the most valuable thing you can do
4. Make reality checks
Do you have multiple perspectives on each person, fact, or facet?
Is what you want to film accessible?
Are the people open/responsive to you and the subject matter?
Will releases and permissions be forthcoming?
The resources for the project are not beyond your means?
Refining the Proposal
1. Narrow the focus, deepen the film
Always seek the center of your film by assuming that you may not yet have it.
Constantly re-check yourself
2. List points that your film must make
Expository information: what the audience must take away, and plan to cover that
information in several ways
Thematic/other goals that you want the film to fulfill
Shoot material to show what or who is in conflict & bring about a confrontation
3. Develop your own angle
What exactly do you want to say & WHAT EMPHASIS YOU MAY NEED TO FOCUS ON SO THAT
YOU PERSONALLY CAN COLLECT THE MATERIALS NEEDED
4. Write a three-line description
If you can do this, and people react to the description positively, then you are
ready to direct. If not, then you aren’t
5. Make other important choices
a. Casting: Decide which places/people you are going to use. Define their
rhythms, routines and imagery such as a cityscape, landscape, workplace that
emblematic of their condition
b. List what’s typical/atypical to guide your filming when you are ready
c. Remove cliché’s completely!!! List what you can show that is FRESH, SURPRISING
& DIFFERENT COMPARED TO OTHER PEOPLE’S WORK
d. Decide central character or characters (ask yourself frequently: WHOSE STORY
e. Define the essential central points and counterpoints of the arguments to be
able to collect the materials that you need
What is your personal style? Style can be defined as "An individual stamp
on a film, the elements in a film that issue from its maker’s own artistic
a. The style that best serves EACH SEQUENCE
b. The style that best serves YOUR POINT OF VIEW
c. The stylistic characteristics of the film as a whole
2. Seek inherent myths, emblems, symbols, key imagery
What life-role each person is going to enact
What images you have seen/expect to see that convey the heart of what you have to
Key actions whose connotations have special meaning for the central purposes of
What type of story is yours? Any parallels that suggest archetypes, myths,
legends will strengthen your film by moving it to the universal
1. What have I not yet been told about this subject?
2. Is everything I have been told the truth? How much do I need to verify?
3. What would I personally like to know about this subject?
4. If I were a member of the audience, what would I want to learn about this subject?
5. What can I find that is little known on this subject?
6. If the shooting has not yet started, what information can I gather that would aid
the filming process?
1. Is this information or source of information directly related to the subject of my
2. Is it necessary for the audience to know this information?
3. Will this information add to the overall quality of the film?
4. Even if it is relevant and will add value, is it more relevant than all the other
information I have gathered so far?
5. Will I be able to incorporate this information into the script even if it is
relevant to the subject?
...Whew! Lots of stuff! But all relevant and good to ponder as we switch gears this week and begin to work on more practical issues for the student's upcoming projects.
Form and Aesthetic Questionnare
Taken from M. Rabiger: Directing the Documentary and T. Das: How To Write A Documentary Script