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Documentary Production

INSTRUCTOR: MARK FREEMAN
Office: LT 171 C
Office Hours: By Appointment & Wednesday 10- 11a.m.
Email: mfreeman@mail.sdsu.edu

Prerequisites:
TFM 122 (16mm film) or TFM 123 (Video Production) and TFM 110 (Scriptwriting) or permission of the instructor.

ADVISORY:
Students are expected to be familiar with the basics of location video production and video camera operation. The production demands outside of class are substantial. It is
essential that you choose group partners whose schedules and availability for production and postproduction coincide with your own.

COURSE DESCRIPTION
This documentary video production workshop emphasizes nonfiction field production. The workshop combines theory, history and practice. Hands-on demonstrations, screenings, readings, lectures and discussion prepare students to produce a documentary video. Students gain production experience working individually and in groups. Classes include an emphasis on research, pre-planning and writing skills as integral components of video production.

OBJECTIVE
Students will demonstrate the ability to research, develop and produce a 5 to 10 minute documentary.

EVALUATION
Students will be graded according to the originality of their approach to the medium, technical competence in using the equipment, as well as over-all understanding and progress demonstrated in assignments, projects and discussions.

  1. Degree of Difficulty. How ambitious, imaginative and challenging is the production? Is it Intriguing? Compelling? or Predictable?
  2. Organization. How well organized and efficient is the production team? Is there evidence of thorough pre-production and planning?
  3. Technical Competence. Is the production well executed? Are the video and audio elements well integrated? To what degree does technique heighten or diminish the overall impact of the program?
  4. Audience reception. How was the program received? Did it have its intended effect on viewers.

Attendance and Participation 10%
Crewing on Projects 1 and 2
Reflection Logs

Preproduction “3 project assignment”/ Treatment/Pitches/Interview 5%

Treatment 4%

Projects 1 and 2 26%

3rd assignment Documentary Analysis 10%

Midterm 3/18 15%

Transcripts 5%

Final Project 25%

Including Documentation (Please note 1 point will be deducted automatically for documents not delivered in class according to the schedule on page 9. Additional points may be deducted if documentation is not included with the delivery of the final project.)

Grades A-F with plus and minus.
DUE DATES FOR ALL FILM PROJECTS ARE FINAL. LATE PROJECTS RECEIVE REDUCED CREDIT.

Required Text
Directing the Documentary, 4th Edition by Rabinger, Michael (R)
Reading Packet (RP)

Recommended Texts
Documentary Storytelling for Video and Filmamkers, Bernard, Sheila
The Documentary Film Makers Handbook: A Guerilla Guide, Jolliffe, Genevieve
Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction Aufderheide,Patricia
Writing, Directing & Producing Documentary Films by Rosenthal, A.
Documentary: A History of the Nonfiction Film, Barnouw, Erik

Resources on-line
http://www.virtualtvacademy.org/sessions1-10/0/NonfictionRealityProgramming
http://www3.nfb.ca/webextension/capturing-reality/
http://journalism.berkeley.edu/program/courses/dv/cookbook.html
http://www.chicagomediaworks.com/2instructworks/instructionalworkspage.html
http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/
http://www.archivalstorytelling.com/

http://www.studentfilmmakers.com/
http://www.d-word.com
http://www.copyright.gov/forms/
http://www.withoutabox.com
http://studioa.sdsu.edu/workshop/
http://www.doculink.org

Activist Video
witness.org
indymedia.org
http://papertiger.org/

Transcripts
http://podclerk.com/
http://yousendit.com/
http://castingwords.com/
TransferBigFiles.com
FileDropper.com

Stock Footage
http://freestockfootage.com/
http://worldimages.sjsu.edu
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_domain_image_resources
http://www.burningwell.org/
http://www.archive.org/details/prelinger
http://www.princetonol.com/groups/iad/links/clipart.html
http://www.revostock.com/

Audio
http://www.filmsound.org
http://www.findsounds.com/
http://freesound.iua.upf.edu/index.php
http://www.freeplaymusic.com/
http://www.versusmedia.com/
http://www.sounddogs.com
http://www.pdinfo.com/index.php

Editing
http://www.chicagomediaworks.com/2instructworks/instructionalworkspage.html

CLASS FORMAT

Field Production
This course requires students to participate in field trips, research or studies that include
course work that will be performed off-campus. Participation in such activities may result in accidents or personal injuries. Students participating in the event are aware of these risks, and agree to hold harmless San Diego State University, the State of California, the Trustees of the California State University and Colleges and its officers, employees and agents against all claims, demands suits, judgments, expenses and costs of any kind on account of their participation in the activities. Students using their own vehicles to transport other students to such activities should have current automobile
insurance.

Cost
Each student should budget approximately $100-200 for production costs. Students are expected to supply videotape and all materials necessary to professionally complete their productions.

Groups
Students will work in groups of three. Each group will produce six exercizes. That is each group member will have primary responsibility for producing, directing and editing two of their own pieces with the assistance of the other members of the group. One measure of satisfactory “class participation” is the degree of cooperation each group evidences in the crewing of these production. Crew work should be reflected in the onscreen credits and in the reflection logs. For the Final Project students will work together as Producer, Director, Camera, Sound and Editor.

Transcripts
Digitize the audio file and convert it to mp3 in itunes.
Upload via http://yousendit.com/
Send an email to the contact at http://podclerk.com/ and tell them where to find the file on yousendit.

Podclerk typically does podcasts, but has worked on audio files sent this way for me without a problem. It takes 2-3 days and they send you a word document. They are in the Philippines. It’s about .75 a minute and is generally about 90% accurate. Casting words is similar but may take longer.

Student Workplans
For each final project, prepare a Workplan. This is a timeline describing weekly plans and reasonable expectations of measurable progress by the end of the semester. This workplan will be the basis of a class contract. It will be used for student assessment purposes. This workplan is due in class Week 3.

Week 1
INTRODUCTION
Brainstorm
Groups

Reading
R 10, 11

Please complete the following and turn in each element in a stapled packet. Your materials should include the number and letter of each segment as listed below. Due in class next week .

1. A.) A description of 3 possible topics you are considering for your Documentary Treatment.
B.) Describe your rationale for choosing to develop one of the stories. This should
be a thoughtful consideration of the pros and cons of each idea.
C.) Include a written synopsis of the chosen topic
D.) List five or more questions you have about your topic.
E. ) Present the research you’ve done and what you have learned. Reference at least
2 sources. These sources could be books, articles, newspapers, internet sources (but
not wikipedia), etc.
F.) Describe your approach and theme for this documentary.
G.) Be prepared to pitch your chosen topic.

Week 2
WHAT IS DOCUMENTARY

Reading
R 1-8 and Questionnaire p. 564
Pitches see R10-5

Week 3
RESEARCH, WRITING and PREPRODUCTION
Reading
R 15 and 16

Oral & Written Reports on Preproduction Interviews Workplans Due

Identify and contact a content expert who can provide context for your documentary. This could be an SDSU professor, other expert or a community member. Summarize your interview in writing . The summary should include who you spoke with and when, a list of your questions, and direct quotes of at least 3 relevant bites that could be used in your documentary.

Week 4
OVERVIEW/REVIEW OF BASIC FIELD PRODUCTION TECHNIQUES
Camera Sound Lighting
Reading
R 18-27 skip 24

Treatment and/or Draft Script Due

Week 5
INTERVIEWS IN THE FIELD
Visualizing Directing and interviewing techniques

Reading
R 24
In class Production Exercise

Budget and Shooting Schedule Due

Week 6
VOICE, ETHICS and AESTHETICS

Reading
R 17
Trafficking in Reality DVD

Week 7
FAIR USE
ACTIVIST and COMMUNITY BASED DOCUMENTARIES
http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/resources/fair_use/

RUSHES

Bring Reflection Journals to Class

Week 8
POST PRODUCTION
Reading
R 29-37

Midterm Due

Week 9
DIRECT CINEMA and CINEMA VERITE
Screening: Cinema Verite: The Defining Moment DV015

Week 10
NO CLASS. ENLOY THE BREAK

Week 11
REFLEXIVE DOCUMENTARIES

Week 12
BLURRED BOUNDARIES
Shooting Log Due

Week 13
FINAL PROJECTS WORK-IN-PROGRESS SCREENINGS

Rough Cut Final Projects Due
Transcripts Due

Week 14
Sign up for individual meetings with instructor.

Week 15
INDIVIDUAL MEETINGS WITH INSTRUCTOR REGARDING FINAL PROJECT
Final Narration Due

Week 16
May FINAL PROJECTS DUE May 13, 2009
FINAL PROJECTS DUE with all Notebooks, Reports and Reflection Journal.
And DVD’s for crew, subjects and instructor

Reflection Journal/Artist’s Notebook
Self-reflection and critical analysis are an important component of the learning process. Students will maintain a weekly journal. The journal is intended to provide a structured opportunity to thoughtfully consider both the process of production.

Please be as specific as possible, providing examples in your discussion of the questions raised below.

Each weekly journal entry should include:

  • Summary of tasks performed relevant to the final project.
  • Reflection about the work. Problems? Solutions? Accomplishments? Plans? What are your thoughts and feeling about the process of creation/production.
  • Consideration of the role of your collaborators and subjects.
  • Also include relevant observations about the process of creating and crewing
    Projects 1 and 2.

At the end of the semester you should summarize your experience and also address the following questions:

    • What have you learned about your subject?
    • How effective was your interpersonal communication. How could it be improved?
    • Did your work raises any ethical issues?
    • Are there any potential conflicts between your multiple responsibilities — To the
      subjects? To the larger community (the audience)? To yourself (in terms of artistic integrity)?
    • Is this a subject or issue, which you will continue to be concerned about beyond
      the work you have done in class? Why? or Why not?

Entries can consider the challenges and triumphs of the creative process. It’s a place to record significant observations; to record dreams; and to pose questions for further research and development. You may include notes about the development of characters, conflicts and locations. You might also wish to include notes about the production process itself. The journal is a place for you to systematically reflect and consider the progress you are making in this semester’s creative journey. Insofar as you may choose to critically consider the “process of your production” in your documentary, the journal can provide important “raw footage.” This notebook will constitute a portion of “class participation.”

Assignments

Projects 1 and 2
Each student will be assigned 2 short production projects from the 16 possible described in chapter 28 of the text (28-1 through 28-16). Be sure to refer to the appropriate editing guidelines. (For example project 28-7 corresponds to editing project 38-2.) We will use the criteria listed for each exercise as a guide to evaluating the work.

3rd assignment
Each student will prepare a written 2 to 3 page analysis of a documentary. Be prepared to present your work orally to the class. Include selected excerpt(s) from the program illustrating your contentions. Please cue or dub your screening tape before your presentation. DVD’s are better. Be prepared to discuss:

Story Structure
Style and Approach
Editing
Credibility
Ethics
Overall Impact

You are encouraged to seek out extraordinary films. We are most interested in how
technique makes the subject matter compelling. Documentaries may also be viewed and checked out at the Media Center. I would suggest that you consider one of the recommended examples in the text that corresponds with the project you have selected for your final project. Some additional suggestions are attached.

FINAL PROJECT

Documentation
With their final project each team will submit a clearly organized notebook, which contains:

Workplans Due Class #3
Oral & Written Reports on Preproduction Interviews Due Class #3
Treatment and/or Draft Script Due Class #4
SDSU Waiver and Release Forms
SDSU Film Shoot Evidence of Coverage
SDSU Credit Form
Budget and Shooting Schedule Due Class #5
Shooting Log Due Class #12
Transcripts Due Class #13
Final Narration Due Class #15

FINAL PROJECT
Documentation

This documentation is essential and makes a significant contribution to the final grade. Students will complete DVD for the instructor. Each student will include in the notebook a sealed envelope containing a confidential production report detailing the work of each member of the crew, as well as an evaluation of the production–its pluses and minuses. What did you learn? What was the best/worst experience? What would you do differently if you could? Advice for students who will take this class in the future? Suggestions for the prof?

Credits will include acknowledgement of all production work and donated equipment and services. In addition please include the following

Music Credits NB: Only cleared music is permitted.

SDSU TFM standard credit line –– A Production of the School of Theatre, Television and Film SDSU

Copyright in your name © First Last Name 2010

VIDEO PRODUCTION TFM 340
SURVEY
NAME _____________________________________
AGE _______
EMPLOYER ___________________________
This workshop will emphasize documentary video production. Have you done any
documentary work? Please describe it, and indicate whether you are willing to screen
the tape in class?

What do you expect to gain from this course? List three specific topics you would like to
have covered sometime during this course.
1.
2.
3.

What are your career goals?

What non-production film or video courses have you taken?

Give an example of a documentary film or filmmaker you consider “great.” Why?

What do you feel makes a course “work” for you? What makes a course a good learning experience?

Do you generally feel comfortable participating in class projects?

What other production classes are you taking this semester?

SUGGESTIONS OF ADDITIONAL FILMS AND FILMMAKERS

Available in the Media Center at the Library
http://libpac.sdsu.edu/search/X
Enter Documentary or the name of the film you are looking for in “Any Field”
Under “Location” Pull Down and choose “Media Center”

Battle of Chile
El otro lado The other side VTC-19
Paris is Burning VTC-1256
The Farmer’s Wife VTC-567
Grey Gardens DVD-909
Salesman DVD-908
The War Room VTC-1228
The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl VTC-302

ITS films can sometimes be called up from and viewed in the Media Center
Absolutely Positive American Movie
Berlin: Symphony of a Great City Blood in the Face
Best Boy (DVD-1121) Bushmen of the Kalahari (15794,VH)
Born into Brothels Bus 174
Celluloid Closet A Propos de Nice
Chulas Fronteras
Control Room Edmund’s Island
Eyes on the Prize Fahrenheit 9/11
Fires in the Mirror Fog of War
Freedom on My Mind
Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers Gimme Shelter
Hoop Dreams Berkeley in the 60’
Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie
Let There Be Light
Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter, The
Roger and Me Supersize Me
Talking Peace The Yidishe Gauchos
Times of Harvey Milk Trembling before g*d
Union Maids Warrior Marks
Working Girls

More Films: Standard Operating Procedure
Gypsy Caravan Protagonist Czech Dream
Lessons in Darkness Streetwise The Staircase
Looking for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus The Gleaners Murderball
My Kid Could Paint That What I Want My Words To Do To You
Into Great Silence What Would Jesus Buy?
Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter Surfwise
Cats of Mirikitami Grizzly Man
Operation Filmmaker
Children Underground
The Specialist
Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment

CONCEPTUAL QUESTIONS AND NOTES

Contrary to popular belief, most successful documentaries are the result of creative and efficient conceptualization and planning. Good documentaries don’t just “happen” on location during filming–they are methodically planned and executed. To this end, please consider the following as you conceptualize your documentary.

      • Who is your target audience? Identify age, background, and social and/or
        financial characteristics. It is also important to know WHY they are your target
        audience.
      • What is your objective? What, specifically, should your target audience FEEL,
        THINK and/or DO, when they finish viewing your documentary?
      • What is the primary use of the finished product? It’s important to stay focused on
        your primary use. If you design the documentary for multiple uses, you run the
        risk of diluting the focus and/or message. This is because each intended use
        brings with it a series of specific choices and resulting content. If you generalize
        your content to accommodate multiple uses, you will by definition be diluting
        your message.
      • What is the “spine” of your documentary? What content is crucial to provide, and
        how will you lead the viewer through the program? How much will you rely on
        voice over and/or graphics for this purpose? Who will serve as your on-camera
        content experts? Can you get them? Who will serve as your voice–over talent?
        Can you get them? Music?
      • What visuals will be used to support the content spine? How can you visually
        communicate ideas and emotions to the viewer? What locations and activities
        will be required to capture these visuals? Are there any special obstacles that will
        need to be overcome?
      • What tone would best serve your documentary? Somber? Edgy? Institutional?
        Humorous? Is there a production style or approach that will help convey or set
        the appropriate tone?
      • What is the target length of your documentary? As a starting point, consider a
        five to seven minute timeframe. This is short enough to accommodate any limited
        viewer attention span, but long enough to tell a solid story. With few exceptions,
        it is better to create a tight, focused and polished piece that leaves the viewer
        wanting more.
      • And finally, please be realistic in your planning and expectations. You and your
        video team will create a fantastic piece, but it cannot compare to the 60-minute,
        $3-500,000 documentary that aired last week on Discovery or PBS. Get creative,
        stay focused, and above all else, plan absolutely everything that CAN be planned.
        SIGN UP SHEET PROJECTS 1 and 2

Choose 2 projects from Projects 28-1 through 28-16. Note that these projects are
associated with editing project in Chapter 38. Students are responsible for completing
both production and post production for each assignment.

Each Student will sign up for 2 presentation dates. For each date indicate the name and
number of the production (e.g. Direct or Observational Cinema 28-1).
Please note that presentations will be during our Wednesday Class Sessions

STUDENT (SIGN UP FOR 2 SLOTS) PRODUCTION NAME AND NUMBER
Week 3
1.
2.
3.

Week 4
1.
2.
3.

Week 5
1.
2.
3.

Week 6
1.
2.
3.

Week 7
1.
2.
3.

SIGN UP SHEET PROJECTS 1 and 2
STUDENT (SIGN UP FOR 2 SLOTS) PRODUCTION NAME AND NUMBER

Week 8
1.
2.
3.

Week 9
1.
2.
3.

Week 10
1.
2.
3.

Week 12
1.
2.
3.
Week 13 Make-ups Don’t sign now
1.
2.
3.

SIGN UP SHEET Documentary Analysis

The instructor must approve films in advance.
Week 3
_______________________________
FILM
_______________________________
STUDENT

Week 4
_______________________________
FILM
_______________________________
STUDENT

Week 5
_______________________________
FILM
_______________________________
STUDENT

Week 6
_______________________________
FILM
_______________________________
STUDENT

Week 7
_______________________________
FILM
STUDENT_________________________________

Week 8
_______________________________
FILM
_______________________________
STUDENT

Week 9
_______________________________
FILM
_______________________________
STUDENT

Week 10
_______________________________
FILM
_______________________________
STUDENT

Week 12
_______________________________
FILM
_______________________________
STUDENT

TFM PRODUCTION GROUP CONTRACT

PRODUCTION TITLE: _______________________________
#1 NAME __________________________________ #2 NAME
ADDRESS ADDRESS
PHONE PHONE

#3 NAME #4 NAME
ADDRESS ADDRESS
PHONE PHONE

TOTAL ESTIMATED PRODUCTION COST: _________

Individual Financial Obligation to Group Production (Indicate below who will pay
what/when)

Student #1 Amount: ______ Date(s): ______ Amount: ______ Date(s): ______

Student #2 Amount: ______ Date(s): ______ Amount: ______ Date(s): ______

Student #3 Amount: ______ Date(s): ______ Amount: ______ Date(s): ______

Over-budget Contingency Agreement: (On the back of this page, describe clearly how
you will deal with budget overruns)

Signatures
By signing below I agree to abide by the above terms, and understands that failure to do so will effect my evaluation in this class. I also recognize that this is a legally binding contract.

1 NAME ________________ Date

#2 NAME ________________ Date

#3 NAME ________________ Date

Contact Sheet

Please Print Clearly

Name Cell Phone # Email

Documentary Proposal and Contract

Names:
E-mail:
Film Working Title:

      1. Statistics.
        My film will be _____ minutes long.It will be shot on ____________.It is expected to take _____ shooting days.Budget _________.So far I have (check what applies):
        A rough idea, incomplete _
        A thematic statement _
        All participants _
        Complete but rough idea _
        A proposal _
        A treatment _
        A beginning _
        A middle _
        An end _Pre-Production Expected Dates Of Completion
        Concept
        Subjects
        Location
        BudgetProduction
        Locations and DatesPost-Production
        Logging
        Transcripts
        Digitizing
        Rough Cut
        Fine Cut
        Music
        Graphics and Titles
        Completion
        Distribution
      2. Personal philosophy that inspired the making of this film.
        In life I believe that ____________________________________________________
        _____________________________________________________________________
        _____________________________________________________________________
      3. Premise
        The film explores my convictions by showing (here briefly write your film’s
        premise) _____________________________________________________________
        _____________________________________________________________________
        _____________________________________________________________________
      4. Genre
        Personal, Direct Cinema, Experimental, Anthropological, Compilation, Historical,
        Wildlife, Scientific, Biographical, Political/Activist, Women, Minority, Queer and
        Indigenous Production, Musical, Reality Programming, Mockumentaries etc.The genre (type or family) of this film is ______________, and my film only
        departs from this genre in that it _________________________________________
        _____________________________________________________________________
        _____________________________________________________________________
      5. Main characters and their characteristics.
        Character A ______________ mainly wants ________________________________
        ______________________________________________________________
        Dominant traits ________________________________________________
        ______________________________________________________________
        Major conflict _________________________________________________
        ______________________________________________________________
        Character B ______________ mainly wants ________________________________
        Dominant traits ________________________________________________
        ______________________________________________________________
        Major conflict _________________________________________________
        ______________________________________________________________
        Character C ______________ mainly wants ________________________________
        Dominant traits ________________________________________________
        ______________________________________________________________
        Major conflict _________________________________________________
        ______________________________________________________________
        ______________________________________________________________
        More characters? Add on separate sheet.
      1. Major situation affecting the main characters
        The major situation in which the characters find themselves is _______________
        _____________________________________________________________________
        _____________________________________________________________________
        _____________________________________________________________________
      2. Point of view
        (A) The point-of-view character is ___________________ and his/her biased way
        of seeing means that ___________________________________________________
        _____________________________________________________________________
        _____________________________________________________________________
        _____________________________________________________________________
        (B) Subsidiary characters are _______________________________ and their way
        of seeing, by contrast, means that ________________________________________
        _____________________________________________________________________
        _____________________________________________________________________
        _____________________________________________________________________
        (C) The Storyteller’s characteristics are ____________________________________
        _____________________________________________________________________
        and this makes him/her see in a particular way that is _______________________
      3. Anticipated outcomes/resolution. _______________________
      4. Intended impact.
        After they have seen my film I want my audience to:
        FEEL ______________________________________________________________
        THINK ______________________________________________________________
        TELL THEIR FRIENDS TO GO AND SEE A FILM BECAUSE
        _____________________________________________________________________
        _____________________________________________________________________
      5. Anything important not included above
        _____________________________________________________________________
        _____________________________________________________________________
        _____________________________________________________________________
        _____________________________________________________________________
        _____________________________________________________________________

Adapted from itvs.org

WRITING A BETTER ITVS TREATMENT

“If a story is in you, it has got to come out.”
William Faulkner

Your writing should be clear, concrete and descriptive. As much as possible, you are imagining a film and describing it to the audience as if it were completed. A successful treatment is vivid and inviting. It is intriguing, piquing interest in the project and generating support for the production.

PASSION
When writing the treatment, don’t be afraid to infuse your words with passion. Your excitement and sense of urgency should be contagious. Why is it important to make this documentary now? Why do you care? Why should audiences?

DESCRIPTION
Your charge: “write an active-voice, present tense summary of what an audience watching the film you expect to make will see and hear from the screen. (Michael Rabiger)

What is your story about? Is it a character study— a biography or autobiography? Is it a portrait of a place? Is it about a controversy or public policy issue? Historical? (See “Conceptual Questions and Notes.”)

Be sure to explicitly address the questions:
What is the topic?
Who are the subjects? Include quotations if available.
Participants in the story?
Experts?
Witnesses?
Filmmaker as filmmaker?

Where does the story take place? Which locations in San Diego?
When does the story take place?
How much exposition and context are required?

Reading the description, we should be able to visualize your program and get a sense of
how it will make us feel as we watch.

AUDIENCE
Who will be interested in this documentary? Try to imagine particularly interested
groups and niches. Is there a potential community of interest?

“General adult audiences or ‘everyone’” doesn’t help to focus the film. Knowing who the audience is helps clarify what is essential to include in your film, and what can be assumed as prior knowledge.

STRUCTURE
Like the frame of a house, or a human skeleton, structure holds up all the parts of a story, supporting and organizing the elements into a coherent and interrelated dramatic whole. Structure determines how the story will unfold dramatically, how it will build – moving through moments of tension and conflict – from beginning to middle to end. Structure is the road a reader takes through the dramatic terrain of the program.

One obvious structural framework is chronology – for example, following a character through an event in their life from start, through transformative changes, to finish. But there are as many possible structures as there are stories. The key is to find the one that fits, so that the reader/viewer is drawn in, compelled to stay, to discover the outcome. If you don’t know the outcome of your story, you can help the person evaluating your treatment by speculating a little, spelling out possible twists, turns and endings. Tell us what the overall story is, what happens in the course of the documentary, what we will have learned by the end that we didn’t know at the beginning. Try describing a key dramatic moment in detail, and locate it in the context of the whole story, so we get a sense of the program’s emotional trajectory.

THEME
Theme is what your story is really about – the underlying point your story is making. While your program tells a specific story rooted in a particular time and place, it no doubt addresses an overarching societal issue or universal human concern. Like a cell’s DNA, this theme should be embedded in every scene of your show, keeping it focused and on track.

STYLE
Style refers to a variety of tools one can mobilize to give the story a distinctive quality, feel, look or tone. Style can be articulated through camera work, editing, sound design, score, lighting, production design, interviewing technique, etc. Every stylistic choice becomes a signifier, telling the viewer something important about the story. Be specific when describing why and how you will engage stylistic tools. For example, what framing, composition, lighting or camera angle choices best serve the story? What editing strategies will accomplish the desired pace and rhythm? What kind of sound effects and score will you employ? Where will interviews take place and what interviewing method is most appropriate? If you are working with actors (in a reenactment for example), what directing style will you use? What is your vision for the production design? If you are relying on still photographs or archival footage, how will you integrate them into the narrative? Will you use narration? Will the film be reflexive? Use concrete examples to explain how style will illuminate the subject matter and theme. Be economical and deliberate.

VOICE AND POINT-OF-VIEW
“Voice” can be a many-layered thing. When considering voice, we have to ask, who is the storyteller and whose story is being told? The answers to these questions determine not only the viewer’s sense of intimacy with the subjects, but the program’s point-of-view. In a truly personal story, the teller and subject are one and the same. When a maker represents another person or community, it is useful to be conscious of the ways storytelling can mediate the voice of the subjects.