CINE 72-Online Syllabus

Denise Bostrom – Instructor – CINE 72 - ONLINE (75865 8E1)  
Cinema Dept. Office hours: By appointment - email me

Syllabus & Class Information – CINE 72 - Online

Required Reading for CINE 72:

Writing, Directing and Producing Documentary Films and Videos (4th edition), Alan Rosenthal

Screen Writings: Scripts and Texts by Independent Filmmakers, Scott MacDonald

How to Write a Documentary Script:

FYI: Essential Reading for Nonfiction Scriptwriters:

An Introduction to - Writing for Electronic Media, Robert B. Musberger

The Scriptwriter’s Handbook: Corporate and Educational Media Writing, Willian J. Van Nostran

Producing with Passion: Making Films that Change the World, Dorothy Fadiman and Tony Levelle

Cinematic Storytelling, Jennifer van Sijll

Bookstore Suggestions:

City College Bookstore:

Chegg – renting and purchasing online textbooks:

Class Expectations:

This is a script writing class.  My goals for you include developing stories you’re passionate about, mastering the art of the first draft, and learning how to revise to deepen the work. 

Expect to spend about 8 hours/week on the class, such as reading, research, structuring and/or writing your film.  There are weekly writing assignments and you will deliver EITHER: 3 five-minute nonfiction scripts OR: 1 fifteen-minute nonfiction script as a final project.

Missing class:  this is an online class, which means you may be anywhere with Internet service and participate.  However, if you are ill, or expect to be without Internet service, CONTACT ME.  I’m here to help, but I need a heads-up in order to assist you.

Weekly participation is essential.  Participation includes logging into class + posting assigned work on time.  Each week opens on Monday and ends on the following Tuesday.  

If you plan to travel during the semester, it's not a problem -- you are free to log into class wherever you are.  Keep in mind the course is geared toward weekly participation. 


Weekly Attendance & Critiques of other students work - 25%

Weekly Discussion Postings based on readings and/or film screenings – 25%

Script Development Postings – 25%

Final scripts: EITHER: 3 short nonfiction scripts (5 minutes each), OR: 1 long script (15 minutes)  – 25%

Student Learning Outcomes for CINE 72 - ONLINE

Assess a nonfiction story idea and evaluate the essential components required to investigate, write and deliver a well-documented script to a targeted audience.

Examine how earlier nonfiction cinema influenced the style, syntax and structure of current nonfiction film trends.

Critique a draft of a script and propose in-depth suggestions on further research needs, content development and story structure, as well as employ professional nonfiction scriptwriting format

Analyze and criticize diverse nonfiction script styles, with specific attention to content development, story structure, and cinematic grammar.

Weekly Assignments:

 Week 1 - Overview – Early Nonfiction Filmmakers: The Emergence of Nonfiction Cinema

The emergence of American nonfiction cinema coincided with technological, economic, social, and cultural changes in the country at the turn of the 19th century into the 20th century.


Task 1: Readings

Read Rosenthal’s chapters 1 – Introduction (pages 1-5) & 2  - Clearing the Decks (pages 9 – 18)

Task 2: Visit web sites this week:

Early films: Watch at least 2 film clips from 1 of the websites listed:

·      American at Work, School and Leisure:

·      The Spanish American War:

·      Motion Picture Collection, Library of Congress:

·      Edison Motion Pictures:

Task 3:

Discussion Forum #1 (respond to one  -- or more of your fellow student's forums). Introduce yourself: your writing experience and plans for taking the class.

Task 4:

Discussion Forum #2 (respond to fellow student's forums, too). What film clips did you view? What first struck you about each film clip: its historical content, social, or cultural? If you were a filmmaker at that time, what else would you have filmed? What more did you want to see?

Task 5: Preview for Week 2

Think about two story ideas you want to develop for a “How To” Film.

Watch the how-to film: “How to Be Alone”:

Watch the clip: How to do yoga with your dog:

Watch the clip: How to Tango:

Week 2 Overview – Beginning  an Educational or  “How To” Film

Nonfiction and fiction filmmaking conform to certain rules: narrative coherence, the centrality of individual characters with identifiable goals, and a specific style and genre throughout the film.

Task 1: Readings - Rosenthal, chapter 3 - Getting to Work (pages 19 – 32) 

Task 2: FYI: Research these web sites

·      Short Film Ideas:

·      Formatting two column scripts:


Task 3: Script Reading: Read the attached script – posted on Cine 72 class web site

Note:  “video” – what is seen - is written in the left column

“audio” – what is heard: narration, dialogue, sound effects, music, etc. is on the right column


Task 4:  Writing #1 

Write the story idea you want to develop for your first short or longer film in 4 sentences:

Sentence 1: What does your film teach us, or what information does it present?

Sentence 2: What is a key problem in learning the topic?

Sentence 3: What don’t you know about the content and have to research?

Sentence 4: What are some visual ways you will convey the information?

Task 5: Writing #2 – 

Write the first 2 scenes 

Week 3 – Overview – Research Rocks:

What do you know about the content of your film idea?  What don’t you know about it?

Task 1: Readings

-       Rosenthal, Chapter 5 – Research (pages 56 – 64)

-       Resources for researching documentary films:

Task 2:  View 2 Film Clips from any of these sites:


Watch the film, “Hobbies” on the site, Shooting People:

Trailers, International Documentary Association:

After viewing the clips, list the levels of research contained in each film (primary, secondary and/or teriary).  Also comment on what level of research was lacking and a way to expand or deepen the story.  (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too).

Task 3: Discussion Forum #2 (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too)

Brain-storming a Research Plan for your story 

a. List all the Primary, Secondary and Tertiary items of research you would like to use

b. Who are the proposed experts you will include?

c. What do you know about your subject and what must you research?

Task 4: Discussion Forum #3 (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too) 

Learning to Structure Your Nonfiction Story:  

- Begin the Structural Outline and complete the Inciting Incident section -- and post this -- using the Structural Outline Template.

Week 4 – - Overview – Story Structure Sets up a Good Film:

Task 1: Readings

-       Rosenthal, Chapter 4 – Writing the proposal (pages 33 – 55) – this is an FYI chapter.  We will not cover proposal writing in depth.

Task 2:  Discussion Forum #1: View 2 clips in any of these sites (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too)


10 Tips for Creating Better Movies:

Why we should hire you:

Simplest Card Move (Scam School):

In the Discussion Posting, address these questions:

  1. What is the Inciting Incident in each film clip?  
  2. List 1 or 2 presenting complications in each clip. 

Task 3: Research web sites – writing a funny script

-       How to Make a Funny Movie:

-       How to Write a Funny Script: 

-       How to Write an Exciting Interview:


Task 4: Discussion Forum #2: List two people you want to interview

1. List two people you want to interview for your “How To” film.
2. Choose one who is on a primary level.
3. And choose the other on a secondary level.
4. List 5 – 7 questions you’d like to ask each one. (These will probably be different questions) 
5. Interview one of these people online. (May be text based, or audio, or video)

Post your response to questions 1-5 above.

Task 5: Discussion Forum #3 (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too) 

Bring in a revised version of your script: revised scenes + 1-2 new scenes.  Also post the last draft of your script

Note how the film idea is developing from its initial stage

And you’re welcome to include photos in your script (in the Video Section) – so the script will begin to look like a storyboard. 

    Week 5 – Overview: Revisiting Levels of conflict and the levels of research:

    Task 1: Readings

    -       Rosenthal, Chapter 6 – Shaping the film (pages 65 – 89)

    Task 2:  Discussion Forum #1: View A Film Clip boys double-dutch

    How to jump Double Dutch Rope: (Respond to one of your fellow student's forums, too)

    After you’ve watched the clip -- it's very straightforward: Evaluate the film's characters and basic structure:

    1. List the Primary character(s), Secondary character(s) and Tertiary character(s) – may only be Primary and Secondary – you decide. What other characters might you add?

    2. What are some questions you’d want to ask the Primary character(s)?

    3. What is a key problem, or problems in the story that are presented - Act One: (Thesis)

    4. How does the key problem or problems develop and become more complicated? Act Two – intensifying complications: (Antithesis)

    5. How is the story resolved? Act three: Resolution: (Synthesis)

    Task 3: Research web sites – the setting of a film

    What makes a good location: makes-a-location-quot-good-quot

    What makes a good short film: 

    Task 4: Discussion Forum #2 (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too) 

    Watch the short film, “How to find a dream job,” 

    It’s an offbeat approach – and long.  Watch, at least the first 5-7 minutes to get a sense of it.  And now you’re hired to re-make the film: you have to keep the Primary subject, but you may add other people and other locations:

    1. Does the current location work or not in the film?
    2. What additional locations would you add?
    3. How would these locations help develop the film's content and overall style?
    4. What other characters would you add and what would they add?
    5. Post a link to a "How To" film that contains some unique locations that work for the film

    Task 5: Discussion Forum #3 (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too) 

    Discuss both the External environment of the film (what we see) & the Internal Environment of the Primary subject (health & psychology - what we can infer)

    Attach photos of a few locations if you have some.

    1. Where do your subjects live?    

    2. Where do they make a living?  Do we see the location of their jobs?

    3. Where do they go relaxation? 

    4. What are the surrounding neighborhoods like where they live, work and/or relax?

    5. What kind of depth do your locations add?  For instance, are they in areas that are maintained, or are the locations in areas of blight, or ruin, or are war-torn?  Is the location of historical or political or geographical significance?   

    Week 6  -  Overview – Opposing Points of View

    “Is there a good argument going on?  It all starts with a fight or disagreement.” – John Guare, playwright

    Task 1: Readings

    -       Read: Rosenthal’s chapter 7 - Beginning the first draft, pages 65 - 89

    Task 2: Discussion Forum #1: View A Film Clip (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too)

    Making Good Ideas Infectious:

    After watching the clip, consider the opposing points of view

    1. Did the film generate any opposing ideas in you, the audience?  Such as?
    2. Any ideas or points of view you would have added?  Why?

    Task 3: Research web sites – Conflict is essential in stories: conflict builds a story

    -       Dramatic Conflict:

    -       Documentary Storytelling: The Drama of Real Life:

    -       Conflict is a Writer’s Best Friend:

    Task 4: Discussion Forum #2 (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too) 

    Watch the Film Clip:

    This is a thoughtful film produced by two government agencies in the UK. 

    1. What’s the Inciting Incident of the film?
    2. Where are the levels of conflict?
    3. What are the opposing points of view?  
    4. This film may or may not have a 3 act arc, but if you were going to take a wild guess at it;
      Where’s Act One?   Where’s Act Two?   Act Three? (Label these in minutes and seconds.)

      Task 5: 
      Discussion Forum #3 (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too) 

    Post your revised “How To” script, and also post the last revision.  And reflecting on this first script writing process so far:

    1. How has your idea changed in 6 weeks? 
    2. Was there an assignment, or clip, or reading, or your peers’ work that helped prompt new ideas, or deepen, or expand the story?  Your thoughts are appreciated, as they will inform how assignments are restructured for next semester.

    Week 7 –  - Overview – Section 2: Opposing Points of View in Memoir/Experimental Films

    Task 1: Readings

    Read MacDonald’s Screen Writings, Introduction, pages 1 - 14

    Task 2:  Discussion Forum #1: View A Film Clip (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too)

    Here’s a lovely memoir film that some refer to as a documentary, others call it a memoir, and still others say it’s a hybrid of memoir/documentary. You can see how these definitions blur into one another.  Regardless, the film is about personal change.

    Here’s the film clip:

    After you’ve watched it, answer these questions: (Longer form scriptwriters, answer the questions with regard to your film.)

    1. Who is the protagonist?

    2. What is her goal?

    3. What are some of her obstacles?

    4. Who is the antagonist?

    5. What are some of her obstacles?

    6. Is there another POV (point of view) you’d like to see in the film?

    7. What cinematic elements are used to tell this story: Interviews? Live action scenes? Voice over narration?  Subjective POV, such as dream or day-dream sequences?

    Task 3: Research web sites –

    -       Tips on how to write a memoir:

    Memoir film -

    -       Mr. Wright’s Creative Writing Six-Word Memoir Film 2012:

    Experimental films -

    -       Carousel – Animal Opera, by Joseph Cornell:

    -       Meshes of the Afternoon, Maya Deren:

    -       OffOn, Scott Bartlett:

    Task 4: Discussion Forum #2 (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too) 

    Answer these questions (Longer form scriptwriters: answer question #1):

    1. What’s a family story, or personal musing, or experimental idea you may want to write?

    2. Who might be the protagonist?  And possible opposing points of view?

    3. What cinematic elements might be used:  Interviews? Live action scenes? Voice over narration? Subjective POV?

    Task 5: Discussion Forum #3 (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too)

    Go for it and write a possible scene you may use.  Any scene.  it may not end-up in the script and may not even be the idea you end up developing: the task here is to stay loose and write a random memoir scene.  (In 2-column format)

    Week 8 – Research + Plan Your Memoir or Experimental Script

    Task 1: Readings

    -       Read MacDonald’s chapter Yoko Ono & her mini film scripts, pages 15 - 30

    Task 2:  Writing #1 – Environments in Your Memoir/Experimental Script: Choose 2 Film Clips of Yoko Ono:  - Due 10/13


    Yoko Ono’s Performance film in 1965, Cut Piece:


    Yoko Ono and John Lennon interviewed on David Frost, July 10, 1969:


    Yoko Ono’s 1985 music video, Hell in Paradise:


    After watching 2 clips (you may watch all 3), consider the content of each clip and the environments of each film, and answer:

    1.     If you were hired to revise the clips BEFORE they were shot, how would you have changed or added other environments to each one?  

    2.     What environments would you add or change?

    3.     Short film writers: What are some environments you’re thinking of using in your 2nd script?

    4.     Long film writers: What are some additional environments you’re adding to your script?  Why?   

    Task 3: Research web sites –

    -       Discussion on Yoko Ono’s performance piece: Cut Piece:

    -       Short history of Experimental Film:

    -       Research your memoir: mining memories:

    -       The hybrid content of memoir:

    Task 4: Discussion Forum #2: Researching your memoir/experimental film (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too)

    Watch 1 or 2 scenes of these very different films and consider the levels of research (primary, secondary & tertiary) that went into making them:

    Aboriginal Dreamtime Story:

    Experimental Film (mid 1940s), The Private Life of a Cat (Maya Deren & Alexander Hammid):

    Short Film: Write up a Research Plan for your memoir or experiment script and consider these elements: Imagination, memory & fact.  List research elements for 3 levels: primary, secondary, tertiary

    Longer film: Reconsider your Research Plan and submit both: Research #1 & #2 – include 3 levels

    Levels of conflict and research needed: 

    A. Primary level: cast of primary characters: varying opinions, personalities, believability, likeability

    B. Secondary level: cast of secondary characters: family, best friends

    C. Tertiary level: cast of tertiary characters: neighbors, work associates, schoolmates, childhood friends,

    Task 5: Writing #3: Continue Your Content Outline 

    Short film: After the story point, Inciting Incident, that starts your script -

    1.     What are the three layers of complications in Act One? 

    2.     How does Act One end? – A new door opens?

    3.     Complete your Scene Outline for all of Act One and post it


    Week 9 – Overview – Section 2: Stories are about confronting conflict:

    Memoir’s conflict arises between characters: a protagonist and antagonist and/or antagonizing characters

    Experimental film’s conflict arises within its cinematic grammar: light, texture, pacing, sound, and movement.

    Task 1: Readings

    -       Read MacDonald’s chapter: Laura Mulvey/Peter Wollen, Riddles of a Sphinx, pgs 94 - 114

    Task 2:  Discussion Forum #1: Increased conflict in Act Two and what is the Midpoint? –

    You are going to watch a 3 short film clips and you’re asked to:

    1.     Define the levels of conflict in each clip

    2.     Track how the conflict intensifies

    3.     Continue your Scene Outline: Complete the first part of Act 2 and the Mid point


    This first clip takes some well known narrative Hollywood films and gives three examples of the “male gaze,” as experimental filmmaker and writer, Laura Mulvey wrote about in her article, Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema – here’s the clip


    The second clip, Grounded by Reality, is a hybrid of memoir and documentary, and the conflicts are immediately seen and understood:


    This last clip, Nostalgia for the Light:, features a sister talking about finding traces of her brother from having “disappeared” in Pinochet’s dirty war. 


    You will also develop the conflict in your 2nd script and continue the Scene Outline in Act Two and the Mid-point of your story.

    Task 4: Research web sites –

    -       Further discussion and clarification on Mulvey’s The Male Gaze:

    -       The male gaze versus the female gaze:

    -       That “mid point thing,”

    Task 5:
    Discussion Forum #2 - Researching your memoir/experimental film 

    1.     Choose 2 people to interview

    2.     List your interview questions + post

    Task 6: Discussion Forum #3: Continue Your Memoir or Experimental Script

    (Respond to at least one of your fellow student's forums, too) 

    1. Post revised Memoir or experimental script + 2 new scenes  

    1A. Post revised Longer script + 2 new scenes

    Week 10 – Considering Cinematic Elements: Showing conflict + subtext

    Task 1: Readings

    -       Read MacDonald’s chapter Trinh T. Minh-ha, pages 190 - 224

    Task 2:  Discussion Forum #1 – Shaping and Deconstructing Content – due 10/27

    Watch Trinh T. Minh-ha’s lauded first film, which is considered a hybrid of experimental and ethnographic styles, Reassemblage:


    Address how might you add other cinematic elements to your work? 

    1.     Re-shape & deconstruct some of the content to create a more intense feeling in the story? 

    2.     Integrating content and form: linear versus nonlinear story lines, such as adding flashbacks, or a recurring dream?

    3.     Merging cinematic technique and time: Perhaps certain scenes are repeated, but edited differently, showing different points of view?  

    4.     Story-boarding your script or Scene Outline to reconsider its visual grammar

    Task 3: Research web sites –

    -       Trinh T. Minh-ha is interviewed last year:

    -       What happens in Act Two:

    Task 4: Discussion Forum #2 – due 10/27: Orchestration of characters  + the Wise Person  

    Read this site on writing subtext and then continue below:

    In taking stock of different characters who may be in your memoir + longer film, consider these ideas:

    -       Each character has his/her own desires, needs and relationship with the protagonist

    -       Each character has his/her own contradictions

    -       As conflict develops, characters react differently and against one another.

    Now answer:

    1.     Who are some characters you may include and what is their relationship to the Protagonist, Antagonist, and one another.

    2.     How have they reacted to set-backs and disappointments?

    3.     What are their contradictions and how have they changed in your time knowing them?

    Consider the role of the Wise Person, or Truth-teller, in your memoir and longer film:

    1.     Who might this person be in your story? 

    2.     The Wise Person tells the truth to the Protagonist, so it’s not the Protagonist.  And the Wise Person may tell the truth lovingly, or spitefully.  So the Wise Person is not necessarily a friend.

    Task 5: Discussion Forum #3: Reconsidering Your Midpoint – due 10/27

    Read this short and punchy essay, Short Films Need Big Ideas, about short films:

    Memoir + Longer Scriptwriters: Reconsider your mid-point and answer these questions:

    1.     What happens in your story’s midpoint?

    2.     When does the goal or dream begin to fall apart -- before the mid point?

    3.     What pushes the whole effort to finally collapse?  

    4.     What else is falling apart in your Protagonist’s life?

    Week 11: After the midpoint, the second half of Act Two

    Task 1: Readings

    -       Read MacDonald’s chapter Hollis Frampton (text of Poetic Justice), pages 70 - 90

    Task 2:  – Discussion Forum #1 - the Obligatory Scene – due 11/3

    Read what these two websites have to say about an Obligatory Scene:

    The obligatory scene – Steven Pressfield combines “Crisis” and “Climax,” but it’s semantics, it’s a good read:

    A melodramatic description of an Obligatory Scene, and again combining Crisis and Climax, but it’s another point of view:

    1.     Continue your Content Outline up to the End of Act Two – Crisis (part of the Obligatory Scene)


    Task 3: Research web sites –

    -       Nostalgia, an extremely interesting experimental film by Hollis Frampton:

    -       Hollis Frampton’s sardonic take on educational films:


    -       Short blog on personal memoir films:


    Task 4: Discussion Forum #2 - Emotions into Images – due 11/3

    Watch these three evocative hybrid memoir/experimental film clips:

    Crooked Beauty Trailer:

    Gravity, a poetic documentary:

    Basketball, a poetic documentary:

     And now list

    1.     Some added ideas these shorts may have given you, or prompted you to consider adding to your memoir script, or longer film. 

    2.     You may also post photos, or drawings, or a collage

    Task 5: Forum #3 - Revise + continue your Memoir, Experimental or Longer Script – due 11/3

    Consider the experimental filmmaker, Hollis Frampton’s, perspective and read both the links, a bio and essay on his film, Poetic Justice

    Hollis Frampton Bio:

    An essay on Hollis Frampton’s experimental film, Poetic Justice:

    Now watch at least the first 10 minutes of Poetic Justice, as it asks viewers to consider the “truth” of images we see in film:

    The film also asks us to reconsider our own “truths” that we feel so certain about. 

    Then complete:

    1.     What are some “truths” you’ve held as being “right” and have found to not be as “true” as you once thought?

    2.     Your revised script and 3 new scenes: post both versions

    Week 12 - Crisis, Climax & Resolution

    Task 1: Readings

    -       Read Rosenthal chapter 8 (Completing the first draft), pages 103 - 128

    Task 2:  – Discussion Forum #1: Three Act Structural Synopsis  - due 11/17 (2 weeks for this)

    You will watch an entire feature documentary, Born into Brothels

    Born into Brothels:

    Released in 2004, it won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. 


    This assignment is tricky, as you will complete a three act Structural Synopsis.  You haven’t been asked to look at an entire feature film, but it’s a good way to practice breaking a longer story into it’s story points and three-act structure.


    Once you watch the film, and you may watch it more than once, address these questions:


    1.     The protagonist – or protagonists

    2.     Antagonist – or antagonists

    3.     The Wise Person

    4.     Inciting Incident (story point that occurs within the first 15 minutes of a feature film)

    5.     List the levels of conflict for the protagonist(s)

    6.     End of Act One (around minute 30 in a feature)

    7.     Act Two – Intensifying levels of conflicts that were introduced in Act One

    8.     Mid-point – all is lost, or will never work, or is hopeless (around minute 60 in a feature)

    9.     Intensifying levels of conflicts

    10.  End of Act Two: Crisis – (Obligatory Scene)

    11.  Act Three – Climax (continuing Obligatory Scene)

    12.  Resolution


    Task 3: Research web sites –

    -       An engaging article on the science of nostalgia, and how it’s good to indulge in nostalgia:

    -       An amazing collective of filmmakers, who began distributing their films in the 70s, New Day Films:

    -       A site devoted to story-telling:


    Task 4: Forum #2: Complete Content Outline for your Memoir or Longer Script – due 11/10

    Look over these sites on story structure and, in particular, the key story points signifying the end of Act Two and Act Three: Crisis, Climax and Resolution.

    This is an interesting synopsis of a Master Story Class at Pixar:

    Here’s what Game Designers say about three-act structure:

    Here’s three-act structure boiled down to its essential elements in children’s books:

    Your task is to complete

    1.     The three act Structure Outline of your memoir or longer film

    Task 5: Discussion Forum #3 – An ideas for a Documentary Script – due 11/10

    Next week, Week 13, signifies the last nonfiction genre covered, the documentary script. 

    The same principles of research, characters, story structure, and format apply, but documentaries combine the human elements of memoir with the factual information of educational films.  However, docs vary in style and content, as you found in watching Born into Brothels.

    To get started, while you may have many ideas for a doc at this point, look over these sites:

    This is kind of a staid site that’s all about developing ideas for a doc:

    For grand inspiration, check out the fine and varied work on PBS’s POV site:

    You will list:

    1.     An idea you have for a documentary script

    Week 13 - Overview: Writing a short documentary script

    Task 1: Readings

    Begin with this excellent monograph, How to Write a Documentary Script, by Trisha Das. 

    Read pages 1 – 13, which give you an overview of writing docs, and introduces researching a script idea:

    Read Rosenthal chapter 9 (Budget & Contract) 129 – 145 – great for background info

    Task 2:  Discussion Forum #1 –  Researching your doc script – due 11/17

    In addition to Trisha Das’ monograph and Rosenthal’s chapter on research (pages 56 – 64), look over these sites on researching your idea:


    Read how different students at the International Centre for Documentary and Experimental Film in the U. of Westminster research their films:


    How students at the U. of Georgia researched the docs, Foot Soldier for Equal Justice, and Hamilton Earl Holmes, the Legacy Continues:


    Doc script writers and Longer film writers - answer these Research Questions:

    1.     What do you know about the selected doc idea?

    2.     What you don’t know?

    3.     Why did you choose this idea?

    4.     What are the Primary sources to research: interviews, site visits, diaries, archival, etc.?

    5.     What are the Secondary sources: second-degree accounts, newspapers, etc.?

    6.     What are the Tertiary sources: books, magazines, scholars, films, etc.?

    7.     Any consultants, experts and advisors to also interview?

    NOTE:  There is no time left in the semester for you to pursue all these sources, but it’s great practice to know how to thoroughly research an idea, so your scripts will be original, engaging and make smart films.


    Task 3: Research web sites –

    -       Using documentary filmmaking as a research tool:


    -       A very sad news item on a doc filmmaker who dies engaged in making his film – which is to say, read this and take the advice of always having a buddy along when you film:


    -       A great site with exhaustive links to creating a Study Guide to your doc:


    Task 4: Discussion Forum #2:  Compelling Characters Make a Doc Film

    Look over these sites regarding considering characters to include for your script:

    Creative treatment of life:

    A good magazine, Videomaker, offers basic, but essential tips on interviewing folks:

    A rather basic, but also nuts & bolts site on documentary tips that include considering your characters:

    Then address these questions for your doc or longer script:

    1.     How does your story idea combine interesting characters with a problem in their lives and a larger social issue?

    2.     Why would we be drawn to these characters and the larger social issue?

    Task 5: Discussion Forum #3: Structural Synopsis for Act One

    (Respond to your fellow student’s work too)

    You don’t know a lot about your idea yet, but once you begin to brainstorm and do some research, complete Act One of your Content Outline, knowing that this will change.

    For some ideas on style and types of research, check out the short docs on the NY Times' site:

    Then complete:

    1. Act One Content Outline of your documentary

    2. Or - post your continued Content Outline of your developing script

    Week 14 – Overview: Writing a short documentary script

    Task 1: Readings

    Continuing with How to Write a Documentary Script, read pages 16 – 37: Essential Script Elements, which offers a good summary of different visual and sound elements to consider in your script:

    Rosenthal’s chapter 5 – Research (review): pages 56 - 64 & chapter 10 - Preproduction 146 - 164


    Task 2:  Discussion Forum #1 – Difficult content + Structuring a doc script

    (Respond to your fellow student’s work too)
    You will watch the feature length documentary, Two American Families, and consider the film’s Act 1 and 2 structure, as well discuss your favorite scene or scenes in the film:

    And after you have watched the film, answer these questions:

    1. As a savvy movie-goer, what story elements and/or characters surprised you in the documentary?

    2. What scenes were uncomfortable to watch and what made them so?

    3. What is the Inciting Incident of the story?

    4. What are the levels of conflict in Act One?

    5. How does Act One end?

    6. How do the levels of conflict intensify in Act Two?

    7. What was the Mid-point, when things fell apart?

    Task 3: Research web sites –

    -       A wonderful organization for doc filmmakers - International Documentary Association (IDA) -

    -       A great news service and potential source for research for your film ideas, the Center for Investigatory Reporting (CIR):

    -       Terrific public news service and another source of reserach: ProPublica:


    Task 4: Discussion Forum #2: Consider subjects for your script(Respond to your fellow student’s work too)

    Read Rosenthal’s chapter 12, Directing the Interview: pages 177 – 192

    And read over the PR and look at the film clips of the award-winning film, The Island President

    And for some background, here's an interview with the film's director, Jon Shenk:


    And answer these questions on your developing film:

    1. Considering that a story such as, The Island President, continues to be unfolding, what elements of your story are also unfolding?  

    2. What character(s) in your documentary will allow you to investigate the ongoing story?

    3. What knowledge and/or expertise do they offer that can help push the story?

    4. What character(s) might try to impede your investigation? 

    5. How might you continue to work with this character(s) to include his/her perspective?  

    Task 5: Discussion Forum #3: The first scenes of your doc script

    (Respond to your fellow student’s work too)

    20 Feet From Stardom - won an Academy Award as Best Documentary.  It's a strong doc, but could have had a scene or two cut in Act Two and it would have been stronger.  

    Here's a link to some of the key points and scenes in the film, FYI:

    Consider watching the whole film, as there are some excellent scenes and music in it.  

    What elements of the film worked for you and would you consider using any of them in your documentary?

    Write and post the opening 2-3 scenes of your documentary script.

    Week 15 – Uncovering layers of conflict + finding wisdom in your documentary script

    Task 1: Readings

    Continue with the monograph, How to Write a Documentary Script: Putting a Script Together: 38 - 46

    Rosenthal’s chapter 11, The Director Prepares

    Task2:  Discussion Forum #1 –  Plotting your story: Act Two + Act Three – due 12/1

    Watch the acclaimed and amazing documentary made in 1994, Hoop Dreams:

    Check out the website of the indie production company, Kartemquin Films:

    After you’ve wiped your tears and gathered yourself, write out a Structural Outlines:

    1.     Three acts for Hoop Dreams

    Task 3: Research web sites –

    The Big List-- This week is dedicated to doc filmmakers and distributors who make films that look at personal and important issues that matter to many:

    -       Producer - Kartemquin Films:

    -       Producer – Independent Feature Project:

    -       Producer: Film Independent:

    -       Producing + Distribution: Third World Newsreel:

    -       Distributor – Women Make Movies, Inc.:

    -       Distributor – New Day Films:

    -       Distributor – California Newsreel:

    -       Film Support: Pacific Arts Movement:

    -       San Francisco Film Society:

    -       Film Support: Black Association of Filmmakers West:

    -       Film Support: International Documentary Association:

    -       Film Support: Independent Film Alliance:

    Task 4: Discussion Forum #2: External and Internal Story Environments:(Respond to your fellow student’s work too)

    Watch two of the excellent short docs on this Vimeo site:

    After watching two, answer these questions: guyonahoop

    1. What films did you watch?

    2. How did the environments in each film contribute to the story's: development of conflict, emotional arc, and overall theme?

    3. List some environments you’re considering in your film. Post photos if possible.

    Task 5: Discussion Forum #3: An unexpected scene in your doc script.  (Respond to your fellow student’s work too)

    Post an unexpected scene that might be included CancerSurvivors

    Week 16 – Different environments in your documentary

    A film’s environments are key to showing conflict, as well as subtext by revealing the conditions of peoples’ lives: their homes, work places, areas of relaxation, community and public squares, places of commerce and spiritual spaces – to list a few. 

    Environments define class, gender, culture, education, age, hopes, dreams and personalities.

    Task 1: Readings

    Continuing with the excellent online monograph, How to Write a Documentary Script, Trisha Das, Read pages: Writing a Great Script, pages 47 – 50. 

    NOTE: Das’ last chapter on script format is not an industry standard; Typically, audio is contained in the same column, so look over her format suggestions in the last chapter with this in mind.

    Rosenthal’s chapter 17 - Making Your First Film

    Task 2:  Discussion Forum #1 –  Writing + additional research for film 

    Stories are not written in one sitting, nor are they researched in a weekend, or even one month.  Rewriting and research occur right up to the when picture is “locked” and the sound is mixed.    

    Watch the amazing Errol Morris film, The Thin Blue Line:

    And now reflect on the film you watched and your own script and address these questions:

    1.     In The Thin Blue Line, what other primary person would you have interviewed and why?

    2.     What other secondary person, or resource would you have included in the story and why?

    3.     What other tertiary person, environment, or cultural reference would you have included and why?

    4.     And in your film script, what other primary person do you feel you should include?

    5.     What other secondary person should you include?

    6.     What other tertiary person, or environment, or cultural reference should you include?

    Task 3: FYI: Research web sites –

    Cool info sites:

    -       Creative cow offers a mix of interesting and informative links to filmmakers and artists:

    -       A great magazine on the art and politics of cinema, Cineaste:

    -       Leftlion, a provocative online site from England that looks at all kinds of cultural events, including film:

    -       Indiewire – kind of commercial for bearing this title, but you can find some interesting articles among the fluff:

    Task 4: Discussion Forum #2:  Story Structure  

    You will visit the POV site at PBS and watch one of the streaming films for the week:

    After you have watched the film, answer these questions:

    1.     What film did you watch?

    2.     What was the Inciting Incident of the film and what was the “Obligatory Scene,” the Crisis and Climax?  In other words, how well did the film set up the Inciting Incident and then pay it off?

    3.     Who was the protagonist(s)?  The antagonist(s)? 

    Task 5: Discussion Forum #3: Photos of your environments 

    Post photos of the environments of your doc or longer film

    1.     Be sure to identify each location

    Task 6: It’s a wrap

    Continue your scripts!  See you in another Cinema class! 

    Denise Nicole Bostrom,
    Jul 30, 2013, 12:54 PM