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 10 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 Monday.  Assignments are listed each Monday and due the following Monday.  Assignments posted a week late are credited with a C or less, depending on the quality of work.  NO assignments are credited if posted over a week late.   

If you miss one week, email me and we can discuss options for making up work.  Missing two weeks may drop your grade by a letter.  Missing three weeks will drop you grade by a letter or more.  Four missed weeks will result in failing the class.  If you drop the class kindly let me know, so I can remove you -- and you won’t received any more class information. 


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

Upon successful completion of this course a student will be able to:

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

-       Examine how earlier nonfiction cinema has 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 script format

Weekly Assignments:

Week 1 – 8/18:  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: Writing #1 – due 8/25

1.     What clips did you view?

2.     What struck you about each clip: its historical content, or social, or cultural? 

3.     If you were a filmmaker in that setting, what else would you have filmed? 

Task 4: Writing #2 – 8/25

1.     Introduce yourself: what is your script writing, or writing background?

2.     Why are you taking the class?

3.     Any favorite documentary or experimental film that has impacted you?

Task 5: Send me an email by 8/25: -- so I have your info

Task 6:  Film Clip Viewing:

Short Film #1:  Educational Film

Think about a story idea you may want to develop for a short educational film.  For inspiration, watch 2 of the clips below: (You may also watch short educational films on your own + email me your URL)

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

 - and comment on this film on Andrea Dorfman’s site

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

3.     Watch the clip: How to Tango:

 Longer Film: Educational or Memoir or Documentary

Think about a story idea you may want to develop for a 15-minute film.  For inspiration, find two or three10 – 15 minute educational films  + email me your URLs

Week 2 – 8/25 - 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 a two-column script:

·      Formatting two column scripts:


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

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

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


Each new location is a new scene – and each new scene gets a new number


Technical information that MUST be included in script:

A scene begins with a slug line: INT. or EXT. – LOCATION – DAY or NIGHT –in the video section


·      INT. is for Interior – indicating the scene is inside

·      EXT. is for Exterior – indicating a scene is outdoors

·      The LOCATION is always given to help organize the shooting schedule

·      DAY or NIGHT are indicated to assist the lighting crew prepare for each scene


Task 4:  Writing #1 – Due 9/2

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 – Due 9/2

Write the first 2 scenes for 1 story idea in AV script format

Week 3 – 9/2 - Overview – Research Rocks:

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

Nonfiction films – especially educational film writing involves research.  Educational films contain a question to answer, or problem to solve, or mystery to uncover, or hidden agenda to reveal.  

Furthermore, research also allows us to expand a story idea into different levels of inquiry:

·      A daily, or surface level

·      An up-close look at the experiences of people involved in the story – or personal level

·      A larger social, political and/or cultural outlook – or global level. 

To more fully understand and include these different perspectives, you want to research content in different ways: Engaging in primarily, secondary and tertiary levels of research.

·      Primary research includes investigation with primary people in the story, autobiographies, diaries

·      Secondary research includes colleagues, friends, or family of primary sources, bios of primary sources, interviews, profiles on primary sources

·      Tertiary research includes articles concerning the work of primary sources, critiques of the work, cultural artifacts from the lives of primary sources, or capture the time

Task 1: Readings

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

-       Resources for researching documentary films:

Task 2:  Writing #1: View 2 Film Clips From 1 of these sites – due 9/8


Shooting People:

Watch the film, “Hobbies”

Trailers, International Documentary Association:

After viewing 2 clips: List the levels of research revealed in each film: daily, intimate and global

And list any level(s) that needed to be included to expand the story. 


Task 3: Writing #2  - due 9/8

Brain-storming a Research Plan for your short educational script, or a long script

NOTE: Short film research will not have enough time to complete the listed items of research – but list the research items as if you were going to continue the film after the class ends. 

Long film research will have enough time this semester to complete much of the proposed research

a. List all the Primary, Secondary and Tertiary items of research you would like to use
b. Who are the experts you will include?
c. What do you know about your subject and what don’t you know?
d. Where will you find your answers?

Task 4: Writing #3 – Beginning to structure your Short or Long film – due 9/8

-       Begin the Structural Template and complete the Inciting Incident section (on the class site)

-       List some of the complications that can happen in learning how to do whatever your film will cover.  These complication can potentially become key scenes to include in the film: what can go wrong in learning how to master the goal of your film.


Week 4 – 9/8  - Overview – Story Structure Sets up a Good Film:

This week you’re going to be considering story structure in terms of:

·      When does a story begin? 

·      Why do we need conflict in a story? 

·      Why must it continue and intensify? 

·      What’s the purpose of Act One? 

·      How do we know when it’s ended and Act Two begins?     

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:  Writing #1: View 2 or more clips from the sites (using humor or not?) – due 9/15


10 Tips for Creating Better Movies:

This is a straightforward film, but the points also pertain to writing better scripts.

Why we should hire you:

Simplest Card Move (Scam School):

In the Discussion Posting, address these questions:

1.     What order would you rate the clips and why? 

2.     Taking your top rated film, write out a Structural Synopsis for Act One.  Chances are your top rated film has a strong or focused structure, while also being entertaining, or compelling to you.

3.     How does Act One end in your 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: Writing #2 – due 9/8 or 9/15 – May need more than a week to hear from an Interviewee

1. List two people you need to interview for your short or long film.

2. Choose one who is on a primary level. 

3. Choose the other on a secondary level. 

4. List 5 – 10 questions you’d like to ask each one.  (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: Writing #3 – 9/15

Bring in a revised version of your script: revised scene + 3 new scenes.  Also post the first draft of your script. 

Note how you’re developing the film idea. 

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

Using your script, reflect and answer these questions about its structure so far:

·      When does your story begin? 

·      What are the levels of conflict in your story so far?   

·       If Act One ends signaling a new opportunity or direction, what might the End of Act One in your story?    

Week 5 – 9/15 - Overview: Revisiting Levels of conflict and the levels of research:

Primary level: who are intimately involved with the subject 

-       A cast of characters to interview: varying opinions, personalities, believability, likeability

-       Other primary research tools: diary, autobiography, previous interviews, original art, emails, letters, blogs, personal web sites, home movies 

Secondary level: who know the primary subjects fairly well

- A cast of secondary characters to interview: family, best friends, mentors, coaches

- Other secondary research tools: biography, letters involving secondary characters, interviews of secondary characters, secondary sites

Tertiary level: who are somewhat connected to the primary subjects

- A cast of tertiary characters to interview: neighbors, work associates, schoolmates, childhood friends, team mates

- Other tertiary research tools: artifacts of the era (music, magazines, photos) artifacts concerning the subject

 As you develop the script, you’ll see how different levels of research expand + deepen the story.

Task 1: Readings

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

Task 2:  Writing #1: View A Film Clip (story structure) - due 9/23

How to jump Double Dutch Rope:


After you’ve watched the clip (you may need to watch it more than once):

1.     List any Primary character(s), Secondary character(s) and Tertiary character(s) – may only be Primary and Secondary – you decide.

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

3.     What is a key problem(s) in the story that is presented - Act One: (Thesis)

4.     How does the key problem(s) get more complicated?  Act Two – intensifying complications (Antithesis)

5.     What is a final attempt to solve the problem(s)? End of Act Two:  Crisis

6.     What’s the result of the final attempt? Act Three:  Climax

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

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

-       What makes a good location:

-       What makes a good short film:

-       Picking locations for your film:


Task 4: Writing #2 – due 9/23

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

It’s an offbeat approach – and long.  Watch, at least the first 8 minutes to get a sense of it.  And now you’re hired to revise the film: you have to keep the Primary subject, but you may add other people. 

Your main job, however, is to reconsider the location and subjects:

1.     Does the current location work or not in the film?

2.     If it works or doesn’t work, what additional locations would you add?

3.     What other people would you add and what would they add?

Task 5: Writing #3 – due 9/23

Discuss the Environment of your film: Discuss the External environment of the film (what we see) & the Internal Environment of the Primary subject(s) (health & psychology - what we see or infer)

The locations listed below may not be your film, but you want to know the answers to the location questions below – and possibly consider using them in your film.  The more we see about subjects’ lives, the more compelling your film is to your audience.  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 for relaxation? 

4. Where is the central environment?  What is the main location of your film? 

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

6. What kind of subtext do your locations add?  For instance, are the locations brightly lit and populated with people engaged in their lives?  Are the locations in sketchy neighborhoods?   

Week 6 – 9/23 -  Overview – Opposing Points of View

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


-       What are the contradictions in the content in your film idea? 

-       Do the opposing points of view come to an understanding?

-       Do you intend to present ideas that challenge viewers and bring up opposing ideas in them? 

Task 1: Readings

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

Task 2:  Discussion Forum #1 - View A Film Clip – due 9/30

Making Good Ideas Infectious:


After watching the clip, consider the opposing points of view:

1.     What are some of the opposite points of view?

2.     Did the film generate any opposing ideas in you, the audience?

3.     Any ideas or points of view you would have added?

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 – due 9/30

Watch the Film Clip:

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

1.     What’s the purpose of the film?

2.     Where’s the conflict?

3.     What are the opposing points of view?

4.     Did the film succeed in conveying its point of view to you?

5.     This film may or may not have a 3 act arc, but if you were going to take a wild guess at it:

6.     Where’s Act One?   Where’s Act Two?   Act Three? (Label these in minutes and seconds.)

Task 5: Discussion Forum #3 – due 9/30 Post your revised script, and also the last revision. 

Reflecting on your script writing process so far:

1.     How has your idea changed in 6 weeks?

2.     What has helped deepen and/or expand the story? 

3.     Was there an assignment, or clip, or reading, or your peers’ work that helped prompt new ideas?

Week 7 – 9/29 - Overview – Section 2: Opposing Points of View in Memoir/Experimental Films

While educational films, focus on content, this 2nd script writing section, the memoir or experiment section, focuses on exploring character and cinematic elements (form, texture, rhythm, light, and dark). 

The levels of conflict driving these script styles:  Memoir’s conflict occurs between people (alive, or memory), whereas conflict in experimental work lies in tension between cinematic elements: Light versus dark, smooth textures versus jagged ones, or long scenes versus short, and so on.

Memoirs are usually told through a primary point of view, which is typically the protagonist of the story.  The protagonist may be a narrator off-screen or on, but even if there’s not a narrator, the protagonist behind-the-scenes guides the story.

Meanwhile, if you are writing a longer script, consider adding a memoir and/or experimental layer to the story: If it fits the style of your work. 

Task 1: Readings

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

Task 2:  Writing #1: View A Film Clip – due 10/6

Here’s a lovely memoir film that some refer to as a documentary, and others call it a memoir, and some say it’s a hybrid of memoir/documentary.  These definitions blur.  However, the film is about personal change, putting it more in the memoir camp for me, or a memoir/documentary.  

You may differ and one of my goals for you is to develop your own sense of understanding the basic types of nonfiction films: Educational, Memoir and Experimental, & Documentary.  There are many subcategories and hybrids, so consider these as the basic types.

Here’s the clip:

After you’ve watched it, reflect on it and answer these questions:  

1.     Who is the protagonist?   

2.     What is her goal?

3.     What are some of her obstacles?

4.     Who is the antagonist?

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

6.     What film elements are used to tell this story?   Interviews?  Live action scenes?  Voice over narration?

Longer form scriptwriters, answer the questions above about your film.

Task 3: Research web sites –

-       Tips on how to write a memoir:

-       How to write your own memoir:

-       Experimental Film Discussion: 

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: Writing #2 – due 10/6

Watch this memoir film:

Answer these questions:

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

2.     List a story idea and include:  the protagonist, opposing points of view in the story, how might the protagonist change?

3.     What film elements might be used?   Interviews?  Live action scenes?  Voice over narration?


Longer form scriptwriters: answer question #1


Task 5: Writing #3 – due 10/6

Write the story’s Inciting Incident in a Structural Outline: What is the catalyst that starts the story?

Write the first 2 scenes.  These may or may not contain the Inciting Incident.

Longer form scriptwriters: write the next 2-3 scenes in your script: post this new draft + last version

Week 8 – 10/6: Research + Plan Your Memoir or Experimental Script

This week, you’ll develop a Research Plan for your short memoir or experimental film, which includes a list of people you’d like to interview, and different points of view to add to the story.

You’ll also continue the Content Outline and add levels of conflict in Act One, and learn about the story point, Plot Point 1: the end of Act One

Longer form scriptwriters: you’ll continue researching your film and Content Outline

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, would you have changed or added other environments to each one?  Why or why not?

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?   

5.     What are emotional “hooks” in the environments in your script?

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: Writing #2: Researching your memoir/experimental film – Due 10/13

 Watch these films and consider the levels of research (primary, secondary & tertiary) that went into making them:

Student experimental film, Fear:

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

Short Film: Write up a Research Plan for your memoir and/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: who to interview and why?

-       a cast of characters: varying opinions, personalities, believability, likeability

-       diary, autobiography, interviews, original art, other work, emails, letters, blogs, personal web sites

B. Secondary level: who to interview and why?

- cast of secondary characters: family, best friends

- biography, letters involving secondary characters, interviews, secondary sites

C. Tertiary level: who to interview and why

- cast of tertiary characters: neighbors, work associates, schoolmates, childhood friends,

- artifacts of the time and era, artifacts concerning the subject

Task 5: Writing #3: Continue Your Content Outline – due 10/13

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

Keep in mind the Inciting Incident is the event that “changes the balance” of the protagonist’s life:

Longer film: Continue your Content Outline to include the first half of Act Two: up to the mid-point:


Week 9 – 10/13 - 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? – due 10/20

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


Since the clip is a compilation of three short segments, you may either write about the levels of conflict within each film clip, or comment on the entire segment: your choice.


Some background on Laura Mulvey’s film theories and experimental films produced in the 1970s:

-       Mulvey’s theory is that most narrative and commercial films, like Hollywood films, are made for a “male gaze.”  Hollywood films look at the world from a (straight) man’s point of view.  

-       Women are used primarily to be pleasurable and gazed at. 


-       Most narrative films don’t consider a “female gaze,” but operate under the assumption that women will watch what men want to watch and men like to watch beautiful women. 


-       Additionally, when a beautiful woman arrives in a film, there’s conflict. 


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 consider the evolving conflict in your 2nd script, or longer script, and continue your Scene Outline in Act Two and the Mid-point of your developing story.


You will submit your continuing Scene Outline.

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,”

-       The mid-point mind-melt:

-       My mother, the antagonist:

-       How to write a compelling antagonist:

Task 5: Discussion Forum #2 - Researching your memoir/experimental film – due 10-/20

1.     Choose 2 people to interview

2.     List your interview questions + post

 Longer films list 2 additional people to interview, or other types of research

Task 6: Discussion Forum #3 - Continue Your Memoir or Experimental Script – due 10/20

1.     Post Revised Memoir or experimental script + 4 new scenes --  OR longer script + 2 new scenes

And briefly consider the Protagonist versus Antagonist and antagonizing characters:

2.     What are the hurdles each character must overcome?   

3.     What is their unique way of fighting for their goals, or dreams?

Week 10 – 10/21 - Considering Cinematic Elements: Showing conflict + subtext

This week you will reconsider your current script and all that you’ve learned and thought about in assembling a nonfiction story. 

You’re also asked to try a new cinematic element in your work (voice over, non-linear visuals, flash-back, re-enactment) It may not work and you can always remove it.  Or it may open another layer in your story.

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:


After viewing it, consider the cinematic elements she used:

·      Voice-over narration that tells something other than what is filmed

·      Repetitive images

·      Images that make the viewer uncomfortable

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? For instance, you might consider repeating scenes, or altering them a bit to highlight the real message?

2.     Integrating content and form: linear versus nonlinear story lines, again to highlight a particular feeling you want conveyed, 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?  Or the pacing of the editing changes, creating more tension?

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:

-       Four key scenes in a film, memoir, or novel:

Kind of nutty narrator, but she makes good points.

-       Lastly, when people tell lies – and uncovering lies:

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:

The Mid-point:  A good story has a Mid-point, which is essentially, the middle of Act Two.  It’s when everything falls apart.  Everything the Protagonist has attempted to do to confront a conflict, or solve an issue, or right a wrong has failed.

The Protagonist realizes he/she is not a Super Hero or Heroine.  In fact, he/she is a regular human being, who may be confused and feeling like a Loser at the moment.  This signifies the mid-point: all is lost. 

After the Mid-point: Reflect, reconsider, realization, and re-assemble.  Act Two continues as the Protagonist reflects on the huge mess they’re in and begins to reconsider that while they don’t know a lot, they’re not total losers.  They also realize that their need to be a Hero may have prevented them from seeking help from others – or seeing the whole problem. 

They begin to re-assemble a new tact, forcing them out of a comfort zone and to change. 

Part of the change involves solving the problem in a new way, but another part of the change lies within the protagonist reflecting on how his or her own blind spots and fears prevented them from seeing better ways to confront the conflict.

-       Every good script has a mid-point 

-       The mid-point is when everything falls apart: everything tried has failed

-       The Protagonist is not a grand Hero and emotionally at his/her lowest point

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 – 10/27: After the midpoint, the second half of Act Two

Structurally, a Midpoint serves to shake-up all misconceptions a Protagonist may have had about ways to “solve” a problem or reach a goal.  The second half of Act Two then opens up new opportunities.

The Protagonist has now been forced to reflect on and reconsider the original plan for “solving the problem,” or “confronting an issue” brought on by the Inciting Incident. 

Complications introduced in Act One and continued into Act Two still exist, but the Protagonist has gained some insight into his/her strengths and weaknesses and new ways to work. 

You will think about the insight gained by your protagonist and the new direction he/she takes in 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 – 11/3: Crisis, Climax & Resolution

Last week you examined the Obligatory Scene, as being the pay-off for the Inciting Incident. 

Whatever conflict, or mystery, or problem that was introduced in the Inciting Incident is, at last, dealt with at the end of Act Two: the Obligatory Scene.  Consider this story point as a set-up for the final outcome: will the protagonist succeed or not? 

You also read on other sites that the Obligatory Scene is referred to as the “Climax,” which is half correct.  The Obligatory Scene is both: the Crisis – End of Act Two – AND – the Climax – opening of Act Three. 

Think of the Crisis as starting the final showdown between the protagonist and antagonist and the Climax is a result of this showdown.  The Crisis and Climax may occur in one scene, or develop over a sequence of scenes, but the Crisis starts the final showdown and the Climax is its result.

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.


This isn’t a graded assignment, so enjoy the amazingly crafted film and take the plunge in considering its structure.  Understanding story structure takes time and we don’t “get it” overnight.


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:

Screenwriting structure as Aristotle outlined in his Poetics and is summarized in the video:

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

2.     Respond to your fab peers’ ideas too

3.     Longer films list your script idea too

Week 13 – 11/10 - Overview: Writing a short documentary script

You had a brief introduction to conceiving a documentary film last week, with your reading, and watching the award-winning film, Born into Brothels, and submitting a doc ides.

This week marks the “official” documentary section, where you will develop an idea into the first pages of a script.  You will engage in research, some character development and story structure this week. 

Out of the primary genres of nonfiction films, documentaries involve the most expanded research in terms of gathering a wide selection of points of view, and also drilling down deeply into a subject. 

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:


And a purely fun read on the science on how docs impact culture:

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.


NOTE TK2: Longer script writers: you’ve addressed these questions all ready, so revise your answers, if needed, and/or re-post the same replies.


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 – due 11/17

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.     What might be some of the contradictions in the characters’ lives?

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

Task 5: Discussion Forum #3: Structural Synopsis for Act One – due 11/17

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 Structural Synopsis, knowing that this will change.

And before you do, look at some of these old doc film clips for some inspiration, or amusement, or a sense of history, or tips on not what to do:

A very short romanticized film of the Titanic, view for an eye on how to write a more compelling script: Titanic footage – 1912:

A short and fun film make in 1967 of John Lennon’s trip to Alexandra Palace in London to attend a 14 Hour Technicolour Dream event:

Short trailers of some excellent docs:

Then complete for your doc or longer script:

1.     Act One Structural Synopsis of your documentary

Longer films post your complete structural synopsis

Week 14 – 11/17 - Overview: Writing a short documentary script

Armed with research skills, and experience with thinking about, structuring and writing the beginnings of two nonfiction scripts, the documentary will be your third and final 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 –  Researching your doc script – due 11/24

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.     What was your favorite scene or scenes in the film and why?

2.     What scenes were uncomfortable to watch and why?

3.     What scenes revealed characters changing and what were these changes?

4.     What is the Inciting Incident of the story? 

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

6.     How does Act One end?

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

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: Interview 1 or 2 subjects for your script: - due 12/1 (2 wks)

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

Two amazing stories on the same man + location:  Filmmaker Jon Shenk produced an award winning film, The Island President, ( - trailer)- about how global warming is threatening the existence of the Maldives and what President Mohamed Nasheed is doing about it. 

Then, there’s a coup on the island, and Nasheed’s own existence hangs in balance – and here’s a short doc by Shenk:

In thinking about what you might want to ask the deposed Maldivian President Mohammed Nasheed, write up a list of questions, as well as a list of questions for 1 or 2 subjects for your doc, or longer film, and then conduct an interview and submit the questions and answers.

List of 3-5 questions you would ask deposed Maldivian President Mohammed Nasheed – 12/1

List 5 or so questions for 1 or 2 subjects and post the Interview – 12/1

1.     Consider questions about the subject’s daily work life and complications here

2.     Consider questions about the larger issue or theme of your doc script.

3.     Consider questions about your subject’s family life and growing up: mentor, teachers, etc.

Task 5: Forum #3: Opening 2-3 scenes of your doc script, or 2 new scenes of longer work – 11/24

These 2 short clips are just to get you excited about the possibilities of making your cool doc script: 

Watch this short clip of the documentary, The Manor:

Here’s a short interview with the film’s director, Shawney Cohen:

You may also view the whole feature-length doc for $19.99 on itunes:  -- kind of pricey – so this is NOT part of the assignment, but a FYI

Week 15 – 11/24 – Uncovering layers of conflict + finding wisdom in your documentary script

One of writing goals of the class is that through revising your work and taking time to rethink the story and scenes, you find that much of the creative process comes through uncovering a story’s layers.  And these layers are found by going over a story and asking different and, typically, harder questions.

Beginning with research, it’s fairly obvious seeing how delving into layers of research presents scenes for a script.  And through interviews, a story’s characters develop.

Constructing a structural synopsis ensures that different layers of conflict are examined: daily and surface issues, as well as personal and global/universal angles. 

Lastly, we want to reveal the underlying emotional arc in the script: how does the solving of a problem, or combating a conflict impart wisdom and/or insight in its characters and also produce an emotionally compelling experience?  This is our task as writers: Embarking on a journey of discovery that gives us wisdom and insight and also an emotional experience.

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 2 Structural Outlines:

1.     Three acts for Hoop Dreams

2.     Three acts for your documentary or longer film script

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 – due 12/1

Watch 2 of the excellent film clips on this Vimeo site:

After watching 2, answer these questions:

1.     What clips did you watch?

2.     How did the environments in each clip impact these areas: emotional state of the characters, themes explored (may have to take a guess), and aesthetic style of each clip.

3.     List some environments you’re considering in your film.

Task 5: Discussion Forum #3: The next 2 scenes of your doc or longer script – due 12/1

Write the next 2 scenes of your doc script

Week 16 – 12/1: Different environments in your documentary

Nonfiction films create dramatic tension, as well as convey information, by bringing audiences squarely into a story.  The communicative power of film lies in its ability to bring us dead center of a conflict.

Therefore, 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 – due 12/16 (Tuesday)

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:

Then look over this research “cheat sheet” reminding us of the levels of conflict and levels of research needed in our stories:

Primary level: who to interview and why? 

A cast of close characters: varying opinions, personalities, believability, and likeability

May include: diary, autobiography, other interviews, original art, and/or other work, emails, letters, blogs, personal web sites

Secondary level: who to interview and why?

Cast of secondary characters: family, best friends, co-workers

May include: biography, letters involving secondary characters, interviews, articles on them

Tertiary level: who to interview and why?

Cast of tertiary characters: neighbors, work associates, schoolmates, childhood friends,

May include: artifacts of the time and era, artifacts concerning the subject

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  – due 12/16

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)? 

4.     What wisdom or insights did these characters gain? 

Task 5: Discussion Forum #3: Photos of your environments – due 12/16

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