Class

Documentary Research and Writing: Finding the Story

Learn research and writing processes crucial to story development for a documentary film, from the research process through the edit.

10–5pm (Classroom 1)

Documentaries often tell stories that unfold in real time, and filmmakers must expect twists and turns along the way. By the time you get to the editing stage, it’s too late to figure out what your story is.

This one-day workshop will guide you through the process of developing your story and honing your character arcs, from the research process through to the edit. The aim of this course is to help you navigate the many decisions that go into researching and writing about your story – all while remaining open to the unpredictable. The course will also cover the elements of good treatment and synopsis writing, and explore the art of writing about your story in a way that funders will find clear and compelling.

The instructor for this course is Dara Kell, an award winning documentary filmmaker and story consultant whose films have been broadcast on PBS, TVFrance and Netflix, and screened at festivals worldwide.

  • PART 1 /  Developing your characters

What makes a great character? You will learn how to identify and develop your characters, and how to write up your character arcs for funding proposals even when you are in the early stages of the development phase. We will watch examples of how character is revealed through conflict and look at sample proposals. We will also look at examples of films that had to change course midway, often ending up with better and more surprising films in the process.

  • PART 2 / Finding and honing your themes

Using examples from a wide range of films, you’ll learn how to identify and develop themes and sub-themes during the research process, and how to write about your themes in proposals. We will explore the process of developing your narrative, building conflict and tension, and revealing your themes through different kinds of scenes. We will look at various proposals from different kinds of films to learn some of the strategies filmmakers use to write about their stories when the outcome is unknown.

  • PART 3 / Story structure

Learn the  basics of classic three act structure, as well as different ways to structure films without traditional plots. You will learn how to build out your scene list, and how to write up your story outline in the early phases of your process, while the outcome is still undecided.

  • PART 4 /  The road map

You will learn the basics of how to create a road map to guide you during your research process. We will also explore how the writing process itself can be used to help guide you through some of the difficult choices you must make, as you focus in on the story you really want to tell.

We recommend that students bring ideas for films they want to make. This class is best suited for students who have story outlines or scene lists, as examples for us to work on in class.

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This class is part of ClassWork Film Track: DocumentaryTake four documentary film classes for $490 (regular price) or $390 (IFP / Media Center members).

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What You Will Learn

  • How to identify and develop your characters, and how to write up your character arcs for funding proposals even when you are in the early stages of the development phase.

  • How to identify and develop themes and sub-themes during the research process, and how to write about your themes in proposals.

  • How to build out your scene list, and how to write up your story outline in the early phases of your process, while the outcome is still undecided.

  • How to create a road map to guide you during your research process.

About the instructor

Dara Kell

Dara Kell

Dara Kell is an award winning documentary filmmaker. Her films have been broadcast on PBS, TVFrance and Netflix, and screened at festivals worldwide. Her first film “Dear Mandela,” follows three courageous young South African slum dwellers who lead a social movement to stop mass evictions across the country. The film won multiple awards including Grand Jury Prize at the Brooklyn Film Festival and Best South African Documentary at the Durban International Film Festival. “Dear Mandela” was the centerpiece of a 3-year, 4 -continent-wide audience engagement project that developed the leadership skills of housing activists in slums in India, Nigeria, Brazil, Haiti, and many other countries. Dara has made short documentaries in Brazil, Azerbaijan, Egypt, and China, and is currently making a documentary about Reverend William Barber and civil disobedience in America. Her work has been supported by the Sundance Institute, the Ford Foundation and the Corporation of Yaddo.

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