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DFP: Writing the Documentary Script

This unit talks about Writing the Documentary Script.It states the process it involves from Principles of a Documentary Script,Synopsis versus the Shooting Script and all the processes involved.

The actual writing of a documentary script may be a major or minor job depending on the nature of the programme. If it is composed of film shot in the field or interviews with authorities, little work will be required. The creative work is done mainly by the production team. In any case not withstanding the approach taken, the documentary script is a manual conveying the programme idea. It is a broadcast script that contains both the dialogue, presentation style and the instructions that will aid in the production of the documentary (Nworgu, 2010)

Principles of a Documentary Script

Script writing entails a creative presentation of an idea that brings conceptions to the bare for the mutual benefit of the source and the receiver. There are principles to be adopted and adhered to if the scriptwriter wants to deliver a script that will vividly tell the story. These principles as outlined by Kogah (1999) are as follows:

  • Gaining Attention:

How can the scriptwriter gain the attention of audience through the script? It is through depicting the subject of the documentary in the most powerful terms he/she can device.

He/she must make it vital and meaningful to an average viewer. There must be an aura of excitement and suspense in the story line. The teaser technique is frequently used in documentaries to focus the attention of the audience on the problem. The teaser may be a brief dramatic scene, or an exciting sequence excerpted from the body of the documentary.

It may yet be a statement by a person whose name and face are attention getting in themselves. Celebrities are not the only ones who can gain attention. Sometimes, the so-called “common-man” can do it if he is presented in the right way. Miscarriage of justice or abuse of human rights, for instance, can catch attention effectively by opening with a man telling the audience in a simple yet poignant way that he has spent ten years in prison for a crime he did not commit.


  • Introducing Conflict

The documentary form does not provide an obvious opportunity to use conflict for holding attention as drama does. However, a creative and an alert scriptwriter can make use of this principle to build interest in the documentary. One method is to alternate interview with people who hold clashing opinions on a subject. Another method is to provide face-to-face confrontation between opponents. This particular method permits the development of the highest degree of conflict. It is however not so easy to control when compared to the conflict that arises from interviews recorded separately.

  • Introducing Emotional Appeals or Values

The principal means of arousing emotional appeals to a documentary is to present the issues as they affect individuals. A writer who is content by merely making general statements is likely to leave his/her audience involved. A good example would be the ugly incidence of kidnappings in the south-Eastern part of the country. Instead of mere telling about the consequences of kidnapping, the scriptwriter can depict it through the eyes of a survivor who narrowly escaped being killed, even after the family has paid the demanded ransom. He could be pictured walking down the scene of the incident where he was kidnapped, while two or three actors could dramatize how he was kidnapped, while his voice recorded over the scene, tell the horrible event, his pleas and cries and moans as they kicked him into their car and zoomed off. It must be a pathetic and memorable moment.

  • Narration

Narration in this instance is written after the editing process is completed. This is because only then can the writer know what material needs narrative support. Narration can reinforce the effect of a documentary in a number of ways

(a) it can clarify the meaning of the tape and pictures especially if the film was shot silent, that is, without sound

(b) it can provide explanation but the writer should avoid saying too little or saying too much,

(c) it may also provide interpretation which enriches the contribution of a filmed or taped excerpt,

(d) it serves as the transition from one idea in the documentary to another;

(e) finally it also enhances the emotional effect of a scene or a taped insert with a vivid sentence or an appropriate quotation.

Synopsis versus the Shooting Script

The synopsis as captured by Owuamalam (2007) could be likened to an abstract which summarizes the entire creative work, in an impressive form, structure and sequence. But the shooting script captures and consists of shot numbering, camera instruction, action to be formatted and the anticipated accompanying sound. “Never Again” is a Storyline adapted from Owumalam (2007:137) showing example of a script.

NEVER AGAIN The world can be peaceful, in the absence of robbers, bandits, terrorists and brigands. Mark was once a humble boy, who grew in the high brow area of Duke form. He lived at Bon Plaza on the 4th street. His parents are wealthy. So, Mark lacked nothing. He always shows generosity to the  less privileged members of the community. One day, Mark met Alice and John who led rascal lives that offend society. They talked Mark into smoking. They even brought alcohol for Mark and took him to clubs and casinos. They told him the benefit of belonging to secret cults and the essence of becoming a “big-boy” or even a “boss” peer.

Mark followed their directions at home where he smoked behind closed doors, and in toilets. At school, he joined a cult group of his choice. Some evening’s he went to club with Jane. The difference was a continuous one for Mark who has just turned 25 years of age.

Suddenly, Jane’s parents become worried that their daughter was frequently sick and vomited mornings. Jane had started being absent from school, while their examination was fast approaching. Her teacher was worried and asked other students why Jane was no longer regular at school.

Six months later, Jane was discovered to be pregnant. The school expelled her. Mark was involved in robbery. He was caught and paraded before the press and the community. His father fled town, blaming Mark’s woes on his mother who was always protective of their son. Three months later, Mark was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to death by a firing squad.

His mother was heartbroken. She watched her only son in chains, as he was taken away by the police. Jane delivered her baby in a squalor, after being isolated and abandoned by her parents. There was no Mark to rest her shoulders. Her child wept ceaselessly, of deprivation as hunger set in to tell the story.

Never Again” as a Synopsis

“Never again” by Emman-owums Owuamalam, is a social documentary on societal plot. The film is a story of petting, romance and self-deceit, which blossoms into deviant behavior, unwanted pregnancy and crime. It is an irony of Mark’s sheltered life, which affected his response to the peer group influence of John and Alice, resulting in unwanted pregnancy, for Jane and his involvement in brutal crimes. It is a tragedy, which society should strive to eradicate in today’s youths, who will be the leaders of tomorrow.

never again script

never again script 2

It could be noted that each camera has a specific role, which it has to play in imaging and provision of the appropriate audio-visual experience. The nature of shots expected are indicated as LS (Long shot) M.S (medium shot) and CU (close up shot). The transitional devices of cut, fade, dissolve and wipe, for instance, enable the movement from one picture frame to another.



ASSIGNMENT : Writing the Documentary Script Assignment MARKS : 10  DURATION : 1 week, 3 days