Saturday, November 22, 2014

Writing "Camera Story: DC215"

Tonight, in Charlotte, NC, my short documentary Camera Story will screen at the 100 Words Film Festival.

There's always an interesting debate on writing credits in documentaries. Some dismiss this entirely, some say it should really go to the editor, and some say that only certain kinds of docs should have a "writer" credited.

Me, I think all documentaries are written, and any documentary I work on has a lot of the writing process in it. I make structure outlines. I write an approximation of what might be said in interviews, before the actual interviews, just to better understand what I'm seeking. I script voiceovers, and often the overall content of a piece. Sometimes the shot list comes from the rough screenplay.

Usually, though, this isn't directly like writing a script for a nonfiction piece.

When I heard about the 100 Words Film Festival, however, I realized that a film intended to have exactly 100 words needed either a careful script or a really obsessive editor. Both, I suppose.

So I wrote a script exactly as you would for a fiction piece ... and counted word by word.

Lessons learned:
  • 100 words is really short.
  • Compressing a beginning, middle, and ending into a 100-word text is a challenge.
  • Think of visuals and text as partners and rivals. Let the visuals support what is said, but don't forget they can undermine the words as well.
  • Take care not to let the viewer get ahead of your meaning or the words become boring. Consider which word reveals the key meaning and decide where that word must go.

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