Course Title: Write documentary scripts

Part B: Course Detail

Teaching Period: Term1 2017

Course Code: COMM7322

Course Title: Write documentary scripts

School: 345T Media and Communication

Campus: City Campus

Program: C6125 - Advanced Diploma of Professional Screenwriting

Course Contact: Program Administration

Course Contact Phone: +61 3 9925 4815

Course Contact Email:

Name and Contact Details of All Other Relevant Staff

Teacher: Brian McKenzie 

Nominal Hours: 140

Regardless of the mode of delivery, represent a guide to the relative teaching time and student effort required to successfully achieve a particular competency/module. This may include not only scheduled classes or workplace visits but also the amount of effort required to undertake, evaluate and complete all assessment requirements, including any non-classroom activities.

Pre-requisites and Co-requisites

Required Prior Study

Delivery of this course at RMIT requires you to have completed all first year courses.

Course Description

This course involves stimulated and critical engagement with the form of communication known as documentary. It looks at the skills and knowledge required to write the documents and scripts and develop factual narrative - including documentary film or series. It identifies and analyses current types, genres and trends in non fiction documentary screenwriting in establishing a specific project.

National Codes, Titles, Elements and Performance Criteria

National Element Code & Title:

ASWDOC609A Write documentary scripts


1. Develop concept

Performance Criteria:

1.1 A common vision for the project is developed and agreed upon

by the creative team

1.2 An approach to writing is agreed upon

1.3 Roles are clarified and agreed upon

1.4 Fees are negotiated and agreed upon

1.5 Where appropriate, contracts are drawn up and signed


2. Develop treatment

Performance Criteria:

2.1 The script is examined for problems related to premise, story,

structure, theme, character and genre.

2.2 Marketing issues are clarified.

2.3 Agreement on required changes is reached


3. Seek funding

Performance Criteria:

3.1 An appropriate methodology is negotiated

3.2 Changes for next draft are prioritised

3.3 Clear, workable script notes are written up, a rewriting

schedule drawn up and deadlines set


4. Write a pre-shoot script

Performance Criteria:

4.1 Disagreements are aired openly and appropriately and effective

compromises sought

4.2 Suitable compromises are found where necessary


5. Develop post-shoot materials

Performance Criteria:

5.1 Rewrite incorporates agreed solutions

5.2 Rewrite deadlines are met

5.3 Rewriting process is reviewed by team

5.4 New draft is assessed by team

5.5 Next stage of development is agreed upon

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this course, you will be able to develop a factual narrative into the first draft of a documentary film or series.

Details of Learning Activities

Examples of learning activities:

  • class exercises – both written and practical
  • practical demonstrations
  • discussion regarding relevant web site and reading material
  • film viewing and analysis
  • group projects
  • guest presentations
  • research
  • independent project based work
  • workshopping of student projects including peer/lecturer feedback.

Please note: the screening schedule of films listed below is subject to adjustment. 


Teaching Schedule

Sem 1


Class  Content                                                                                                



Course introduction, assessment briefs, historical overview - highlights & key moments. Documentary techniques - examples of contrasting style. Demon Lover Diary, Touching the Void, Thin Blue Line, Chicken Ranch.



Haruki Murakami’s ‘Underground’ – exercise on research and approach. Lumiere Bros and the first documentaries. Discuss individual projects – ideas and the pitch.

Assessment task 1


Outcome of the Underground exercise. Discuss projects and pitching. Nanook of the North

Assessment task 1


Dziga Vertov & early experimentation. Pitch practice – writing and presentation



Pitching may be held this week.

Camera workshop 1. Demonstrate cine camera & digital cameras. Light and the trick of the eye. Project 16mm film. Islomania, Winter’s Harvest or Waves.



Pitching project ideas

Assessment task 2


Camera workshop 2. The lens - focal length, focus. Iris.



Project consultation – draft proposals. Treatment writing. The interview - Errol Morris and others. Tabloid.



Interview exercise.



Interview exercise cont. Radio mikes. Proposals due.

Assessment task 3


Mid-semester break: no classes from Friday 14 April to Friday 21 April inclusive.



No class on Tuesday 25 April due to Anzac Day



Night Mail, The War Game. Documentary as propaganda.



Camera workshop 3. Coverage and Composition – camera style.



Relations with subjects. To be and to Have. Darwin’s Nightmare. Amy.



Project consultation. Agnes Varda and personal diary – The Gleaners and I.



Story strategies. The hook. Thwarted ambition. The dénouement. Salesman - The Maysles.



Semester Break - There will be no classes from Monday June 5 through to Friday 30 June inclusive


Sem 2 Week

Class Content



Searching for Sugarman. Finding Vivian Maier.

Project consultation & review filmed scenes.



Edit program tutorial with Alex Joseski. Review filmed scenes.



Begin rough-cut presentations. Narration. Screen Jaguar.

Assessment task 4 


Last Train Home. Rough cut presentations cont.

Assessment task 4 


Finance and Marketing tutorial. R/Cut presentations cont.

Assessment task 4 


Rough cut presentations – finals. With Alex Joseski.

Assessment task 4


Atmosphere and music. Robinsons of Mantsinsaari. Tosca’s Kiss.



Thesis and campaign documentaries. Michael Moore & others. Review edits.



Review edits. Music & narration. Alex Joseski.



Documentary meets drama 1. The Italian neo realists. Bicycle Thieves.



Documentary meets drama 2. Dardenne Bros. The Kid with the Bike. Mike Broomfield. Ghosts. La Pivellina.



Mid-semester break: no classes between Monday 19 September and Friday 29 September inclusive.



Review edits. Narration, music, grading, titles with Alex Joseski.



Finance and the agencies. Last Train Home. Fine cuts reviewed.



Fine cuts presented.




Assessment task 5







Learning Resources

Prescribed Texts


Additional references are provided throughout the course. In addition to hard copy handouts, some material is made available on Blackboard, or can be accessed via the web. Recommended books will be discussed in class. 

Other Resources

 A limited number of cameras will be available for student use in class and outside RMIT for filming.

Overview of Assessment

Assessment for this course is ongoing throughout the semester. Your knowledge and understanding of course content is assessed through participation in class exercises, oral presentations and through the application of learned skills and insights to your writing tasks, practical exercises and your documentary project.

Assessment Tasks

To demonstrate competency in this course you will need to complete the following assessment to a satisfactory standard. You will receive feedback on all assessment (refer to Blackboard for assessment criteria).

There are four assessments for this course.

Assessment Task 1: Style and approach. Write a short outline for a documentary based on Murakami’s interviews regarding the attack on the Tokyo underground. Present to class and field feedback. Due date: Week 2 and 3, Tuesday 14 and 21 February.

Assessment Task 2: Pitch a concept for a documentary portrait of someone you know. Include a description of the subject, reference to underlying themes and indicate the stylistic approach you will take. The class will discuss each presentation and provide feedback for the projects development. The pitch is submitted in writing. Due date: Week 6, Tuesday 14 March.

Assessment Task 3: Submit a written production proposal. It should include a treatment, brief synopsis, background details or research notes, production schedule and a signed release from the subject, Due date: Week 10, Tuesday 11 April.

Assessment Task 4: Present a rough-cut edit. Due date: Sem 2 weeks 3–6 (Tuesday 18, 25 July, 1, 8 August).

Assessment Task 5: Present a completed film – duration 5–15 min. Due date: Sem 2 Week 15, Tuesday 24 October.

Once you have demonstrated competency, your final assessment task will be graded (refer to Blackboard for grading rubric).

HD Competent with High Distinction
CDI Competent with Distinction
CC Competent with Credit
CAG Competency Achieved - Graded
NYC Not Yet Competent
DNS Did Not Submit for Assessment

For further information on the assessment and grading criteria, please refer to the course blackboard site.

Assessment Matrix

The assessment matrix demonstrates alignment of assessment tasks with the relevant Unit of Competency. These are available through the course contact in Program administration.

Other Information

Other information
Please refer to the RMIT student page for extensive information about study support, assessment, extensions, appeals and a range of other matters:

How to submit work
Your assessment brief will specify how you should submit your work – as hard copy, digital copy or electronically through Blackboard. When you submit your work, you must include a declaration of authorship.

For submissions on Blackboard, you need to agree to an assessment declaration when you submit.

For all other submissions, you must complete and sign a submission cover sheet for every piece of submitted work.;ID=x3ddsmsrwa1hz

Your learning experience will involve class-based teaching, discussion, demonstration and practical exercises. We strongly advise that you attend all timetabled sessions. This will allow you to engage in the required learning activities, ensuring you the maximum opportunity to complete this course successfully.

We request that you speak to your teacher if regular attendance becomes difficult.

Assessment feedback
You will receive spoken and written feedback on all your work.  Where relevant, this feedback will also include suggestions on how you can proceed to the next stage of developing your projects.;ID=qwxbqbg739rl1

Student progress
Monitoring academic progress is helps us to assist you in achieving your learning potential.

Adjustments to assessment
If you are unable to complete any piece of assessment satisfactorily by the due date, you can choose to apply for an adjustment to your assessment. RMIT University offers a range of adjustments designed to support you in your studies, including an extension of time to complete the assessment.;ID=kehn9bz22r41

Academic integrity and plagiarism
Academic integrity is about the honest presentation of work that is your own. RMIT University has a clear policy on plagiarism (see web page for more detail).

Credit Transfer and Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL)
Credit Transfer is the recognition of previously completed formal learning (an officially accredited qualification).

Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is an assessment process that allows you to demonstrate competence using the skills you have gained through experience in the workplace, voluntary work, informal or formal training or other life experiences.

Recognition of Current Competency (RCC) applies only if you have previously successfully demonstrated competence in a unit of competency, and now require to be reassessed to ensure that the competence is being maintained.

Please speak to your teacher if you wish to discuss applying for Credit Transfer, RPL, or RCC for the unit(s) of competency addressed in this course.

Course Overview: Access Course Overview