Course Title: Documentary Screenwriting

Part B: Course Detail

Teaching Period: Term1 2007

Course Code: COMM5124

Course Title: Documentary Screenwriting

School: 345T Creative Media

Campus: City Campus

Program: C6045 - Advanced Diploma of Arts Professional Screenwriting (Film,Television and Digital Media)

Course Contact : Professional Screenwriting Administration

Course Contact Phone: +61 3 9925 4368

Course Contact

Name and Contact Details of All Other Relevant Staff

Sally Ingleton
Boris Trbic

Nominal Hours: 136

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

 Pre-requisites: Introduction to Storytelling, Storytelling, Writing for Film and/or Writing for Television

Course Description

 This course develops the skills necessary to write across a range of genres within the documentary film tradition. It also develops the skills needed to produce documentary narratives and funding submissions. 

National Codes, Titles, Elements and Performance Criteria

National Element Code & Title:

VBB503 Documentary Screenwriting

Learning Outcomes

 1. Identify and analyse current types, genres and trends in non-fiction documentary screenwriting in developing a specific project
2. Generate polished concept, synopsis, and treatment documents for documentary film
3. Produce first draft of a documentary screenplay
4. Produce second draft of a documentary script using scene breakdown, mapping and workshop feedback in the development process
5. Produce a documentary proposal for funding.

Details of Learning Activities

Through screenings, discussions, workshopping and lectures, students will identify documentary types and trends, generate polished concept, synopsis and treatments documents for documentary film and produce a documentary proposal for funding

Teaching Schedule

Wk 1: 15 February Introduction and Course Overview
Historical Overview of Documentary Film (1)
Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty, 1922), Berlin: Symphony of a Great City  (Walter Ruttman, 1927), Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl, 1933), Night and Fog (Alain Resnais, 1956).

Wk 2: 22 February     John Grierson, ‘First Principles of Documentary’ and
Bill Nichols, ‘Why are Ethnical Issues Central to Documentary Filmmaking?’
 Historical Overview of Documentary Film (2)
Monterey Pop (D.A. Pennebaker, 1968), Gates of Heaven (Errol Morris, 1978), Waco: The Rules of Engagement (William Gazecki, 1997), Ballets Russes (Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine, 2005).

Wk 3: 1 March    Documentary Modes:
Warren Buckland, ‘The Non-Fiction Film: Five Types of Documentary’
Expository Mode: Drifters (John Grierson), Grierson (Roger Blais, 1973), London Can Take It; Words for Battle (Humphrey Jennings, 1941);  
Reflexive Mode: Land Without Bread (Luis Bunuel), A Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1927)

Wk 4: 8 March     Welcome to the Documentary film industry: An overview of how it works; TV, marketplace, festivals, raising finance. Contemporary voice: How to set up a story: Nerves of Steel, Helen’s War, Welcome 2 My Deaf World, 2 Mums and Dad, Wedding in Ramallah

Wk 5: 15 March     Class papers x 3 students: Contemporary Voice: The Personal Voice/Auteur: Michael Moore, Nick Broomfield, Molly Dineen, Victor Kossavosky, Brian Hill

Wk 6: 22 March     Class papers x 3 students: Writing a proposal – What does it take? Exercise: Write a one-liner & synopsis (5%)

Wk 7: 29 March     Discuss synopsis, director’s statement. Contemporary Voice-Reality TV. Exercise: Write a director’s statement for either Dennis O’Rourke, Nick Broomfield, Morgan Spurlock.

Wk 8: 5 April     Easter Break
Wk 9: 12 April     Discuss director’s statements. Contemporary Voice-Format TV (Survivor, SuperNanny, Wife Swap, Faking It, Who Do You Think You are?) Discuss Treatment

Wk 10: 19 April     Contemporary Voice-Format TV: Class papers re format TV

Wk 11: 26 April     Students present Format TV ideas.

Wk 12: 3 May     Hand in Formats Exercise (15%) Interview techniques: Screening examples from documentary films.

Wk 13: 10 May     The Documentary Interview: Research and Style. Exercise: Conduct an interview and write it up.

Wk 14: 17 May     Performative Mode: The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris, 1988) and The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (Errol Morris, 2003)
Project work and class consultations.

Wk 15: 24 May     Interactive Mode: Nick Broomfield’s The Leader, His Driver and the Driver’s Wife (1991) Kurt & Courtney (1998).
Project work and class consultations.

Wk 16: 31 May     Observational Mode: Don’t Look Back (D.A. Pennebaker, 1968), High School (Frederick Wiseman, 1968), Mission (Bayden Findlay, 2000), Spellbound (Jeffrey Blitz, 2002), Z Channel (Xan Cassavettes, 2005).

Wk 17: 7 June     Guest Lecture

Wk 18: 14 June     Cinema Verite: Cinema Verite: Defining the Moment (Peter Wintonick, 1999), The Back of Beyond (John Heyer, 1954)
Project work and class consultations:

Wk 19: 21 June
    Impressionist Documentaries and Documentary Essays:
Lessons of Darkness (Werner Herzog, 1992) The Last Bolshevik (Chris Marker, 1993), Noon Gun (Anthony Stern, 2002)
Major Essay due (20%). Project work and class consultations.
Semester review. Last class for Semester 1

Wk 20: 12 July
(2nd Semester)     Introduction and overview of Semester Two.
The Heart of Darkness: The Good Woman of Bangkok (Dennis O’Rourke, 1991), Land Mines – A Love Story (Dennis O’Rourke, 2003), Darwin’s Nightmare (Hubert Sauper, 2004)

Wk 21: 19 July    Personal Journey and Postmodern Self-Reflexivity: The Gleaners and I (Agnes Varda, 2004).
Project work and class consultations.

Wk 22: 26 July    Documentaries, Rockumentaries:
This is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984), Original Schtick (Maciej Wszelaki, 1999), DiG! (Ondi Timoner, 2004)
Project work and class consultations.
Discussing the documentary program at the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Wk 23: 2 August    The Anatomy of Social Malaise: The Sorrow and The Pity (Marcel Ophuls, 1974) Grey Gardens (Elen Hovde and Albert Maysles, 1975), Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki, 2003), La Sierra (Scott Dalton, Margarita Martinez, 2003), Born Into Brothels (Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski, 2004)
Interview Transcript due (10%).

Wk 24: 9 August    Guest Lecture:

Wk 25: 16 August    Guest Lecture

Wk 26: 23 August    Dissecting Corporate and Media Power: In the Year of the Pig (Emile de Antonio, 1967), Harlan County USA (Barbara Kopple, 1976), Control Room (Jehane Noujam, 2004), Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, (Alex Gibney, 2005), The Corporation (Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbot, 2003)

Wk 27: 30 August    Intimate Portraits:
Eternity (Lawrence Johnston, 1994); Autumn Leaves (Bayden Findlay, 1999)
Project work and class consultations.

Wk 28: 6 September    Guest Lecture

Wk 29: 13 September    Guest Lecture

Wk 30: 20 September    Contemporary Australian Documentaries:
Chasing Buddha  (Amiel Courtin-Wilson, 2000)
In the Shadow of the Palms (Wayne Colles-Janess, 2006)
Just Punishment (Shannon Owen & Kim Blemish, 2006)
Project work and class consultations.

Wk 31: 27 September    TAFE Holiday

Wk 32: 4 October    Project work and class consultations: Developing a documentary proposal submission for funding. (Sally Ingleton)

WK33: 11 October    Project work and class consultations: Developing a documentary proposal submission for funding. (Sally Ingleton)

WK 34: 18 October    Project work and class consultations: Developing a documentary proposal submission for funding. (Sally Ingleton)

WK 35: 27 October    Project work and class consultations: Developing a documentary proposal submission for funding. (Sally Ingleton)

WK 36: 1 November    Project work and class consultations: Developing a documentary proposal submission for funding. (Boris Trbic)

WK 37: 8 November    Project work and class consultations: Developing a documentary proposal submission for funding. (Boris Trbic)

Wk 38: 15 November    Documentary proposal submission due (30%). Semester Review.

Learning Resources

Prescribed Texts


Other Resources

 Suggested reading material will be provided in class by teacher.
Handouts provided in class by teacher
Internet access through RMIT Library
Final Draft program on several computers in RMIT Carlton Library and Main Library
Publications & dvds/videos through RMIT Library, community libraries, video libraries and other sources

Overview of Assessment

 Assessment for this course includes:
- Major Essay (1500 – 2000 words)                            
- Synopsis
- Conception and Presentation of a format series         
- Interview: Transcript & Edit
- Ongoing written proposal for a documentary
- Class participation and presentation    

Assessment Tasks

Semester 1

Major Essay (1500 – 2000 words) 20%                            
Synopsis 5%
Conception and Presentation of a format series  15%         
Class exercises 10%                 

Semester 2

Interview: Transcript & Edit 10%
Ongoing written proposal for a documentary 30%
Class exercises 10%                 

Details of assignments to be provided separately.

Assessment Matrix


Course Overview: Access Course Overview