Course Title: Develop factual narratives

Part B: Course Detail

Teaching Period: Term1 2010

Course Code: COMM5931

Course Title: Develop factual narratives

School: 345T Media and Communication

Campus: City Campus

Program: C6088 - Advanced Diploma of Screenwriting

Course Contact : Brendan Lee

Course Contact Phone: +61 3 9925 4368

Course Contact

Name and Contact Details of All Other Relevant Staff

Brian McKenzie

Building 94, Level 2, Room 6
23-27 Cardigan St, South Carlton 

Nominal Hours: 70

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


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:

VPAU662 Develop factual narratives


1 Develop concept

Performance Criteria:

1.1 A strong, original story is established

1.2 Appropriate market is determined
1.2 A saleable format is chosen
1.3 Necessary research is undertaken
1.4 Intellectual property and other relevant legal issues are clarified and resolved.


2 Develop Treatment

Performance Criteria:

2.1 A treatment of eight to ten pages in length is developed to industry standards, which clearly conveys an original and engaging story

2.2 A one page synopsis is developed which captures the story, the purpose and originality of the project and its potential market.

2.3 Major themes of the proposed documentary are clarified

2.4 Format is used innovatively and creatively

2.5 Potential markets further clarified.
2.6 Developmental stages for project clearly detailed
2.7 Pitch written in accept industry format and with appropriate use of industry terminology
2.8 Visual teasers or pitch tapes developed where needed to enhance proposal


3 Seek Funding

Performance Criteria:

3.1 A finance and marketing strategy is developed including contingencies and risk management plan
3.2 Creative partnerships are clearly identified
3.3 Appropriate investment opportunities identified
3.4 Funding applications written to agency requirements
3.5 Potential distributors are identified

3.6 Next draft notes clearly analyse problems and address future development


4 Write a script

Performance Criteria:

4.1 Rework story after footage is filmed
4.2 Edit interviews to enhance story
4.3 Determine additional footage required
4.4 Write linking narration and/or voice overs that enhance the story
4.5 Work effectively with creative team

Learning Outcomes


Details of Learning Activities

  • Lectures
  • Workshops
  • Screenings
  • Discussion
  • Lab work

Teaching Schedule

Each class will develop specific topics or themes. These relate to the styles and approaches that have developed within the documentary genre and to the various challenges and considerations facing the documentary maker. The Ghoulish Profession considers how documentaries are drawn to trouble., Who’s On First examines artistic collaborations, The Hook considers film openingsetc. Exerpts from films pertinent to these topics will be screened and discussed. For example Darwin’s Nightmare by Hubert Sauper, Demon Lover Diary by Jeff Kreines and Joel DeMott, and To Be and To Have by Nicholas Philibert.

The Interview considers the skillsand techniques used in interviewing. Dennis O’Rourke’s Cunnamulla and Errol Morris’s The Fog of War and and Thin Blue Line demonstrate different approaches.

The War Documentary is the class topic for the week of Anzac day. Program exerpts are from Night and Fog by Alan Renais, The Fog of War by Errol Morris, The Spanish Earth by Joris Ivens and Orders from Above by Nicholas Bethel.

Class topics will include:

  • The Hook - film openings
  • Writing and preparing the documentary
  • As it happens - Cinema Verite
  • Interview techniques
  • The ghoulish profession
  • Basic Camera
  • The War documentary
  • The diarist or personal journey approach
  • Agit Prop - before and after Michael Moore
  • Who’s on first? Artistic collaborations
  • Illuistration, evocationor dramatization. The docudrama.
  • Joris Ivens, Jean Rouch and the ethnographic
  • Biography
  • Endings
  • Reality TV
  • Access and relationships with subjects
  • Reading light qualities
  • Atmosphere and music
  • Quest and conflict
  • Form to content relationship
  • Plot points and story momentum
  • The History documentary
  • Made on a mobile
  • Financing and the professional model
  • The Documentary Poem

    Classes may comprise more than one topic and the order of study may vary according to class progress and resource availability.

Learning Resources

Prescribed Texts


Other Resources

Overview of Assessment

Students will complete a documentary project.

Assessment Tasks

1. Class exercises
Written exercises set in class that may relate to course work and to documentaries viewed and discussed. They may be reviews, autobiographical, narration assignments or responses to current events and issues, and are designed to be completed, read and discussed in class.

2. Personal Project.
One to one contact weekly regarding each student’s preparation and production of a documentary. To be filmed, edited and presented within the time frame and parameters of the one semester documentary course.

Project Specifications:
Any length, filmed in any format with any camera or device (eg mobile tel.) according to what is appropriate and available. Must be edited with a sound track at least in part recorded separately to visual scenes. The project is to be presented in class at a nominated session toward end of term.

3.Class Blog                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        A classroom blog will be set up for the submission of weekly exercises, posting updates and drafts in the preparation of personal projects and also for reflective writing or comments for discussion.

 These assessment tasks are designed for you to demonstrate competency in the required skills and knowledge of this unit.

This unit will also be graded. Your teacher will provide a grading guide for you at the commencement of the course.

Assessment Matrix

VPAU662 Develop factual narratives                                                                                        Class ExercisesPersonal Project
1 Develop concept
2 Develop TreatmentXX
3 Seek Funding XX
4 Write a scriptXX
• Research skills sufficient to undertake literature searches, archival research, electronic searches and case study approaches
• Analytical skills sufficient to evaluate evidence  X
• Narrative skills sufficient to compile meaningful and entertaining narrative structures
• Communication skills sufficient to undertake research interviews  X
• Ability to pitch a proposal to funding bodies or organisations  X
• Legislation governing copyright and ownership of material 
• Legislation governing privacy provisions X 
• Legislation governing the rights of individuals and indigenous groups X 
• Current documentary marketsX 
• Production companies X 
• Networks X 
• Funding sources, including state and federal film funding bodies X 
• Documentary styles and production processes – traditional, factual, reality XX
• Editing techniques XX

Other Information

This is a HANDS ON documentary course focusing on the processes and practicalities of documentary work.  It provides students with an opportunity to make their own documentary film . The individual project focuses on collecting immediate and intimate material, the development of story, theme, the value of access, authenticity and relevance. It encourages the exploration of topics that may arise from the experience of the studnent. However, there are neither pre-requisites nor prescribed approaches to the studnet’s documentary projects, apart form legal and ethical concerns.

Classes provide exercises in craft and technique, develop the individual projects and study significant historical aspects to the development of the documentary as a communication and artistic form. Screenings of documentary works from Lumiere brothers to Michael Moore underpin discussion and written work on documentary genres, production issues and emerging trends.

Course Overview: Access Course Overview