Course Title: Write documentary scripts

Part B: Course Detail

Teaching Period: Term1 2013

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

Name and Contact Details of All Other Relevant Staff

Teacher: Mr 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:

1.1A strong, original concept is established for the proposed documentary
1.2Appropriate market is determined
1.3Necessary research is undertaken
1.4Intellectual property and other relevant legal issues are clarified and resolved


2. Develop treatment

Performance Criteria:

2.1A treatment which clearly conveys an original and engaging story is developed to industry standards
2.2A synopsis which captures the story, the purpose and originality of the project and its potential market is developed
2.3Major themes of the proposed documentary are clarified
2.4Format is used innovatively and creatively
2.5Potential markets are further clarified
2.6Developmental stages for project are clearly detailed
2.7Pitch is presented in accepted industry format and with appropriate use of industry terminology
2.8Visual teasers or pitch tapes are developed where needed to enhance proposal


3. Seek funding

Performance Criteria:

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


4. Write a pre-shoot script

Performance Criteria:

4.1Locations and viable shooting sequence are determined
4.2Permissions are obtained
4.3Visuals are delineated using appropriate terminology
4.4Appropriate sound is determined
4.5Draft narration is developed


5. Develop post-shoot materials

Performance Criteria:

5.1Footage is filmed and story reworked
5.2Interviews are edited to enhance story
5.3Additional footage requirements are determined
5.4Footage is edited to meet requirements of reworked story
5.5Linking narration and sound elements are refined to enhance the story
5.6Work is undertaken effectively with the creative team

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

 1. In-class activities:

  • lectures
  • practical demonstration
  • industry speakers
  • teacher directed group activities/projects
  • peer teaching and class presentations
  • group discussion
  • class exercises to review discussions/lectures

2. Out-of-class activities:

  • independent project based work
  • online and other research

Teaching Schedule

Sem 1. Week    

Class  Content                                                                                                

Assessment              Elements
1Introduction and explanation of course content and assessment. Demonstration and discussion of student documentaries from previous year.


2The Pitch. Review project ideas. Film openings – the hook. 1, 2
3 Demonstration and practice of camera controls.

Ass 2: Camera Controls.  Ex.1.

4 Style and Approach. The Murakami Underground exercise. 1,2,4
5 Developing the written proposal. The Research phase. 1,2
6 The Interview. Films of Errol Morris 1,2, 4
7 The Interview Demonstration and practice of wireless microphones.  Ass 3:The Interview – wireless microphones. Ex.2. 1,2,4
  Mid-semester break April 1 to April 5 (inclusive)  
The beginning of Documentary – Lumiere, Flaherty, Grierson and Vertov...

Cinema Verite. How to observe. How to find the story. 

Exposure and lighting. Shooting interior group scene.

 Ass 4: Exposure and lighting. Ex.3 1,2,4

 The Diarist / Personal Journey films


12 Documentary meets drama – Rouch, Watkins, Broomfield.  1,2,4
13 Agit prop - before and after Mike Moore. Social purpose.  1,2,4
14 The social realists – Bicycle Thieves to the Dardenne Bros. 1, 2,4
15 Packaging For Television and other platforms or markets. Reality T.V. and high concept factual.

Ass 7:Progress report due. (Summative assessment)

16 Review of and feedback on collected material.
Ass 5:  Review of  collected material #1 4
  Semester Break - June 10 to July 6 (inclusive)  
Sem 2 WeekClass ContentAssessment 
1 Mystery and Courtroom drama  1,2,4
2 Review of collected material. 2 Ass 1: Review of collected material #2 2,4
3 Editing. Working with Final Cut Pro Ass 2: Final Cut Pro  technique Ex 1. 2,4
4 New approaches: format, technique and platform.  2,4
5  Editing. Working with Final Cut Pro (cont.)Ass 3: Final Cut Pro  technique Ex 2. 5
6 The business of Documentary. Production finance. Broadcasters, exhibition and festivals.  3
7 Music and Atmosphere in film.  5
8 The paper edit - story threads.  
9 Rough Cut progress  5
10 Rough cut screenings and review Ass 4: Review of Rough cut screenings 5
11 Rough cut screenings and review (cont) Ass 4: Review of Rough cut screenings (cont) 5
  Mid Semester Break - Sept 23 to Oct 4 (inclusive)  
12 Fine cut editing  5
13 Fine cut editing  5
14 Fine cut screenings and review 1 Ass 5: Review of FIne cut screenings 5
15 Project appraisal due. Fine cut screenings and review 2

 Ass 5: Review of Fine cut screenings (cont)

Ass 6: Post productio appraisal due

16 Final presentations. Ass. 6: Completed film due 3,5

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. You are advised to visit Blackboard for ongoing updated information

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

 Assessment tasks in this course are either formative or summative. Formative tasks provide the basis for ongoing feedback and can be considered essential building blocks for the more substantial summative assessment tasks. Summative assessment tasks in this unit are graded.


Formative Assessment

Assessment 1: Individual consultation with teacher around your project (On date to be negotiated with teacher)

Assessment 2: Camera exercise #1- Camera controls Due: Week 3 - Feb 28

Assessment 3: Camera exercise #2 - Wireless microphones Due: Week 7 - March 28

Assessment 4: Camera exercise #3 - Exposure and lighting Due:Week 9 - April 18

Assessment 5: Review of collected material#1 Due: Week 16 - June 6


Summative Assessment

Assessment 6: Progress report. Due: Week 15 - May 30
A final draft of a written proposal/script for a documentary. Drafts will have been developed and reviewed during the semester.

Proposal should include:

  • Discussion of the goals and themes of the proposed documentary.
  • Research notes on engagement with the subject and details re arrangements for persons appearing - protocols and permissions.
  • Production plans regarding locations, crew, schedule and equipment.
  • Creative notes: style & the visual approach, the use of music, archival materials etc.
  • Approach to Interviews and/or narration.

If material toward the documentary has been collected the report should review that work and provide an approach to the next stage.



Formative Assessment

Assessment 1: Review of collected material #2 Due: Week 2 - July 18

Assessment 2: - Final Cut Pro technique Ex 1. Due: Week 3 - July 25

Assessment 3: Final Cut Pro technique Ex 2. Due: Week 5 - August 8

Assessment 4: Ass 4: Review of Rough cut screenings Due: Weeks 10 and 11 - Sept 13 and 20

Assessment 5: Ass 4: Review of FIne cut screenings Due: Weeks 14 and 15 - Oct 24 and 31


Summative Assessment

Assessment 6:  Completed film and post production appraisal: Due Weeks 15 and 16 - Oct 31 and Nov 7.

  • Post production appraisal (Due Oct 31) This appraisal should include a written review of the story contained in the documentary and consideration of how successfully themes and issues emerge. it will also include a review of working relations with persons appearing and a reflection of what you have learned throughout the process.
  • The completed film presented by the director/s. Delivery on DVD. (Due Nov 7)


Grades used in this unit are as follows:

•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

The major learning experience involves studio based exercises, demonstration and production. It is strongly advised that students attend all sessions in order to engage in the required learning activities, ensuring the maximum opportunity to gain the competency.

Cover Sheet for Submissions
All students must complete a submission cover sheet for each piece of submitted work.

Plagiarism - RMIT has a strict policy on plagiarism. For more information on this policy go to Academic Integrity


All students have access to the myRMIT copyright shell. The myRMIT copyright shell contains information on copyright, plus also examples on how to use copyright works as part of your projects and assignments.

Special consideration Policy (Late Submission)
All assessment tasks are required to be completed to a satisfactory level. If you are unable to complete any piece of assessment by the due date, you will need to apply for an extension. Please refer to the following URL for extensions and special consideration:

Student Progress Committee
This committee promotes the early identification of students who are not achieving acceptable academic performance. The committee provides identified students with assistance and seeks to ensure such students are aware of the range of support services available to them at the University. Student Progress Committee (SPC)

Student Feedback

Students are offered opportunities to provide feedback through a variety of mechanisms including online surveys conducted at the end of each course or semester, student complaints and Student Staff Consultative Committees

Course Overview: Access Course Overview