Course Title: Write documentary scripts

Part B: Course Detail

Teaching Period: Term1 2014

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:

1.1 A strong, original concept is established for the proposed documentary
 1.2 Appropriate market is determined
 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 which clearly conveys an original and engaging story is developed to industry standards
 2.2 A synopsis which captures the story, the purpose and originality of the project and its potential market is developed
 2.3 Major themes of the proposed documentary are clarified
 2.4 Format is used innovatively and creatively
 2.5 Potential markets are further clarified
 2.6 Developmental stages for project are clearly detailed
 2.7 Pitch is presented in accepted industry format and with appropriate use of industry terminology
 2.8 Visual teasers or pitch tapes are 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 are identified
 3.4 Funding applications are written to agency requirements
 3.5 Potential distributors are identified


4. Write a pre-shoot script

Performance Criteria:

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


5. Develop post-shoot materials

Performance Criteria:

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

 Introduction to the course - production mixed with history and ideas, and problems associated with documentary production. 

2Pitch. Research. Proposal.Formative assessment 1: individual presentations to class1, 2
3Style unpacked and the Murakami exercise. Watch 3 docs varying in style and discuss and make list of elements and techniques.
The Gleaners and I; Demon Lover Diary; Touching the Void. 
4Style unpacked and the Murakami exercise (cont). 1,2,4
5History of documentary condensed 1,2
6Practical interviewing exercise

Formative assessment 2: The interview exercise
Summative assessment 1: Project Proposal

1,2, 4
7 Practical interviewing exerciseFormative assessment 2: The interview Exercise. 1,2,4
Basic Camera operation (1)
Formative assessment 3: Basic Camera techniques  1, 2, 4, 5

Basic Camera operation (2)


Formative assessment 3: Basic Camera techniques 1,2,4, 5

The Hook - film openings. 

  1, 2, 4, 5
 Mid semester break from Friday 18 April to Friday 25 April inclusive  

 Documentary meets drama

12 Contemporary documentary  1,2,4
13Final cut tutorial  1,2,4
14Presentation of raw material.
Final cut. Continue screenings.
Summative Assessment 2: Raw Footage and Report 1, 2, 4, 5
15Presentation of raw material.
Final cut. Continue screenings.

Summative Assessment 2: Raw Footage and Report

 1, 2, 4, 5
16Presentation of raw material.
Final cut. Continue screenings.

Summative Assessment 2: Raw Footage and Progressive Report 

 1, 2, 4, 5
  Semester Break - June 10 to July 6 (inclusive)  
Sem 2 WeekClass ContentAssessment 
1 Final Cut Pro Editing  1,2,4, 5
2 Final Cut Pro Editing  1, 2,4, 5
3The paper edit. Look at selected scenes and provide a paper edit.  1, 2, 4
4 Film endings.  1, 2,4, 5
5Professional documentary prod. Guest lecture  1, 2, 4, 5
6 Rough cut presentationsFormative Assessment 4: Rough cut presentations (through to week 12) 1, 2, 4, 5
7 Rough cut presentationsFormative Assessment 5: Presentation of favourite documentary (through to week 14)  1, 2, 4, 5
8Rough cut presentations
Music and atmosphere in film
Formative Assessment 5: Presentation of favourite documentary (through to week 14) 1, 2, 4, 5
9Rough cut presentations  1, 2, 4, 5
10Rough cut presentations  1, 2, 4, 5
11Rough cut presentations)  1, 2, 4, 5
 Mid Semester Break - Sept 22 to Oct 3 (inclusive)  
12Rough cut presentations  1, 2, 4, 5
13Individual consultation as required  1, 2, 4, 5
14Individual consultation as required  1, 2, 3, 4, 5
15Individual consultation as required            1, 2, 3, 4, 5
16Final presentationsSummative Assessment 2: Presentation of completed project 1, 2, 3, 4, 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:
Task 1. Pitch

DUE: Week 2
Deliver a 3-minute presentation to the class relaying the idea or topic of the documentary you plan to make (who/what), themes to be explored (why) and approach (how).
Note: this assessment will form the basis for the first summative task.

Task 2. Interview techniques
DUE: Weeks 6 and 7
You will have an opportunity in class to practice interviewing and will receive feedback on your interviewing techniques.

Task 3. Basic camera skills: the grammar of cinema
DUE: Weeks 8 and 9
You will have an opportunity in class to practice basic camera operation and will receive feedback from your teacher.

Note: formative assessment tasks 2 and 3 will form the basis for the second summative assessment.

Summative Assessment:

Task 1. Documentary proposal
DUE: Week 6
Submit the final draft of a written proposal/script for a documentary. Drafts will have been developed and reviewed during the semester.
The proposal should include:

  • The goals and themes of the proposed documentary
  • Research notes on engagement with the subject and details about arrangements for persons appearing - protocols and permissions
  • Production plans regarding permissions, schedules, locations, crew, schedule and equipment
  • Treatment, which includes story structure and style elements
  • Approach to interviews and/or narration
  • If material toward the documentary has been collected the proposal should review that work and provide an approach to the next stage 

Task 2. Presentation on individual project development
DUE: Weeks 14, 15 and 16
Prepare and deliver a 15-20 minute presentation to the class:

  • selected raw footage of the interviews you’ve done - this will demonstrate both camera and audio skills, together with appropriate interview techniques, as required
  • a clear description of your project’s topic
  • an assessment of the work to date
  • plans for the edit and post stages of the production

You will be assessed by observation.

Formative Assessments:

Task 4. Rough cut presentations
DUE: Weeks 6-12
This will be an opportunity for you to present a rough cut of your documentary, and to identify current strengths and weaknesses, and strategies for further development.

Task 5. Favourite doco. presentations
DUE: Weeks 8-14
In class you will present segments of your favourite documentary, and explain what it is that inspires you about this production. It will provide you with the opportunity to articulate responses to form and theme, and will form the basis for the final summative report on your own project.

Summative Assessments:
Task 3. Presentation of completed project on DVD, and written critical review, including report on financing and professional landscape
DUE: Week 16

A. Completed project on DVD
DVDs will be screened in class and submitted for assessment to your teacher. You will be assessed on whether:

  • the production’s outcome meets the ideas and objectives as stated in the proposal
  • the production demonstrates competence with Final Cut
  • music, atmosphere and narration effectively serves the needs of the production.

B. Written critical review (1000 words)
Write a 1000-word critical review, to be submitted to your teacher along with the completed DVD.

This review will:

  • briefly describe the story of the documentary
  • briefly describe the production process
  • assess the strengths and weaknesses of the project, including the selection of viewpoints and the working relationship between the documenter and the subject (s)
  • reflect on what you have learned
  • identify potential finance for further development of documentary and
  • identify potential markets for documentary

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 you attend all sessions in order to engage in the required learning activities, ensuring the maximum opportunity to gain the competency

Cover Sheet for Submissions
You must complete a submission cover sheet for every piece of submitted work. This signed sheet acknowledges that you are aware of the plagiarism implications.

You will receive spoken and written feedback from teachers on your work. Where appropriate, this feedback will also includes suggestions on how you can proceed to the next stage of developing your projects.

Student Progress
Monitoring academic progress is an important enabling and proactive strategy to assist you to achieve your learning potential. More about the student progress policy is available on the RMIT website.

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. You can apply in writing for up to a week’s extension from your course teacher. If you need a longer extension, you wil need to apply for special consideration. Special consideration, appeals and discipline

Academic Integrity and Plagiarism
RMIT University has a strict policy on plagiarism and academic integrity. Please refer to the website for more information on this policy.

Work Placement
It is a requirement of this program that all students participate in authentic work related tasks. These may be either simulated or in a real work environment. On occasion, we are approached by industry and given opportunities for students to apply for short term placements. When these placement opportunities arise, students are required to negotiate the specific details with the relevant program coordinator or teacher. All industry placements require students, RMIT staff and host organisations to sign a written agreement prior to the commencement of the placement.

Course Overview: Access Course Overview