Documentary script templates: Guidelines for writing effectively (2022)

A script template is a structure that defines how the visual, aural, behavioral, and lingual elements of a documentary, video, movie or drama will appear in the post-production stage.

A good template extends an outline that paints a picture of how the final product will look like. Hence, you can prepare, arrange, and proceed with your documentary project.

If you’ve found this blog post because you’re searching for tips on how to prepare a template or shot list for your documentary project, you’ve come to the right place.

Here is our quick guide on how to write a documentary script and script templates to help you.

Documentary script templates: Guidelines for writing effectively (1)

1How Do You Write a Script for a Documentary?

(Video) Writing Documentary Scripts | Screen writing Tips For Filmmakers

2Do Documentaries Need a Script?

3Does Microsoft Word Have a Script Template?

4What Are the 5 Elements of a Documentary?

4.1Narration

4.2Interviews

4.3Live Location Shots

(Video) If You Can't Answer These 6 Questions You Don't Have A Story - Glenn Gers

4.4Music and Sound

4.5Graphics

5Conclusion

How Do You Write a Script for a Documentary?

When writing a script, think of it as a guide and prepare to slice, dice, and modify it during your video editing process. A lot of things tend to change during this process. Some scenes and quotes that didn’t seem important during the scripting process may become significant during editing.

There’s no perfect formula when it comes to writing a script for your documentary or film. Just start writing the script and find what works for your story.

Below are some few key points on how to write the perfect script templates for your documentary:

  1. Research: Before you start writing your script or outline, ensure you dig deeper into every important detail. This way, you’ll be able to come up with the best documentary idea.
  2. Prepare a list: Make a list of potential interviews, characters, drama, and basic storylines.
  3. Prepare a shooting script or outline: When preparing a documentary, you can’t have a script until after the video footage has been shot. That’s the only time you’ll be able to piece the story together based on your discovery. However, making a template, outline or shot list in advance will help point you in the right direction.
  4. Be creative: You need to come up with unique and creative ways to spice up your documentary and wow your audience. A great script will include special elements like shot list, time-lapse, stop motion, recreations, background music, and even animation. Documentaries deal with real people and real issues that touch them. Therefore, your script should capture your viewers emotionally.
  5. Decide the style you want: Decide the style, look, and feel of your documentary. You can search for web videos online to get inspiration for your documentary. Netflix is a great place to start.
  6. Get funding for your project: You need to raise enough funds for your documentary. Luckily, due to advancements in technology, you can get multiple resources on the internet. These will help you produce a high-quality documentary on a budget. You can also get funding from like-minded individuals, nonprofit organizations, companies, etc.
  7. State your point of view: Sometimes it may seem hard to present facts and opinions without been biased. As a director or producer, you need to be flexible enough to allow the story to unfold. Even if it will take a different direction than you expected. Deciding in advance what you want your documentary to transmit, can only bear fruits if you present the message to your audience with clarity. This will compel your viewer to connect with your project. Whether they agree or disagree.
  8. Create mini-scenes: Divide your video footage into mini-scenes. That way, your documentary will have interesting mini-stories.
  9. Evaluate the big picture: After reviewing your video footage, you’ll notice that new characters and plots have surfaced. Include them in a way that will make your documentary worthwhile.
  10. Transcribe your video footage: It may be a tedious and difficult task, but worth the effort.
  11. Hero and villain: Determine the heroes and villains in your story.
  12. Create a Roller coaster: Decide on the kind of ride you want to take your audience on.
  13. Start strong: This will help grab your audience’s interest and hook them during the early stages. Creating curiosity and suspense will compel your viewers to continue watching your documentary until the very end.
  14. Making documentary script templates: You can make your script using a 2-column script template. One column for video and the other one for audio.

Do Documentaries Need a Script?

Naturally, all documentaries are unscripted. Since you cannot fully predict how the events will turn out in your documentary, you cannot write your script beforehand. You will only be able to prepare your documentary script template after collecting interviews, research, and data. After the footage has been shot and you have gathered all the facts and materials, you can now sit down and write your script and narration.

A script template will help you create an exciting story from your raw footage. After examining all the raw video footage, you will be able to come up with a good outline for your documentary script template. It may seem daunting at first but as you arrange the clips into sequences, the big picture will begin to unfold and you’ll be able to tell your story the way you want it.

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Does Microsoft Word Have a Script Template?

The answer is a resounding yes. You can create documentary script templates on Microsoft Word. However, setting up everything correctly with MS Word is not going to be easy. This is because you’re trying to create your new own scriptwriting program.

Microsoft Word is a very sophisticated program and if you have mastered its advanced features, you can set it up to do many tasks using macros, hotkeys, templates, and other methods. With MS Word, there’s no need for buying scriptwriting software which can cost you hundreds of dollars.

Microsoft Word is one of the most powerful programs and can be used to make professional script templates. You can use macros or create your own custom style and formatting options. MS Word will enable you to produce great script templates for your new documentary or film in no time.

What Are the 5 Elements of a Documentary?

Making a high-quality documentary film requires a lot of planning, preparation, and incorporating all elements of a good documentary.

Below are the 5 elements you need to make a good documentary film:

Narration

Narration is the inclusion of a voice over (narrator’s voice) in a documentary in order to help the audience understand what is happening in the documentary. It also provides them with relevant information. Sometimes the Narrator can be visible on the screen. A good documentary narration should have a clear and logical structure to help the viewer to fully understand the subject.

Interviews

Interviews should be included in order to provide eyewitness statements, expert knowledge, and context to the documentary. However, you need to edit the interviews so that the interviewees’ statements can fit into the logical structure of the narrative of your documentary.

Live Location Shots

Location shots are sometimes included at the beginning to provide a setting for your narrative. They are very important especially when discussing or showing where particular events took place. If it’s a historical event, you can use computer-generated reconstructions to paint a picture in the viewer’s mind of how the location looked like.

Music and Sound

Music and sound are integral parts of many sections of documentaries. They add drama, emotional tone, suspense, and generate a sense of irony to documentary films.

Graphics

Graphics are visual scenes that appear on the screen but in the actual sense were not filmed. They are widely used in the opening titles, subtitles, translated text, credits, etc. Computer-generated graphics are often used to create images of ancient buildings, extinct animals, and nonexistent objects. You can also use graphics to explain ideas in a visual diagrammatic form.

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Conclusion

Next time when making your documentary script template, know that it’s nothing more than just a well-written description of what you expect your audience to see, hear, and experience on the screen. Good documentary script templates should be able to capture the targeted audience’s imagination.

(Video) LEADERSHIP LAB: The Craft of Writing Effectively

If you are writing a script for the first time, the templates above will assist you in the whole process. This guide was expertly designed to help you come up with a great template for your next project.

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Shabbir has always loved photography. It's been a passion of his for the last 20 years, and he's never looked back since starting with film SLR cameras. These days, he prefers to use a Canon mirrorless camera, and his current favorite is the EOS M50. He loves how versatile it is and how easy it is to carry around.

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    FAQs

    What are the standard guidelines in making documentary? ›

    10 Steps on How to Make a Documentary
    • Conceptualize Your Topic and Find the Story. ...
    • Select Essential Camera Equipment for Making Documentary. ...
    • Plan The Production and Story Structure. ...
    • Create a Budget. ...
    • Make a Shot List. ...
    • Secure Legal and Copyright Permits. ...
    • Schedule the Shoot. ...
    • Start Shooting.
    13 Apr 2021

    What is the format of a documentary script? ›

    As the name implies, documentary scripts are generally long-form. They contain anything from roughly 300 words (2 minutes when read at a normal pace) to 7500 words (50 minutes when read at a normal pace for a TV documentary). Documentary voice over scripts are mostly written with video in mind.

    What are the 6 modes of documentary? ›

    Nichols (1991, 2017) identifies six modes of representation in documentary films. They are the expository, participatory, observational, performative, reflexive and poetic modes.

    Why are scripts important in documentaries? ›

    A script is just as vital for a simple video, shot on a minimal budget, as it is for a feature length documentary. Having a script in hand, with every shot and every action planned out in advance, allows the video to be shot relatively quickly, saving on expense.

    What are the key features of a documentary? ›

    Characteristics documentaries have in common that are distinct from other film types (especially from the fiction film) can be thought of in terms of: 1)subjects; 2) purposes, points of view, or approaches; 3) forms; 4) production methods and techniques: and 5) the sorts of' experiences they offer audiences.

    What makes a successful documentary? ›

    A good documentary shows people from a different perspective than they're used to seeing in the media. It opens people's minds and hearts to the struggles of other people in the world. It makes people question the way things are and the way they should be.

    What are the 8 elements of script writing? ›

    The elements for a script are:
    • Scene Heading.
    • Action.
    • Character Name.
    • Dialogue.
    • Parenthetical.
    • Extensions.
    • Transition.
    • Shot.

    What are the principles of script writing? ›

    They are:
    • Plot = Structure.
    • Concept = Hook.
    • Character = Function.
    • Style = Voice.
    • Dialogue = Purpose.
    • Scene = Point.
    • Theme = Meaning.
    • Time = Present.

    How do you structure a script? ›

    The classic structure is to divide a screenplay into three acts: the set-up, conflict, and resolution. Countless stories adhere to this format, and there's a reason why it has been the go-to structure for films pretty much since cinematography began.

    How long should documentaries be? ›

    In documentary filmmaking, runtimes are all over the place. With narrative films, feature-length flicks last around two hours and short films last around 10 minutes. However, with documentaries the variation is much larger. Feature-length documentaries range roughly between 45 minutes and numerous hours.

    How do you write an analysis of a documentary? ›

    Provide a brief summary of the film and the “main characters” in and “plot” of the film. 3. Examine how the film's argument is supported through rhetorical and persuasive strategies (e.g., presentation of facts, dismissing credibility of counterfactual information, not addressing certain related issues, etc.).

    What is considered the best documentary of all time? ›

    Best documentaries of all time
    1. Shoah (1985) ...
    2. Sans Soleil (1983) ...
    3. The Thin Blue Line (1988) ...
    4. Night and Fog (1955) ...
    5. Harlan County U.S.A. (1976) ...
    6. Dont Look Back (1967) ...
    7. The War Game (1965) ...
    8. Nanook of the North (1922)
    22 Mar 2022

    How do you end a documentary? ›

    End | Act Three

    The ending of the documentary usually brings some kind of resolution to the questions and conflict established at the beginning of the film. It is often helpful when writing your documentary script to consider how the documentary will end before trying to write the beginning and the middle.

    How do you start off a documentary? ›

    Key Steps to Making Documentaries:
    1. Tell a story you care about. Start with a subject that excites you. ...
    2. Research. Learn everything you can about your documentary subject. ...
    3. Make a Plan. Create an outline. ...
    4. Create a Shot List. ...
    5. Start Shooting. ...
    6. Write a Script. ...
    7. Begin Editing. ...
    8. Check Legal and Copyright Issues.

    What are the 6 modes of documentary? ›

    Nichols (1991, 2017) identifies six modes of representation in documentary films. They are the expository, participatory, observational, performative, reflexive and poetic modes.

    Do documentaries need a script? ›

    You don't need to “script” your entire documentary project, but ample pre-production does help get your subjects, locations, and even narratives outlined and queued up before you begin filming. Let's look at seven ways you can script your documentary's game plan from the beginning.

    What makes a successful documentary? ›

    A good documentary shows people from a different perspective than they're used to seeing in the media. It opens people's minds and hearts to the struggles of other people in the world. It makes people question the way things are and the way they should be.

    How long should documentaries be? ›

    Great ones can be 2 minutes long, just as viably as 2 hours long. That said, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the Screen Actors Guild, have minimum length requirements of 40 and 75 minutes, respectively, for a documentary to be considered a 'feature film.

    What are the features of a documentary? ›

    Here are the features that a documentary should work for:
    • Story. The story is the reason why a documentary is alive. ...
    • Characters. You need good characters in a story. ...
    • Visual. Visual elements cannot simply consist of interviews or follow people, because that's not interesting at all. ...
    • Sound. ...
    • Take Away.
    30 Jan 2019

    What are the 3 types of documentaries? ›

    In this VOD we examine 3 different types of documentaries: Observational, Expository and Participatory. You will see examples of films that have used each of the 3 types of genre successfully.

    What makes a documentary expository? ›

    What Is an Expository Documentary? Expository documentaries set up a specific point of view or argument about a subject and a narrator often speaks directly to the viewer, emphasizing the relationship between the images presented on-screen and offering verbal commentary.

    What are the stages of documentary production? ›

    Documentary Video Production
    • Pre-Production. Preparing for your shoot. Researching your Topic. Finding Audio/Video/Images.
    • Production. Shooting Video. Recording Audio. Lighting Interviews.
    • Post-Production. Editing Video. Editing Audio.
    • Copyright.
    • Attribution.
    • Assessment.
    • Examples & Resources.
    • Accessibility.
    4 Oct 2022

    Can one person make a documentary? ›

    The short answer is "YES!" You can most certainly produce a documentary all by yourself. Of course, there are limitations, but it's certainly doable. Especially now with such easy and low cost video options.

    Why are scripts important in documentaries? ›

    A script is just as vital for a simple video, shot on a minimal budget, as it is for a feature length documentary. Having a script in hand, with every shot and every action planned out in advance, allows the video to be shot relatively quickly, saving on expense.

    How do you end a documentary? ›

    End | Act Three

    The ending of the documentary usually brings some kind of resolution to the questions and conflict established at the beginning of the film. It is often helpful when writing your documentary script to consider how the documentary will end before trying to write the beginning and the middle.

    What is considered the best documentary of all time? ›

    Best documentaries of all time
    1. Shoah (1985) ...
    2. Sans Soleil (1983) ...
    3. The Thin Blue Line (1988) ...
    4. Night and Fog (1955) ...
    5. Harlan County U.S.A. (1976) ...
    6. Dont Look Back (1967) ...
    7. The War Game (1965) ...
    8. Nanook of the North (1922)
    22 Mar 2022

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