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The script

When you have a story you want to tell you will want to know where it begins and how it ends. The same goes for documentaries, or micro-docs, and for this, you’ll need a script to help guide all facets of your production. The script tells us what we want to shoot, where and how.

In this tutorial we will cover the basic format of a script, beginning with the all important research needed to guide your story and to ensure you have all the facts you need to tell it in an engaging way. We will be doing so referring at all times how you will draft your micro-doc script using  the increasingly popular pre-production and script authoring system, Celtx. Where possible videos are used to describe script writing techniques and some specific uses of Celtx.

Getting started

Go to celtx.com, create an account and download the free version of the desktop application.

Celtx comes with sample scripts. Use them to better understand the format and conventions used in script writing.

The synopsis

Begin with a simple outline of your concept. This should include the issues you wish to highlight, the people you may want to interview and locations important to your story. This will be your reference as you write your script. It will also form the basis of your synopsis.

You’ll need to be able to describe your micro-doc to many people, from those you want to interview and anyone you will want to see the finished video. The synopsis is a condensed version of your story,  describing the themes and issues behind your micro-doc and the people that are important to the story being told.

Here’s an example of a Synopsis for the Bamiyarra micro-doc A Hazaragi Wedding.

Hazaragi culture is no where more accentuated than in a traditional wedding. Bringing together every facet of cultural life, from traditional music, clothing, food and ritual. A Hazaragi Wedding traces the highlights leading up to and throughout the wedding ceremony, from a young man being advised by his father on what marriage entails, the importance of the ‘ghazal’ and ‘poofee’ songs and how by singing them Hazaragi culture is sustained. A Hazaragi Wedding is narrated by an elderly Hazaragi couple, underscored by traditional music, a collage of wedding photos and video, and of course the food, the celebration, mehmanies and dance.

Getting your synopsis into Celtx

You’ll want to refer to your synopsis and perhaps up-date it. There are several ways of doing this in Celtx, but the simplest method is to add write it up using the Novel template. This is a text editor that can be used for writing stories, novels and in our case, the synopsis.

Start Celtx and select a script template. Let’s select Film. The template will open straight away. We’ll use the Film template for writing our script.

Let’s save your project before you do anything else.

Select File > Save Project, give it a meaningful file name and click Save.

Next we’ll set up a text editor, using the Novel template, to add our synopsis.

Select the File Menu > Add Item and click.
Select Novel and in the file name field type "Synopsis".

The Synopsis will appear in the left-hand menu. Click Synopsis to open the document and start typing. Don’t forget to save your project.

Download this sample Bamiyarra micro-docs script using Celtx.

What’s next?

With your ideas outlined and distilled into a synopsis you’ll need to research your story, your interviewees and possible locations. You may find that your story may change, may even become stronger as a result. If it does,  go back to the synopsis and re-write it. But now, let’s move onto your research.

Research

But before you make a start on your script, you’ll need to research your story. This video that explains how to script and story board your idea, beginning with… yes, research!

Make sure you have interviewed all the people you will want to interview. Check the locations and ensure you have permission to shoot there. Distil all this information into your script, either before you start writing it, or by changing it as new information is made available.

What’s in a script

A script is comprised of:

  • Scenes
  • Action
  • Shot
  • Characters
  • Dialogue

There’s a lot more that goes into a script, but this is the basic structure, each having their own format and terminology to assist in describing where, what and how. Celtx provides pre-set formats that comply with standard script conventions.

Refer to the sample Bamiyarra micro-docs script. Use the drop-down menu in the Celtx film script editor to select either Scene, Shot, Action, etc, or familiarise your self with Celtx keystroke short-cuts.

Scenes

Scenes are defined by where you are shooting and whether inside (INT.) or outside (EXT.). For example, you might be shooting an interview in someone’s home. That scene heading may look like this:

INT. SAHEMA'S LOUNGE ROOM

Action

The action describes what is taking place in the scene and may typically be written as:

Sahema is seated on a cushion with her younger brother. Family members walk in and out of the room.

Shot

Here we describe the kind of shot keeping in mind that once you are on location look for other shots and angles, in particular establishing shots and cut-aways. Establishing shots provide context to your the scene and add to the story. These may include shots of memorabilia in the room, the faces of other family members as they interact with each and the interview subject viewed from different angles (e.g. from a window or doorway looking into the room.

WIDE: THE LOUNGE ROOM

This describes a WIDE shot of the lounge room.

Character

Characters in your micro-doc will include your interviewee and, if you decide to use one, a narrator. You can use parentheses under the Character’s name to describe such things as a voice-over, or whether they are talking direct to camera or to the interviewer.

SAHEMA
(off-camera to interviewer) 

In almost all cases you won’t know what your interview subject will say, but if you have a narrator, their dialogue should be written up in the script.

If you’re adding your interviewee to your script, you can fill their part in later once you’ve completed the shoot and reviewed your footage. Then you can add the parts of the interview you will use turning your script into a post-production script. This will help guide your edit.

Dialogue

The dialogue is written under the character name. Here is where you would add the narrators script.

NARRATOR
(voice-over)
Every Hazaragi family will prepare food for their frequent mehmanies,
when extended family and friends gather to share their experiences,
to celebrate special occasions such as the birth of a child or a forthcoming
wedding.

Writing your script

Scriptwriting is a skill. Just as it is a skill knowing how to get from one place to the next and explain those directions to someone else, the same goes for scripts. It’s a kind of road map, a plan, or a list of instructions. But it not only describes what you want, where and how, it must tell your story.

The best way to begin is to set out your story into scenes. You can do this by first using the Index cards in Celtx. You can move the scenes, or index cards around until you’re satisfied that your story can be told convincingly. Then you can start by adding your scenes to Film script using the format described above.

Recommendation: For more detailed information, use the Celtx Writing Your Script guidelines and help for using the script editor. And don’t forget to download this sample Bamiyarra micro-docs script using Celtx that utilises all the above features.

Ask Mr G.

Is there anything I’ve not covered in this tutorial? Or, if you have any questions about any part of this tutorial, please do ask and I’ll do my best to answer here.

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