Crafting Your Documentary Story

Are you staring at a blank white page and/or hours of raw footage with NO CLUE what to do next?

Do you have an amazing story but struggling with how structure all the elements into a compelling film?

Are you overwhelmed with all the elements of your story and having trouble keeping your audience engaged on a deep level?

Whether you're just starting out on your documentary journey or in the final stages, making a deeply emotional connection with your audience is THE critical element in the making of your film. It's EVERYTHING.

Meet Your Instructor

Daniel Raim

Documentary Writer-Director

Daniel Raim

Academy Award®-Nominated Writer-Director Daniel Raim attended the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, where he studied under one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most esteemed collaborators, Production Designer Robert F. Boyle. Daniel has created a trilogy of critically acclaimed documentaries about unsung heroes of Hollywood’s Golden Age, including, THE MAN ON LINCOLN’S NOSE (2000, Oscar®-Nominated); SOMETHING’S GONNA LIVE (2010, Los Angeles Times Critics’ Pick) and HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY (2015, Official Selection Cannes Film Festival + Turner Classic Movies TCM + Netflix 2018 release). Daniel is currently (2019) creating a series of documentary films for The Criterion Collection and FilmStruck in addition to directing the upcoming feature documentary IMAGE MAKERS: THE ADVENTURES OF AMERICA'S PIONEER CINEMATOGRAPHERS for Turner Classic Movies (TCM).  How to work with Daniel

About This Course

The goal of this course is to help you find clarity and give you a step by step workflow to help you organize all your footage, interviews and ideas into a structured, cohesive and compelling film.

You'll get an easy-to-follow roadmap for tackling every aspect of conceiving, scripting, shooting, and assembling your documentary. Perhaps most important, this course will show you how to find the heart of the story that is waiting to be told – a story that will emerge as you develop your film.

To help clarify the concepts taught in the course, you'll have exclusive access to a case study of the making of HAROLD AND LILLIAN, including a step by step tutorial from Daniel on how he built the script from scratch.

Loving The Experience

by Sally T. Muiruri

"I have learned so much so far, and loving the experience. I am learning a lot of fundamentals of documentary filmmaking, which are helping me sharpen my skills and refine my script."

"Enjoying the class..."

by Karyn Peyton

"Really enjoying the class so far, and I'm only on lesson one! I really like how the lessons use multimedia (text, exercises, videos). I'm bulking up my repertoire of docs and narrative films so I can start assembling my vision, like Daniel's implied!"

Fantastic!

by Nikki Rose

"Fantastic course. It has been so informative and inspiring as I work to create my first documentary. It's important for new doc filmmakers to have opportunities to learn online now. And Daniel's class and his films are not only an inspiration but a closer look into how great doc films can be made."

In This Course You Will Learn:

  • How to organize all the scattered pieces of your story into a cohesive and engaging narrative

  • Documentary storytelling techniques to keep your audience glued to the screen!

  • How to break down your film into a series of 8-12 sequences to create a compelling story arc

  • How to properly format your script and the best scriptwriting software

  • How to weave together your story beats (soundbites), scenes and sequences to create a compelling narrative

  • How to use dramatic conflict to create emotion within the audience

  • The core concepts of storytelling and how to use cinematic techniques to create greater impact

  • All the steps laid out to complete your film!

Helping me explore

by Daniel Reyes

"I'm excited where this film will take me as a filmmaker, and what will unfold as a story. This course is really helping me explore important elements in my film and stepping back and being practical in my approach, so that it's not merely this abstract artistic attempt."

Fascinating Class

by Nitsan Tal

"Thank you for the fascinating class you created. I took continuing education classes on the subject of documentary film making at NYU and SVA and none of them came close to the quality of material you covered in just the first 3 chapters I took so far."

Bringing clarity and structure

by Matthew Young, Documentary Filmmaker

"I have to say - I am thrilled with the course so far. It is bringing some much needed clarity and structure to the post production process."

What's Inside The Course

  • Step-By-Step Workflow

    A step-by-step scriptwriting workflow to help you find clarity and direction with your documentary

  • Group Coaching Calls

    LIVE Group Coaching Calls with the class to answer your questions. (Every 6-8 weeks)

  • Script Template

    A pre-formatted scriptwriting template in FINAL DRAFT .fdx, and a WORD .docx to craft your script

  • Script Samples

    Samples of award-winning documentary scripts (Including Daniel's scripts)

  • Production Resources

    Access to Daniel's personal resources including transcription services, storyboarding and writing services.

  • Assignments & Quizzes

    Worksheets, quizzes & assignments to help solidify each lesson and move you step-by-step to a finished film.

Highly recommend

by Cristina Candy/Documentary Filmmaker

"Great material!! I am modifying my own documentary to incorporate many of the new ideas I picked up. I really like the format because it forces me to look at my material in new and fresh ways to tighten up the story. I highly recommend it to anyone with a love of storytelling in the visual medium. I wish I had taken this before I began my own documentary two years ago but am glad to have benefited from this course material."

Well worth time + $

by Dee McCrorey

"Great #doc #scriptwriting masterclass led by @DanielRaim @DesktopDocs Well worth the investment of time + $."

Bonus Material

As part of this course, you'll get a bonus Documentary Case Study of Daniel Raim's award-winning documentary "Harold and Lillian".

  • Case Study

    Go step by step through the making of an award-winning feature-length documentary script.

  • Full-Length Documentary Script

    Access and download the complete script for the award-winning documentary HAROLD AND LILLIAN

  • VIP Pass

    Private access to watch Daniel's award-winning full-length feature documentary film HAROLD AND LILLIAN. (Zeitgeist Films)

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does the course start or end on certain dates?

    When signing up for the course, you can begin immediately or whenever is the right time for you. You get LIFETIME ACCESS and you are free to take the course at your own pace. There are no beginning or ending dates. With that said, the course is divided into 8 major sections and we recommend taking one section per week to fully digest the course materials and incorporate the lessons into your project.

  • Will I have a completed script by the end of this course?

    That depends on you! If that is your goal, then yes. This course takes you step by step through the scriptwriting process from beginning to end. So if you already have your interviews shot and content gathered, then this course can definitely get you to the finish gate.

  • What is the format of the course?

    The format of the course is a mix of video instruction, screencasts, text, downloads, quizzes, and assignments, plus one-on-one class discussions with the instructor via a chat forum inside the course. In addition, there are monthly one-hour live conference calls with the class for students to ask questions and get feedback directly from the instructor.

Guarantee

You get a 30-Day 100% Money Back Guarantee, so there's absolutely no risk.

Immediately following your purchase you'll have instant access to the course and you can get started on your first lesson right away.

Course curriculum

  • 1

    WELCOME

    • Quick Start
    • Welcome from Instructor Daniel Raim (VIDEO)
    • About the Instructor
    • About This Course
    • Coaching Calls
    • How To Use This Course (Tech Instructions)
    • Please Introduce Yourself!
  • 2

    LESSON 1 - EXPLORE/BRAINSTORM

    • Taking Your Audience on a Journey of Thoughts, Feelings, and Emotions (VIDEO)
    • Core Questions To Ask Before Writing Your Script
    • Fiction Versus Documentary Storytelling
    • Dramatic Movie-Making Techniques
    • Choose a Genre For Your Documentary
    • Genre Conventions and Obligatory Scenes
    • EXERCISE: Documentary Genre Worksheet
    • ASSIGNMENT: Analyze A Documentary Film You Love (Part I - VIDEO)
  • 3

    LESSON 2 – FINDING YOUR TOPIC, THEMES & CHARACTERS

    • How to Research for Your Documentary (VIDEO)
    • Getting Started: Research and the Writing Process
    • How to Select Your Documentary Model (VIDEO)
    • Explore: How to Select Your Documentary Model
    • How to Cast Your Documentary (VIDEO)
    • Explore: How to Cast Your Documentary
    • Finding Your Themes (VIDEO)
    • Explore: Finding Your Themes
    • ASSIGNMENT: Analyze A Documentary Film You Love (Part II)
  • 4

    LESSON 3 – WRITING YOUR SHOOTING SCRIPT

    • Writing the Shooting Script (VIDEO)
    • What Is A Documentary Shooting Script?
    • Sample Documentary Shooting Script (PDF)
    • Sample Documentary Screenplay (PDF)
    • Case Study: Writing the Shooting Script
    • Assignment: Write a Shooting Script
  • 5

    LESSON 4 – CREATING DRAMATIC STRUCTURE

    • Plot Points Case Study "GRIZZLY MAN" (VIDEO)
    • Plot Points Case Study "MAN ON WIRE" (VIDEO)
    • Managing Audience Expectations
    • How Conflict Elicits Emotion in Your Documentary
    • The Common Thread That All Character-Driven Stories Share
    • How To Build Plot Points
    • Structuring Your Documentary (Scenes, Sequences, Acts and Beats)
    • Assignment: Analyzing Story Structure
    • Assignment: Analyzing the Documentary Scene and Sequence
    • Finding The Inciting Incident
    • Assignment: Devise Your Documentary's Narrative Spine
  • 6

    LESSON 5 - TESTING YOUR IDEA

    • Testing the Waters: The Internal Greenlight Process
    • Why Make a Short Film or Fundraising Trailer First?
    • Testing The Waters - Why Make A Short Film First? (VIDEO)
    • Watch: "Something's Gonna Live" Documentary - The Short Version (VIDEO)
    • Watch: "Something's Gonna Live" Documentary - Feature Version (VIDEO)
    • Assignment: Create a Short Film or Fundraising Demo
  • 7

    LESSON 6 – FORMATTING YOUR SCRIPT

    • Quick Reference Guide: My Step-By-Step Post-Production Workflow & Terminology (PDF)
    • Documentary Script Samples & Formats
    • Intro: Documentary Screenplay Template (+ Final Draft Discount Link)
    • QUICK VIEW: Documentary Screenplay Template (PDF)
    • INSTRUCTIONS: Template Available in Three Formats (WORD, TEXT, FINAL DRAFT)
    • Documentary Screenplay Template - FINAL DRAFT (.fdx)
    • QUICK VIEW: Documentary Screenplay Template GUIDE for Final Draft (PDF)
    • Documentary Screenplay Template - WORD (.docx)
    • QUICK VIEW: Documentary Screenplay Template GUIDE for Microsoft Word (PDF)
    • Documentary Screenplay Template - TEXT (.txt)
    • Documentary Scriptwriting Template: VIDEO TUTORIAL (Final Draft Version)
    • Documentary Screenplay Template: VIDEO TUTORIAL (Microsoft Word Version)
  • 8

    LESSON 7 – POST PRODUCTION: FROM PAPER EDIT TO ASSEMBLY CUT

    • Introduction: From First Draft To Assembly Cut (VIDEO)
    • Introduction: The Dance Between Paper and Timeline
    • Zen and the Art of Writing and Editing Your First Draft
    • How to Transcribe Your Footage (VIDEO)
    • How to Transcribe Your Footage
    • Case Study: The “Harold and Lillian” Script: From Transcript to Topic Heading Strips (VIDEO)
    • Workflow: From Transcript to Assembly Cut (VIDEO)
    • Workflow: How to Create Topic Heading Strips (VIDEO)
    • Step-By-Step Workflow: How to Make Your Selects and Topic Headings
    • Step-By-Step Workflow: How to Make Your Selects Script
    • Workflow: Assigning Colors & Macro Editing in Final Draft Scene View Mode (VIDEO)
    • Step-By-Step Workflow: How to Color Code Topic Headings in Scene View Mode
    • Step-By-Step Workflow: How to Create Topic Heading Strips and 3x5 Index Cards to Structure Your Paper Edit and Assembly Cut
    • Step-By-Step Workflow: How to Structure Your First Draft Paper Edit and Assembly Cut
  • 9

    LESSON 8 – POST PRODUCTION: FROM ROUGH CUT TO PICTURE LOCK

    • ​Introduction: From Rough Cut to Picture Lock (VIDEO)
    • ​Introduction: From Rough Cut to Festival Deadline
    • Step-By-Step Workflow: From Assembly Cut to Rough Cut
    • Storytelling Tip from the Creators of South Park
    • Step-By-Step Workflow: From Rough Cut to Fine Cut
  • 10

    CASE STUDY: HAROLD AND LILLIAN DOCUMENTARY

    • CASE STUDY - Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story
    • WATCH: "Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story" (VIDEO)
    • Full Script: HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY (PDF)
    • WATCH: "Something's Gonna Live" (VIDEO)
    • From First Draft to Work-In-Progress Screening
    • Storytelling Challenges
  • 11

    SHARE YOUR SUCCESS

    • Your Documentary
  • 12

    COURSE SURVEY

    • Quick Survey
  • 13

    NEXT STEPS - RESOURCES

    • Further Reading
    • Overcoming Writer's Block and Resistance
    • The 100 “Greatest” Documentaries
    • The Best Websites For Documentary Filmmakers
    • Scriptwriting Services

What Students Are Saying

by Erica Nikolic, Documentary Filmmaker

REALLY love the course"

by Erica Nikolic, Documentary Filmmaker

"I REALLY love the course. Doing each assignment thoroughly thus far has helped me drill down and recall so many things that I'd forgotten about where I wanted to go and do with this film. It's also given me new things to think about that are bringing up new possibilities where I've been stuck. I think now I'll have the tools to finally finish my film."
Melissa Thornley

"Fantastic!"

Melissa Thornley

"Its fantastic! The questions and assignments are doing just what I wanted. Great support for getting my treatment wrapped up so we can submit for funding."
by Ana Nicolau, Filmmaker/Storyteller

All that was promised (and more)...

by Ana Nicolau, Filmmaker/Storyteller

"This very first lesson has already made me think about and realize a few things I hadn't really considered regarding my documentary. I can tell the course will be all that was promised (and then some more) and a truly precious help in getting my documentary made. Thank you, Faith and Daniel!"
by Dean Haycox, Documentary Filmmaker

"Very gracious"

by Dean Haycox, Documentary Filmmaker

"It's a great course and still can't believe the access Daniel is giving to filmmakers like myself, despite him being very busy and an awesome filmmaker, he is very gracious with his time which is amazing for an award winning doc filmmaker."
by Sally T. Muiruri

"Loving the experience"

by Sally T. Muiruri

"I have learned so much so far, and loving the experience. I am learning a lot of fundamentals of documentary filmmaking, which are helping me sharpen my skills and refine my script."
Nitsan Tal

"Fascinating Class"

Nitsan Tal

"Thank you for the fascinating class you created. I took continuing education classes on the subject of documentary film making at NYU and SVA and none of them came close to the quality of material you covered in just the first 3 chapters I took so far."
Deb Hernandez

"Well worth the $$"

Deb Hernandez

"Excellent course. Easily understood and put together. Each lesson packed with info. Well worth the money."
by Tim Courlas

"A Guide and Collaborator"

by Tim Courlas

When I started the course I approached it like any other course, that is to say as a body of information to take in and apply down the road. Instead it has turned out to function as a guide and collaborator. It's as if the course is an actual person I engage in dialogue. I'm moving through the course much slower this way but the impact is exponentially greater."
by Bob Williams/Films For Good

"Absolutely delighted"

by Bob Williams/Films For Good

"I am absolutely delighted...The proof will be when I produce something, but for now, the course has given my project a much needed burst of energy and knowledge."

Finally Finish Your Film

You've worked SO hard to get this far. It's time now to pull it all together and finally create the film you've been dreaming about.

NEXT CLASS: Fall 2019

Join The Waitlist: Fall 2019

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