Writing and Rewriting


When I wrote that I really had no idea how to make a documentary on our “About the Film” page, I was only telling the partial truth.

I do have -some- idea how to go about it. I do, after all have a great many film classes under my belt, including scriptwriting and script analysis. And I -have written several treatments for proposed films, co-wrote a screenplay for a feature length film and wrote another feature length screenplay on my own.

However, none of these were for documentary scripts. They were for fictional films–the ones that tell a story that comes out of a writer’s imagination. I only took one class on documentaries and it wasn’t a very practical course. It wasn’t anything about how to make one, except in the most theoretical sense.

(Oh, and by the way, the screenplays I helped write and did write weren’t that good. They have no chance of being picked up by a director or a studio, and that’s okay. They were fun to write, but I never expected to be a filmmaker, you see, I intended to be a writer. Looking back I realize I should have taken those other documentary film classes after all.)

So, while yes, I had no clue how exactly to put a documentary together from beginning to end, I at least had written several screenplays, and that experience is useful, even if it wasn’t exactly lucrative. Or, really applicable, because writing a documentary script is different than writing a fictional screenplay.

But the similarities are there. Documentaries still tell stories–they just do it in a different way. Instead of the screenwriter delving into her imagination and determining what the story is and how to tell it and who the characters are, with a documentary, the story is based upon what the filmmakers learned when they went out and filmed interviews. The characters are who the filmmakers interview, and they are as they are. There is no way to change your primary story-tellers, not if you are an ethical filmmaker anyway. They look how they look, they say what they say and that’s that. Of course, one could edit an interviewee such that they say something completely different than what they actually said, but that’s unethical and I don’t go there. I’m up-front and honest and would never twist a source’s words into something completely other than what they meant.

(But I have no problem taking out all the ums, ers, and you knows.)

Anyway, once Dan, Zak and I sat down and came up with a structure to hang our narrative upon, I started writing. It took me a while to get up to speed, because I haven’t written every day religiously in many years, so my brain really wasn’t used to pounding out words in a nice steady flow. At first it was more like tugging words from my mind, which came out in a recalcitrant drizzle, and it was nerve-wracking and frustrating.

And then one day, it clicked.

I remembered how to write.

And I sat down and clicked and clacked at my keyboard for a solid three hours before stopping and suddenly, the words were bubbling up like a spring of crystal clear water in the mountains and after that, the script seemed like it was writing itself.

And within a week or so of the click in my brain, the first draft is finished.

And now, I’m in the much easier and more comfortable phase of rewriting and polishing.

Rewriting is more comfortable because everything’s there–or most everything–and all the writer has to do is go back and take the utilitarian words she used to get the facts down in some relative order that made sense, and put in the pretty poetic words that will make the story sing.

So that’s where I am right now.

In the poetry-making phase.

It’s a good place to be.