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  • Writer's pictureKevin Luiz

From Script to Delivery – Writing Documentary Adverts & Preparing For The Unknown

Updated: Dec 17, 2021

Don't Like To Read? Give A Listen! Runtime - 8:32

Writing and planning for documentary work can appear on a surface level to be a daunting task, riddled with unknowns as to how a project will pan out. There are so many variables that can occur when conducting this type of video production work, that at times it can make you feel like you’re no longer in the driver’s seat. In this Episode / Article I would like to take a brief moment to examine how we as content creators, marketers, and brand strategists can prepare for the unknown. I’d like to dive into a script that we recently prepared for a client, and how we calmed any nerves leading up to the production day by creating a roadmap to success. We will look at the script, and then view the finished piece to follow how closely the project aligned to the script.

Often when a first-time client comes to us, there is some heavy leaning that can occur as to how the structure of a video advert should be created. Sometimes there can be a tremendous, overwhelming feeling surrounding the story, logistics, and executables required to meet on the delivery of a product. With video production, there can be a lot of balls in the air to make a story come together. It’s not uncommon for a first-time clients to express these nerves, but we take the time to assure them it will all come together through our shared vision. That’s why it’s so important to lay the ground work for success at the onset of a project. At the core of any good video advert or branding piece, we will get to the route of a problem, discover a solution, and then identify what key components are integral to convey our solutions, whether that be interviews, testimonials, or showcasing of a brand, product, or service.

Read the script to see how closely it follows the finished film.

Before we even start to develop a script, we may pull a few questions out of our clients to discover a proper avenue to explore in video form. Since there are so many ways to create video marketing tools, it’s important to identify what archetype best suits our needs to solve our presented challenges. Traditionally, hybrid documentary adverts can be positioned for a number of archetypes including direct response, and branding pieces. Planning and writing for that type of work however can lead to a number of question marks.

  • How will we tell our story?

  • Who will we interview?

  • How do we get what we need out of our interviewees?

  • How will we balance the dialogue?

  • Can our interviewees meet our shooting dates & times?

  • What locations do we have at our disposal?

  • How long do we have a location available for?

  • What sort of backups do we have in place?

  • How and who will manage our talent / location releases?

This is just an inkling of the concerns often raised in the initial planning phases of our pre-production life cycle. Rest assured, with a solid discovery session, and preparing for the unexpected, a lot of these issues can be nipped in the bud. Recently we had performed a job where we were facilitating the product end to end. Having shot material, and constructed videos like this in the past, we knew ahead of time what to expect. When interfacing with the client who had little experience and bandwidth for the project, we started to dig into everything he needed. Since the client was present on the day of filming spearheading the event, it was important that we were independently operated as his resources to us were slim. So once we discovered why he needed video, we identified what the archetype was, and then we started to discuss how we would create the video.

Making our subjects feel comfortable on camera is the name of the game!

Filming events where the actions are unfolding before our very eyes can certainly present an “X” factor. That’s why we need to ask as many questions in regards to logistics as possible so we know what we are walking into. Once we had a fair idea on the layout of the event, we asked the client to create a list of ten points that the organization would like to convey in terms of story. From there, we were able to distinguish which elements of those bullet points would be best suited to be conveyed through narration or text-based animations, and what information needed to be provided through in-person interviews. With these points sorted, we could then assemble a loose script based on narration, locations, a shot list, and open-ended interview segments.

Busy at work with our videography services at the event on Martha's Vineyard.

In order to achieve the best results, we needed pointed questions to draw out the performances we required from each interviewee. On the flip side of that, we also needed some of our questions to be broad, so that they may leave room for the interviewee to provide answers we hadn’t previously contemplated. You see, if you embrace the unknown, sometimes you might be rewarded by the answer you receive, as interviewees have a tendency to provide what we refer to as “golden nuggets” when they let their guard down. These “golden nuggets” can be bites of dialogue that are unscripted, and accredit themselves to the overarching story in a powerful way. Embracing the unknown can sometimes be a rewarding experience, so long as you have a backup option in the “can” so to speak. This is where coverage comes into play, obtaining source material from a number of interviewees, so if one subject doesn’t pan out in the performance, you have the same information coming from another source with a different delivery.

So with the script in hand, we arrived by boat on Martha’s Vineyard and we proceeded documenting the event over the course of several hours. We provided all of the videography for the B-Roll action shots, as well as conducted interviews in a stationary position. Christine “worked the crowd”, going from car to car asking if the recipients would like to go on camera to talk about the event. She stressed the importance of the video, defined their roles, and managed the release forms. This was no easy task, as there is a natural level of hesitancy with this sort of exposé. To calm any nerves, we spoke with our interviewees off camera, and posed the questions to them ahead of time so that they felt comfortable stepping into frame.

Christine after a long day of convincing people to go on camera, and calming nerves.

We asked approximately three questions that were pre-written per interviewee, and we asked one additional question per interviewee that was unscripted. We always try to do this additional question which can often lead to an interviewee letting their guard down. We ask them; “is there anything else you would like to talk about or add that we haven’t already asked?” This is what I mean about embracing the “unknown”. Traditionally you won’t receive much of a response, but every once in a great while you might just be surprised as to what you receive in return. Now the original script notes a “cold hook” which refers to something emotional or profound in nature that grabs our audience’s attention. Well, with the majority of interviews we conducted we did not receive that profound statement from the scripted questions, but with one gentlemen (that’s in the opening of the film) we got exactly that when we asked him to effectively go “off script”. This lead us to achieving the opening we were after, which if we are speaking candidly would have not resulted in the same outcome without out.

Watch the completed film by clicking above!

After reading the script, and watching the completed film, you can tell how closely this follows the narrative structure. Sure, the film embellishes a little more than the script originally conveys, but for the most part it’s a pretty faithful adaptation. We were able to achieve this because we knew what we were after, we knew what to expect logistically, we had a game plan, and we could visualize the outcome before we even provided videography services on the day of the event. This is how you prepare for the unknown, which is to embrace it. There are going to be elements out of your control, but so long as you walk into a situation with 70-80% of your elements prepped, and a 20-30% margin of error, there shouldn’t really be any major surprises or let downs. Going into an operation with an open mind, (especially if it’s documentary in nature) is going to set you up for success. So to summarize, leaving things open ended, and leaning on your interviewees with unscripted content can be a rewarding experience, so long as you come prepared. At Capion, we specializing in this type of video production. If you need to confidentially forecast your project in the pre-production stage, reach out by visiting us on our main page at So as always thank you for tuning, until the next article, take care and stay creative!


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