Collaborative Nature of the Doc Film Business

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By Suzanne Cross

After checking in with John about how the story script outline that he is writing is coming along, we decided we have not spent nearly enough time pulling together the whole story-boarding process, so we schedule several phone call discussions with our New York filmmaker Alexis (who will meet us in Johannesburg with our new film equipment).  

We need to discuss the story format, content, and style, potential people we need to interview, and try to plan a somewhat efficient but yet flexible schedule for the relatively short 15 days we have to film in rural South Africa. 

We discover that our documentary story was much easier to talk about than write down as a script.  The story was mostly in our heads, captured from the 8 years we have spent getting to know the Nkomo School learners and educators better.  

It was even a little different in my head than in John’s and this made it somewhat difficult to clearly share with Alexis, who will be filming it.  We tried a variety of means to pull it all together. 

We first wrote down our memory knowledge of how the Nkomo School grew from under the four trees.  We then tried to script it into a story, then to capture it in summary and outline forms. 

Alexis’ experience in docu-reality TV in New York was a big help when she contributed sets of questions for the people we would be interviewing, each group of “talking heads”:  the founder Mrs. Zikhali, her supportive husband, the community elders, the teachers and the children. 

We tracked down books on scriptwriting and scoured the web for helpful tidbits.  I phoned and emailed friends of friends who are professionals in the documentary filming business to pick their brains.  We can easily understand how scriptwriting and planning a documentary can take not just months, but years to formulate.  We finally resort to crossing our fingers that this would not just turn out to be a very expensive home movie!


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