The Doc Fix


Regularly updated articles on story structure and analysis; tips, thoughts and useful bits and pieces.

"How do you write a script for something that hasn't happened yet?"

Sharon, one of our students recently spoke to me about what she is learning from being part of The Doc Fix. For some background, she has a three-year post-graduate degree from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), one of the world's most respected film and theatre schools.
Her training is in drama, and since leaving, she has made her living as a filmmaker in both documentary and drama.

What was fascinating was how she struggled with treating documentary as storytelling. The language of drama made sense to her in fiction, but here was her problem...

She has been commissioned to make a science documentary and was following a neuroscientist who was working on a project that - if he succeeded - would present an enormous breakthrough in the field. But, as she saw it, her story would only end when her subject had either succeeded or failed in his work. This is why she came to us:

"This project that I'm working on hasn't happened yet. So how do you write a script for something that hasn't happened yet? There has to be a great deal of understanding about how a documentary best unfolds, and only an experienced documentarian can tell you that it best unfolds along certain lines. And without those facts, those elements, it might wander or just turn into a list. A list is the word that you used very early on, and I knew I was headed toward a list. For me, meant what this person does one thing after another until he's finished, and I'm following him around documenting what he does, one thing after another, until he's finished."

It meant she was filming him, but with no realistic end in sight. She was gathering material - the dreaded 'list'. It was expensive and time-consuming.

She imagined that when his work was done, she would assemble what she had gathered and then work out her story, see what it was telling her. More time and money, and the hope for inspiration.

But how could she tell his story if she had to wait for it to end? How could she be an author of something that hasn't happened yet, that she would only understand in retrospect?

The answer that she found from working with us was to learn how to stand back from the subject matter and express what she was trying to say.

What were the deeper themes that she felt by exploring the area as a whole? How did she want her audience to feel about the subject? What could she understand about her main character? From knowing him better, could she see what the search meant to him?

All this analysis is the first step to constructing a meaningful narrative.

This works wherever you are in the journey and gives you a structure to plan and explore your story. It is no longer a list of events. Instead, the material you are filming supports the argument you are making about the nature of the subject.

It’s the opposite of recording a random list of events and trying to find meaning later. It’s how you define your opening and closing scenes, your conclusing and everything in between.

At last, Sharon felt she was in control of her story, and her career.

"I would recommend this especially to people who are serious about their work, and they want to go to the next level. If you are honest with yourself, and you can ask yourself, like I did, do I know how to get better? Do I know how to go to the next level? And if the answer is no, then take this course. You're going to meet people who are on the level you want to get to, and you're going to develop skills that the highest level of people working in this industry will be looking for. They'll be looking for those skills... If somebody wants to get their movie on Netflix, take The Doc Fix course. You're gonna learn what you need to if you have if you have that kind of film. He'll show you how to make the movie that would end up there".