There is no exact formula for creating an award-winning documentary script.
However, there are some common elements that seem to set the great documentaries apart from the ordinary ones.
Here are some common themes to look for.
Key Features of Award-Winning Documentaries
Strong Emotion – These documentaries make you laugh, cry or shake your head in disdain. They inspire and move their audience in some deep meaningful way.
“Young at Heart” is a great example. It made me laugh, made me cry. Wonderful heartwarming movie.
Inspires action or a change in behavior.
A great example is Al Gore's “An Inconvenient Truth”.
Creates sudden surprises. Keeps the audience guessing or amazed.
Werner Herzog's “Grizzly Man” fits the bill on this one.
Actively engages and challenges the audience with questions or information. These documentaries don’t tell an audience what to think (“this is bad”, “this is good”). Instead, they present information in such a way that allows the viewer to come up with their own conclusions.
Morgan Spurlock is a master at this with such works as "Super Size Me" and the FX Series “30 Days”.
Strong opinions and beliefs. These documentaries do not back down from controversy. They boldly state a particular point of view and don’t apologize. The audience may or may not agree with the movie, but they are FIRED up once the movie ends.
Michael Moore’s documentaries, including “Fahrenheit 911”, are great examples.
How To Write A Script for Documentary
Writing a script for a documentary is a multi-step process. First, you must know your footage intimately. Tape logs and transcriptions can be extremely helpful as reference when writing your script. You must also have a good idea of how you want the documentary to END. That way you can craft the script in a way in leads up to the ending you have in mind.