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Doc U Recap: Writing for the Nonfiction Screen

By IDA Editorial Staff

Always start at the beginning. Remember the importance of first reactions. Read or listen to poetry. Work out your voice. Simplify.

Sound like good advice to live your life by? All these tidbits of guidance could of course apply to everyday life, but at IDA’s most recent Doc U panel, these pearls of wisdom were meant to also apply to writing for documentary. And that was just the beginning of the advice!

Moderated by writer/producer and IDA Board Executive Member Sara Hutchison, the Writing for the Nonfiction Screen panel was comprised of award-winning writers Steven Reich, Sharon Wood, P.G. Morgan, and Freida Lee Mock, all of whom were eager to share their projects and guidance to an audience of around 80 documentary filmmakers and writers.

Each filmmaker had a chance to focus on their experiences and their most successful projects. Sharon Wood, writer/producer of The Celluloid Closet, focused extensively on the importance of treatments and outlines when attempting to get initial funding and interest for a project. After showing clips of the film Paragraph 175, Wood informed the audience how she set rules for narration and text before beginning the writing process.

Writer/producer P.G. Morgan spoke of his shared writing duties with Chris Paine when they were fleshing out the story of Revenge of the Electric Car, and how they literally locked themselves in a room for hours with cell phones turned off in order to find their four main narrative strands. Academy Award®-winning writer/director and producer Freida Lee Mock shared that while working on Wrestling with Angeles: Playwright Tony Kushner, she made sense of her story through the act of writing. She also encouraged aspiring writers to think about not just the dramatic arc for the film, but also for each scene.

In one of the more intruiging moments of the night, IDA Board Member Steven Reich (Avalance: The White Death) allowed his work to speak for itself by showing a three-minute clip of unedited, unorganized footage, followed immediately by a three-minute clip that had been totally rewritten. The difference was indeed startling, and proved the importance of research and a focused voice.

All in the all, audience members and panelists alike agreed it was a successful and inspiring evening—at least, that's what we heard over wine and hors d'oeuvres on the Cinefamily's Spanish patio!

Stay tuned for video clips from the event and upcoming Doc U events in your area.

Doc U is the International Documentary Association's series of educational seminars and workshops for aspiring and experienced documentary filmmakers. Taught by artists and industry experts, participants receive vital training and insight on various topics including: fundraising, distribution, licensing, marketing, and business tactics.

Special support provided by:

Los Angeles County Arts Commission HFPA AXIS PRO IMAX
HBO Archives Indie Printing


Members and Supporters of IDA