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The Art of Producing & Writing for Documentaries

The Art of Producing & Writing for Documentaries was a two day workshop with Emmy Award winning producer, Sydney Suissa.

Trained as journalist, Sydney began his career with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation working his way from production assistant to documentary producer to Executive Producer. In 2004 he moved to Washington DC to take on the position of   Executive VP of Programming for National Geographic, a position he held until 2012. He has launched numerous channels including History Television, Nat Geo Wild, Nat Geo Adventure, and most recently Zoomoo (a pre-school channel). For the past 4 years, Sydney has been a consultant for various media and production groups and has conducted extensive documentary training in Europe, Latin America and Southeast Asia. His awards include an International Emmy and two Geminis. Sydney holds a Masters Degree in Journalism and is based in the Washington DC area.

In this workshop, participants learnt:

How to structure a story:

All stories have a similar structure. Knowing what each of the structural elements are and how they fit together enables the producer to see the finish line and what he will need to get there. A well structured story has flow and rhythm and will keep the viewer engaged and eager to see what comes next. Without structure there is no story, just confusion and bad television.

How to build a shooting outline:

A shooting outline gives you a plan to use your field resources efficiently. It is not a list of shots or locations not is it a script.  A shooting outline is detailed articulation of what you need visually and how you intend to use it in the story. It tells you exactly what you need out of every interview how to prepare for them. It brings your crew into the story and lets them see where you want to go and how you want to get there. It allows you and the crew to be creative in the field and to improvise when the unexpected comes along. Without a good shooting outline there will only be chaos. You are doomed without it.

How to write a documentary:

In television, pictures lead and words follow. This means writing to pictures, not editing pictures to words. A good writer knows that he can change the meaning of a picture through the words he uses. This approach gives the producer immense flexibility—it is the best insurance against the unexpected and gives you the confidence to improvise. Through a variety of exercises we will explore how to write using this approach and how to do it with clarity and impact.


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