Advanced Video Camera and Editing

Writing the Documentary

Proposal and Treatment

What is a proposal? 

A proposal is something that solidifies your idea into a workable documentary. It tells why your story will make one heckuva documentary.

1. Start with the Sol Worth exercise: “I want to make a documentary about…” and get it all down, describing what you hope to film.

2. Once you’ve figured it out, boil it down to a one-page statement, starting with a TV Guide description of the documentary consisting of about 14 words. The rest of the page describes the documentary in a way that will make everyone who reads it want you to hurry up and get it done because they can’t wait to see it.


Keep It Brief

The purpose of the proposal is not to tell everything. Use  ‘The Elevator Pitch,’ which is a way to tell your story in the time it takes to ride the lift to the 10th floor. 


Describe your documentary in terms of a problem and a solution, or a problem and an investigation. Once you can describe the documentary in this manner, you’ll have a pretty good idea of the essence of your project.




Writing the Treatment – courtesy Barry Hampe

The treatment is the blueprint for a script, which is a narrative description of your documentary. Often referred to as an outline for the script. But it’s more than that. It’s an explanation for the documentary. It describes the content of the story – what it is about, what will be included – and what it will look like, including the style in which it will be shot and the way it will be edited. It includes all the content items – the people, places, things, and events – that must be a part of the film. And it tells how the documentary will be organised to communicate with an audience.

The treatment tells what will be shot and what will be shown. It is the first comprehensive look at how the documentary will be organised and what will be included.  

THERE ALMOST ALWAYS WILL BE CHANGES EVEN AFTER THE TREATMENT IS WRITTEN. However, it’s much easier to change the treatment than it is the script.


Q. How long is a treatment?   A. As long as it takes to get the job done.

Q. How specific should it get?    A. Specific enough.

Q. Can you still write a treatment even after footage has been shot?   A. Yes, using what is called a Full Treatment – see sample fro Lost Warships – U.S.S. Perry

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The Proposal and Treatment

Developing the Story

Shooting the Documentary

Independent Filmmaking