Shaping the documentary subject: Writing and visualizing the documentary and media art script | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 6, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 1759-7137
  • E-ISSN: 1759-7145



This article seeks to examine the varied modes of writing employed by documentary filmmakers and media artists, who may, as an alternative to a conventional ‘script’, devise a framework of intent, or a ‘working hypothesis’ in order to constitute or determine the underlying structure of the temporal work. Fiction and non-fiction screenwriter/directors regularly focus on the subjects of human mortality, yet the process of shaping a script differs for the documentary author in that they may choose, or seek to, film the actual lives of trauma victims or terminally ill subjects. This article will examine how a documentary writer/director undertakes the relatively analytical processes of screenwriting and film structuring, whilst simultaneously experiencing a premonition of loss and uncertainty as to future events. Is it possible that filmmaking and autobiographical writing, as documentarian Ross McElwee (Time Indefinite, 1993) suggests, in their attempts to confront death directly, are ‘just another denial of death-a way of distracting the filmmaker from dealing with death and then getting on with life’? Incorporating case studies of several of my own hybrid documentary films and digital artworks, I intend to examine some of the ethical, temporal, screenwriting and directorial issues that arise when selecting, filming and editing the lives of social actors or documentary participants. This article will discuss the key question: what can and do documentary and media art ‘scripts’ look like? How stylistically diverse can they be, in response to the director’s framework of intent, or the idiosyncratic qualities of the participant selected?


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