Student’s Lesson

Making the Documentary

The idea of documentary relates to the methods of historians who rely on written documents and manuscripts as primary sources of evidence. Using all the tools of film-making: camera, sound, actors, images and words, documentaries create a sense of authenticity within the narrative form.

Codes of the documentary

Documentary, like all texts, tends to follow certain codes and conventions which shape our responses. We respond in particular ways to the way information is relayed through sight and sound. Information is not accidentally collected but often orchestrated. This idea is particularly important to remember when considering reality documentaries.

The ingredients from which all documentaries are made are picture and sound. Rabiger[1] explains that these are:


  • Action footage of people, landscape and objects
  • People talking to each other, in an interview or as a monologue
  • Re-enactments of real or hypothetical events
  • Library footage (archival or recycled from other films)
  • Blank screen so that we can reflect on what we have seen or to give attention to sound.


  • Voice-over
  • Narration by narrator, author or participant
  • Synchronous sound
  • Sound effects
  • Silence to give heightened awareness of the image.

Student activity: close study

In groups choose one of the above ingredients of documentaries and

  • track its use in PAUL KELLY — STORIES OF ME
  • explain why it is used at particular points in the film and its effects.

Present your findings to the rest of the class using extracts from the movie as evidence.

Class discussion: How does the documentary interweave objective and subjective elements? Is the final effect more objective or subjective?

[1] Rabiger, Michael (2004), Directing the Documentary, Focal Press, Oxford, UK

Student activity: developing a post-production script

A post production script is the film on paper, every aspect of it transcribed and aligned.

Here is an extract from the Post Production Script of the film PAUL KELLY — STORIES OF ME.

  • View the section of the movie transcribed here and as you do so, annotate these pages to label the conventions of this kind of text, including layout, formatting and abbreviations.

Download the Making The Documentary PDF to view the pages and complete this task.