Scriptwriting for factual TV

BBC Science’s Andrew Thompson, Charles Colville, producer for BBC Factual, and Lizzie Faulkner, a freelance series producer who has worked for Sky Atlantic, BBC One and RTE, join Hazel Marshall to discuss scriptwriting for factual television.

When making long form documentaries the urge to just get out there and film can be huge, leaving considerations about the script later until the edit. However there are very good reasons to firm up your script before you shoot. After all, documentaries are all about storytelling and scripting in the beginning will give you a good plan, allowing you to work out the shots you want to get as well as shape the programme during the production process. Of course, the script may change shape during the production – you never know what may happen on a shoot – but as our panel discuss, being prepared while allowing for some flexibility can bring your story together and keep the production on track.

The panel share their thoughts on the process of scripting, and how setting the tone and style for the programme early on can have a huge impact on how the production progresses and help avoid last minute changes in the edit. They discuss how scripts may differ according to the channel airing your programme and how the genre will also affect how the script is constructed. The panel also look at how the presenter can shape the development of the script, bringing in their own immediate expertise and enthusiasm to the story as opposed to narrating events after the fact.

"The key thing in TV is always ‘preparation, preparation, preparation’. If you go out shooting willy-nilly, then in the edit you’re going to come a cropper." – Lizzie Faulkner

Andrew Thompson is the series producer for the acclaimed BBC Science production Operation Iceberg. He has mainly worked on science documentaries, with previous credits including The Cell, How to Grow a Planet and Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives.

Lizzie Faulkner is an experienced series producer and producer director, producing factual programmes for a number of channels including The Guest Wing for Sky Atlantic and Litter Vigilantes for BBC One, as well as a number of programmes for Irish broadcaster RTE.

Charles Colville has also worked on science documentaries, including Horizon and The Incredible Human Journey, but now is a producer of history programmes for BBC Factual. He’s worked on The Normans and is currently working on a one hour special on Thomas Cromwell.