Find out more about past and upcoming POV films!

Did you know? Many POV films are available free to stream online and on mobile devices. Visit POV's Watch Video page or download the PBS mobile app for iPhone or iPad, and see which films are available today!

Writing The WGA Doc Screenplay Winner ‘Better This World’

by |

In a recent post on POV’s blog, Tom Roston posed the question “Do Documentary Filmmakers Deserve Screenwriting Credit?” With the upcoming encore broadcast Better This World, I decided to check in with directors Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega, whose documentary screenplay for Better This World won a Writer’s Guild Award last year, to get a brief overview of their doc writing process.

Katie Galloway (right) and Kelly Duane de la Vega, the director/producers of the award-winning documentary "Better This World."  (Photo: Greg O’Toole)

Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega won the WGA Award for Best Documentary Screenplay in 2012. (Photo: Greg O'Toole)

What is your response to the typical question: “But it’s a documentary! What do you mean it was written?”

Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega: We don’t use narration in Better This World, so the “writing” happens through the composition of material we draw on to stitch the story together — mostly characters own words in interviews, but also jailhouse phone calls, surveillance footage, courtroom testimony, newscasts and more.

Writing without narration is incredibly difficult, and developing the screenplay for Better This World was a long, involved process where many different structures and narrative elements were woven together, sometimes kept, often discarded. It was a heavily collaborative process. as most docs are – producer Mike Nicholson and editor Greg O’Toole were deeply involved in the process as well.

You won a Writer’s Guild Award for the film. What was it like for a doc that doesn’t have any voiceover narration to win?

While we understand that we are writing our stories – the no-narration doc has only recently been recognized as a contender for such awards. Hats off to the WGA… The Emmys still don’t consider no-narration docs “written,” but we expect they will come around eventually to recognize such docs are among the most painstakingly written.

What do you think fiction writers can take away from doc screenwriting?

In the end, there is not such a great divide – good writers can learn from both. It really comes down to when and how to deliver information (based in reality or fiction) to create the most compelling narrative possible.

Better This World airs Thursday, August 30, 2012 on POV. Check local listings.

Get more documentary film news and features: Subscribe to POV’s documentary blog, like POV on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @povdocs!

Sean Holmquest
Sean Holmquest
Sean started as an intern with POV in 2009, before coming on-board as a staff member starting in 2010 until 2013. At POV, he managed online video content, produced companion features for the POV film websites, and implemented social media strategies. Prior to joining POV in 2010, he freelanced as a film editor and writer, in addition to working as an assistant for an independent music artist. He has written and directed several short, experimental films, and holds a bachelor's degree from Brown University in Literary Arts.