Steps to Planning your Media, Video and Documentary Project


Writing Your Media, Video or Documentary Proposal

For those of you wanting to launch a media, photography, book, documentary or video project, I’m certain my own experience planning and producing documentaries will help you unfold your dream project.

Do you have what it takes? Read on.

When I first started developing our documentary, Boys and Men Healing, I first applied to the International Documentary Association for fiscal sponsorship in order to apply for grants from foundations. This entailed writing a lengthy proposal detailing my plans for pre-production, production, fundraising, and outreach and distribution.  It took me over a year from start to completion to finish the proposal..

Don’t be scared you off!  In this blog, I’ll offer you the Cliff Note version of my proposal writing strategy.

Looking back, the laborious proposal writing process was necessary. It helped me synthesize my research, discussions with experts in the field, content ideas, and creative vision. It forced me to define my project from A-Z.  When finished, ‘The Proposal’ became my trusted road map for producing the film. Later it became my GPS for navigating distribution and outreach worldwide.

Media and documentary Proposals map

The Proposal guided me in creating a successful project that made an impact. Without it, I doubt I would have reached the finish line.

Like most ‘big’ projects, during the often arduous creative process, we face times when we lose steam and focus. The Proposal became my best friend, guiding me  back on the high road to progress when I felt lost.

Below is a handy outline for writing your Proposal, a Cliff Notes sort of version. I use it to sketch outlines for my writing and documentary projects. The outline will guide you in developing your heart project–whether your project is a a book, photography or media project, or a video or documentary. You might start small by answering #1-2, and later move to the following points. Each point will get you thinking, helping you funnel your ideas into the in-progress Proposal — your creative well.

Remember, creativity needs ample time to take shape, so don’t rush through your Proposal. Take lots of walks, put your project aside for weeks, if needed.  I took six months off midway through writing my Proposal for Boys and Men Healing to allow my ideas to brew. This down time became vital for blossoming my ideas, and for the film’s vision taking shape.

the creative process

So, give yourself time to address each of these points. Revisit each one until you feel you’ve defined each point.  Perfection isn’t necessary. Feeling good about what you wrote is.

1. Statement of Purpose/Objectives: a short paragraph or sentence stating why the project is important. Explain if and how your project will solve a social conflict, reveal and/or meet a need.

2. A visual synopsis or treatment of the proposed project including (1- 4pages):

A clear statement/paragraph about what your project is about.

How you will illustrate this story visually to tell a compelling story? (film making, photography, documentary, etc?) What style is your project? (for example, for a documentary, is it a historical documentary with archival footage, or cinema verite? For a photography project, is it black and white photography, and why this choice? Are you writing a memoir or a non-fiction book?) Include specific creative elements, themes, story structure, media elements, and details you’ll incorporate. Describe your project in a clear way that will help the reader visualize your project.

If relevant, describe any characters or on-camera participants, and what role they play in your project. For instance, for a main character in a film you might address struggles and triumphs they face, and possible outcomes of their story in relationship to your project’s message. Or an interview with an expert will support specific main topic points your video project addresses.

3. Bios of your team with specific roles for your project.

4. Budget for Project from start to finish.

5. Fundraising Strategy (if relevant)

6. Status of the Project (what phase of the project are you in now, what you’ve done so far)

7. Timeline for Pre-production and Production (week by week details of every task needed toward completion). Be sure to check them off each me, it gives you hope that this long-winded project will someday be completed!

8. Distribution Strategy. Who is your audience? Where will you distribute the project? (for example, a documentary can be distributed through DVDs to libraries and educational organizations, ancillary, theatrical, broadcast, etc.)

9. Publicity and Social Network Strategy

10. Timeline for Distribution, Social Network/Publicity

11. Outreach/Audience Engagement Strategy: What specific plans do you have for reaching your audience? How will you engage communities and your audience? (Examples: Film screenings and panel discussions, community media exhibits, speaking at colleges,etc., webinars, pod-casts)

Although writing a media proposal can be challenging, it will inspire you to move your project forward. 

Was the above outline helpful in getting you started on your dream project? Or did it refuel an idea you’ve put aside? 

Let us know how we help you further define your project!


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