Documentary films are different than fictional narrative in that the ‘writing’ doesn’t really take place until the editing process. Non-fiction filmmaking can present many challenges, particularly with the unpredictability of the interviewees and the subject matter being explored. But, documentaries are stories, and are subject to the same rules of storytelling just like any other film.

The Hero’s Journey can be a very useful guide for assembling your documentary footage into a cohesive storyline. Documentaries do not always have a consistent ‘linear time’ chronology, and even though some events may take place out of order, keeping to the Journey template will help tell your story and get you through the editing process.

Take a look at the short documentary below and identify the following elements from the Hero’s Journey:
Appointment with Death


Walk This Way: A 12 minute personal documentary about a man who uses humor to adjust to life in a wheelchair after breaking his back in a plane crash. Winner of the 1997 Student Academy® Award. This will be used as an example of various storytelling elements and film techniques in the lessons to follow: