Weaving Connections Documentary Film: Writing to Video (2 of 3)


Garment workers sew sweaters on a factory floor in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Image by Jason Motlagh. Bangladesh, 2013.

Step 1: How To Tell A Story On Screen

  1. In NPR’s Planet Money Video Doc “Who Makes Your T-Shirts?,” filmmaker Joshua Davis examines the global textiles industry. As you review the film, pay attention to the following:
    • What new information do you learn about the global textiles industry?
    • Who are the main subjects of the film? Why do you think the journalist follows these subjects?
    • Notice when there are no spoken words. Are you still engaged? What are you learning from what you see? How is information shared non-verbally?
  2. After viewing the film, select one scene from the piece that uses strong visuals. Discuss within a group and come up with one example of visual storytelling that’s effectively used here. Be prepared to share it with the class.
  3. Review the shooting script for the film (attached). As you read through the script, reflect on how the different scenes looked in the final cut of the film. Be prepared to discuss the following:
    • How did the filmmaker pair visuals with text?
    • What planning went into the moment you discussed after first viewing the film?
    • Why do you think the filmmaker would write the film’s script in this way?
    • How is writing for film different from other kinds of narrative writing?

Understanding The Jargon Of Filmmaking:

In any industry, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the language of the trade. Filmmaking has its own distinct lingo that helps us be discerning directors and talk about what content we need to capture. Here are a few key terms R.J. Reynolds High School students in Winston-Salem, NC used in the making of the short documentary film,“Weaving Connections.”

  1. ESTABLISHING SHOT - A contextual shot that provides the audience with a sense of “who,” “what” and “where” the scene involves. Establishing shots can be transitional, allowing the viewer to “get their bearings” before a new film scene begins. While establishing shots are often wide, exterior shots of scenery, buildings, etc., (i.e. the Grand Canyon, the Eiffel Tower) they can also be close, detailed interior shots of people and actions taking place (i.e. a close up of a hand sewing a dress). Ultimately, this shot should provide context for a new scene.
  2. VOICEOVER - The recorded audio of a narrator, usually derived from a script. A voiceover narration takes your viewer by the hand and gives them the information they need to understand your story. Good voiceovers are direct, informal and concise.
  3. VIDEO/B-ROLL - “B-Roll” is the industry term for all the pieces of footage that supplement the main story within a piece of multimedia. Sometimes called “cutaways,” B-Roll could be a detail (close-up) shot of a spool of yarn, or a factory safety sign, or of a handful of recycled plastic beads. The idea is to give the viewer a break from the monotony of people talking (“talking heads”) by breaking up your film with shots that provide context, visual interest, and diversity.
  4. INTERSTITIAL - Another way to break up your film is the use of “interstitials,” reflective interview pieces that interject between different “chapters” of your project. This gives your subjects a change to reflect on their experiences and/or set up the next theme. In Weaving Connections, we set up two-person, sit-down interviews with the students to act as our interstitials.

Documentary Website
Total length: 6:21
(transcript outtake below: 0:00 - 1:55)

Alex Blumberg: Reporter/Narrator of film report
V/O = Voice Over - when someone narrates, reading the written script
COPY = text on the screen; needs to be spelled correctly, and choose a font
LOCATIONS = where the action is happening
TIME LAPSE = video is sped up, so time passes quickly

OPEN: image of woman sewing, close up to wide shot + narration

ALEX: Our men’s t-shirt was made here, in this factory, in Bangladesh.
Uses the word “here” to show where we are.
Puts text “Bangladesh,” identifies where we are.

ALEX: Here’s one of the people who made it.
“Here” (direct address to viewer)
Name JASMINE is big underneath her and we get a direct look from her.

V/O Jasmine

JASMINE: You do the shoulder in the overlock machine. Then you stitch the top.

V/O at 0:16

ALEX: Our women’s t-shirt was made here, in this factory, in Colombia.
Uses the word “here” and shows another factory.
COPY: name of country (spelled correctly!)

DORIS: Oh! How did you get this?

CLOSE-UP of t-shirt

DORIS: The tip is the most important part of the T-shirt, it gives the T-shirt its look.

time lapse video

ALEX: Doris and Jasmine share a job, but they’re separated by the economic realities of the countries they live in. Bangladesh is much poorer than Colombia, and the role the garment industry plays in Bangladesh, the role of our t-shirts, is very different.
V/O goes into a particular story about Jasmine, showing where she lives, brings us into her life after the “big question” of the t-shirt.

ALEX: Jasmine (last name) lives with her brother, sister-in-law, and roommate, in a tiny roominghouse. There’s no running water, just a gas stove to cook.
Two short sentences to describe what we’re looking at: the water, and then the cooking.

ALEX: There’s a small TV, and a bookcase that holds all her belongings. She leaves for work at 7am each day, 6 days a week. She makes one of the lowest wages in the world, about $80/month. Jasmine has been working in clothing factories since she was 16 years old, and she is not alone.
Goes from individual picture of her to WIDE SHOT of people in Bangladesh.

ALEX: 4 million people in Bangladesh work in the garment industry.
COPY: numbers of workers in Bangladesh on screen.

ALEX: That’s double the number from a decade ago. Which raises a question. What has driven 4 million people to work long hours in these factories, for some of the lowest wages in the world?

V/O ends scene with a question. A question pulls in the viewer and keeps their attention.


Step 2: Visual Storytelling Tools

In addition to writing differently for the screen, filmmakers employ the following techniques when creating films.

3 QUICK VISUAL BASICS - working with smartphone/iPhones

1. Shoot Horizontally - This may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s critical to hold your phone horizontally, east to west. Look at the difference rotating your phone horizontally makes versus shooting vertically:


Bad (Vertical)


Good (Horizontal)

2. The Rule of Thirds - While it can be tempting to simply plant your subject smack dab in the middle of your viewfinder, this look lacks dimension. It creates a flat plane. The basic principle behind the rule of thirds is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 parts. The theory is that if you place points of interest in the intersections or along the lines that your photo becomes more balanced and will enable a viewer of the image to interact with it more naturally.


The Rule of Thirds

The show "Mr. Robot" is a great example of how to use The Rule of Thirds effectively:


Notice how in the top-left picture, Elliott is aligned perfectly with the vertical line to the right of the frame, while in the bottom-left picture he straddles the lower left-hand corner. Think about this rule as we shoot interviews and frame subjects in the making of our own film. How can we establish a diversity of shots as Mr. Robot so effectively does here?

3. Wide Shot, Medium Shot, Close Up - Vary your images when creating a visual story. Look at these photographs from Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. Three images, three different perspectives:


After the collapse of Rana Plaza


After Rana Plaza

Practice Using Visuals to Report on the Collapse of the Rana Plaza Factory

1. Click on the resources attached from journalist Jason Motlagh. Review the text and images from Motlagh’s coverage on Rana plaza. Consider the following:

  • What new information do you learn from the text that you think could be represented visually?
  • What images are most striking to you? What stories do those images tell about the collapse of Rana Plaza?

2. Next, tell the story of Rana Plaza in three frames. Select three photographs from Motlagh’s reporting. Then, put the photographs in any order you want. How you sequence images will lead how you write your story. Add captions for each photograph based on what you know about Rana Plaza. Together, word + image = story.

Keep in mind: Your text will illuminate what is going on in these dramatic images. With short sentences, viewers’ understanding deepen and their focus sharpens too. Yes, there is grief, and crowds of mourners, but what more is there to know? Share the important details. Remember, image and word blend, creating harmony and melody - building a visual narrative together.

Step 3: Reflecting on Writing

1. Discuss the following:

  • How was your experience of writing for the images different from other narrative writing you have done in class?
  • What information did you emphasize in the captions? What would you have needed to include if you didn’t have the image?
  • How is writing for film different than writing for print?

2. Student Reflection

  • Click on this YouTube video (0:34) of student journalist Natalie Bradford explaining the difference between writing for print and writing for film.
  • As you watch, compare Bradford’s reflections to your own.

Step 4: Weaving Connections to the Global Textiles Industry

1. Look at your shirt label. Where was your clothing made? What does that tell you about garment manufacturing? How does this weave a connection to the way that globalization affects your life?

2. THE DAILY TAG: A Short Film (02:47)

3. This video created by high school journalism students in Winston-Salem, NC highlights the hands-on way globalization affects our lives. Before watching the film, read the shooting script below. Notice how the filmmakers planned to use visuals to communicate their story. Then, watch the final film and take note of the following:

  • How do the filmmakers weave a personal connection to the global textiles industry?
  • What are particularly impactful moments of visual storytelling? How did the image and text (spoken or written) weave together to make that moment impactful?

Daily Tag Script
(notice the weave between visual + verbal information)

ESTABLISHING SHOT - Exterior, R.J. Reynolds High School

B-ROLL - *The bell rings, and students file into classroom 210. The sound of chatter fills the air. Students begin to wander to the world map and check each other’s shirt tags.*

LOWER THIRD TEXT - Reynolds High School Journalism Class, Winston-Salem, NC

VOICEOVER - We begin today’s lesson with our shirt tags. What can we learn by looking at these labels? What does it reveal about where our clothing is made?

B-ROLL - *Close up panning shot of the map and students’ faces*  [This acts as breathing space]

VOICEOVER - China. Nicaragua. Bangladesh. Vietnam. Rarely did the United States surface as the maker of our t-shirts and sweaters. This simple high school experiment becomes a microcosm for today’s globalized textile industry.

B-ROLL -  *Exterior shots of Winston-Salem businesses (Trade Street, Sixth Street, Innovation Quarter), landing on Hanes Dye and Finishing.*

VOICEOVER - We live in Winston-Salem, NC, a town where the Hanes empire was born. Now Hanesbrands employs only 2200 people in town. 57,000 of the company’s workers are spread across the globe, where labor is cheap.

INTERSTITIAL (Text Slide) - *Labor costs in Vietnam are about $6 per worker per day, China $24, USA $120.*

DR. CRAIG RICHARDSON - “Okay so if you’re trying to make money, and you’re a plant, yeah let’s go where it’s the cheapest. Right? You have people who’ll work hard. Labor costs in Vietnam are $6 a day. 70 cents an hour. So you can hire people - and I’ve seen ‘em. They work extremely hard, they work 6 days a week, and they make 70 cents an hour.”

VOICEOVER - Asia is now the epicenter of garment manufacturing. It becomes easy to see why. Just look at the labor cost of making a hoodie.

PHOTO - Hoodie.

VOICEOVER - Global economics sounds a bit complex, but to begin understanding the textile industry today, look no further than the tiny label on the back of your clothing.

Step 5: Visualizing the Declining Role of Retail Stores

Now it’s your turn to tackle a story and attempt to make it visual.

1. Read/listen to the following two articles about the decline of American retailers:

2. Summarize the contents of the story you selected in one sentence.

3. Imagine your sentence is a caption for an image. Think of an image, a visual, that illuminates the point you are making.

4. Focus on one key example.

5. Search for the image. How do you plan to visualize this sentence with one image?

6. Log onto Google Image search and type in keywords of the type of photo you are looking for (i.e. “mall”, “shirt”), and select an image that matches your summary statement. Make sure to find an image with a large enough resolution for film (instructions on searching by resolution below). Images only work in film if the image size is large enough. Ideally, they should be equal to or larger than 1024x768 pixels. High resolution is key!

  • After searching, click on the word “Tools” in the toolbar. A drop-downmenu will appear.
  • In the menu, select “Size.” There will be another dropdown menu.
  • In the “Size” dropdown, select “Larger than…” to open another dropdown menu.
  • In the “Larger than…” dropdown menu, select "1024x768."

7. Answer these questions:

  • Observation: Is there evidence of stores closing down where you live? Why do you think the reporter compared merchandise stores with the coal industry?
  • Prediction: What do you think is causing today’s downturn in “brick and mortar” stores?
  • Where do you see retail changing?
  • What changed the way consumers in the US purchase products?
  • How does the changing retail landscape fit into a global trend?

Step 6: Putting It All Together

Based on what you’ve read, watched, and reflected on, produce a script about the decline of retail. Think of your script like an orchestra - different “instruments” coming together to create a beautiful composition. Voiceover, images, B-Roll footage - they all combine to make your point visually.

1. Using the Daily Tag script as a template, write a short, three-sentence video script (including all visuals we’ll see during your piece).

2. Include one statistic from your research and “insert” it into your story as a text slide.

3. Denote where in your script your image will go, as well as what else we’ll be seeing. Use examples from the real world - clips from YouTube, news sources or elsewhere on the web to round out your imagery.

Step 7: Conclusion

Use the following quotation to start a discussion reviewing what you learned about writing for video.

“The concept of being able to tell a story without verbally saying everything you want to say was very interesting. I enjoyed filmmaking a lot. I also learned so much about the terrific industry and its relevance as well.”  -Nupur Shah, R.J. Reynolds High School, Winston-Salem, NC


Student journalist Nupur Shaw (right), pictured with classmate Elizabeth Youssef, during the filming of Weaving Connections 2017.

Educator Notes: 

Diana Greene and Stan Wright co-authored this lesson plan.

Common Core Standards:


Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.


Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology's capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.

National Core Arts Standards:


Appraise how elements and components can be altered for intentional effects and audience, and refine media artworks to reflect purpose and audience.

Objective: Students will be able to evaluate how visual images work in tandem with words to create vivid stories in order to produce writing that pairs text with visuals to describe the story of textile manufacturing in Winston-Salem, NC, detail its path from boom to bust and track why the once thriving industry moved overseas.

Skills: Visual Literacy, Media Sourcing, Filmmaking Production, Broadcast Journalism Style

Filmmaker Wisdom: "Doing a documentary is about discovering, being open, learning, and following curiosity.” - Spike Jonze

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