*Afterthought #116: Writing for Documentaries

Nonfiction is the genre I almost always write in (even my poems are true!), and my prose is usually in the form of essays, profiles, and memoir. I recently took a Hugo House class with Elizabeth Eaves about writing op-eds (also known as opinion pieces or, now, guest essays in. The New York Times). I have plenty of opinions to write about, and I want to develop skill in that area. 

Liz Smith

One nonfiction form I’ve never tried writing for is documentary films. I’ve grown more intrigued by this genre as I’ve gotten to know the current Writer-in-Residence on the Interisland ferry, Liz Smith, who I’ve written about here and here and here.

Although Liz’s term has been postponed by COVID-19, she’s been doing plenty of writing, most recently for the film, YOUTH v GOV, and as part of the crew for the South Florida PBS series, “Changing Seas.”

Last year, Liz produced and wrote an episode for Season 13 of the series; Alvin: Pioneer of the Deep, is about the Deep Submergence Vessel (DSV) Alvin.  The episode, co-produced with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, first aired in July 2021 and screened in October at the Friday Harbor Film Festival

“I’m really proud of this episode,” Liz told me, and rightfully so. It was nominated for two Suncoast Regional Emmys—one in the Science/Environmental documentary category and one in the Craft Category for Writing. What’s even more exciting to Liz, though, is the film’s message “of wonder and hope, which we could all use a little bit more of these days.” If you missed Alvin on PBS or at the Film Festival, you can watch it online at this link

Liz’s most recent assignment has kept her closer to her home on San Juan Island. “I’m producing an episode for Season 14 about the importance of kelp in our Salish Sea ecosystem,” she told me. “We filmed in October up and down the Sound, including at Friday Harbor Labs with a post-doc researcher.” Footage for the segment also involved time at Deception Pass State Park with the Samish Department of Natural Resources, on the Kitsap Peninsula with the Chair of the Suquamish Tribe and the Puget Sound Restoration Fund (PSRF), and in Olympia with researchers from the University of Washington and the state Department of Natural Resources. 

themarinedetective.com – Jackie Hildering

“I’m currently working on the script,” Liz says. “We’ll go into post-production in the new year, and all new episodes will air next summer.”

Wow! If, like me, you don’t know a lot about kelp, check out the PSRF story map about kelp forests

Strands of bull kelp near Smith Island in Puget Sound. Photo by Eric Wagner.

I can’t wait to see how Liz writes about these plants so essential to the health of the Salish Sea.

*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets.

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