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Britain’s First Suicide Bombers – The script and the screenwriter in dramatized documentary for television

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This article centres on a drama-documentary developed by the author, an experienced screenwriter, producer and academic. The project in question was a major featurelength film for the BBC about the first suicide attack carried out by UK citizens. Aside from the significant difficulties posed by the subject matter, the mixed-genre nature of the film made its development problematic, falling between two distinct and contrasting traditions of programme-making. This case study locates the project in the context of a rising fashion for dramadoc within the BBC post 2000, identifies unforeseen difficulties with screenwriting that arose with the use of the form, and illustrates how those difficulties became amplified in this particular production. The analysis deals with the status of the screenwriter in a process where the script is no longer sovereign, raising questions of authorship, division of labour and collaborative exchange. It contributes to the ongoing debate between documentary values of sobriety and objectivity as opposed to dramatic ones of inner truth and emotional understanding, and makes the case for an ‘accumulation of voices’ as a justifiable representation of reality in contrast to a linear expository narrative. Finally, it commends further study of mixed genre drama/ documentary as a way of reappraising orthodox screenwriting theory, offering as it does production methodologies that frequently dispense with the formal screenplay.
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Keywords: BBC; drama-documentary; dramadoc; factual television; screenwriting; suicide bombing

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Leeds

Publication date: March 15, 2011

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  • The Journal of Screenwriting aims to explore the nature of writing for the moving image in the broadest sense, highlighting current academic thinking around scriptwriting whilst also reflecting on this with a truly international perspective and outlook. The journal will encourage the investigation of a broad range of possible methodologies and approaches to studying the scriptwriting form, in particular: the history of the form, contextual analysis, the process of writing for the moving image, the relationship of scriptwriting to the production process and how the form can be considered in terms of culture and society. The journal also aims to encourage research in the field of screenwriting, the linking of scriptwriting practice to academic theory, and to support and promote conferences and networking events on this subject.
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