Lomax Boyd

Elevating the art of science communication through documentary storytelling

Category: Documentary

Five Tips for Nonfiction (and science) Filmmakers

The challenge for science documentaries is capturing visually compelling B-roll. If you’re interviewing a molecular biologist, what visual elements do you use other than the talking head? Typically, a combination of animations (e.g adobe After Effects) and laboratory/field shots will suffice, but interactive elements (e.g. Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker and Zeega) offer lots of new opportunities.


American Doc: Five Tips for Nonfiction Filmmakers | Filmmaker Magazine.


New forms of doc making: interactive web experiences

Great summary slideshow on the next generation of documentary storytelling using cross platform interactivity. The newest medium of the doc will be written in the languages of the internet: javascript, CSS, and HTML.

StoryCode DIY Days Presentation – Creative Coding.

Interview with multimedia storyteller Andrew DeVigal

Incredibly insightful interview on navigating the stormy and everchanging landscape of transmedia interactive storytelling


Smart Readers Are Too Distracted to Dig Smart Content | Raw File | Wired.com.

Framing and the Art of Documentary | POV Blog | PBS

Making content visually compelling is no small order.

Framing and the Art of Documentary | POV Blog | PBS.

Op-eds for Scientists

I recently attended a workshop organized by the Duke Office of News and Communication on how academics can translate their arcane jargon-filled world views into compelling, and news worthy, op-ed articles for local and national newspapers. Coincidently, a lot of their advice applies to blogs.

Op-eds, short opinion pieces found in the back of most newspapers, are often overlooked outlets for scientists to reach the community. You don’t have to be a syndicated columnist, Pulitzer Prize winner, or even a Nobel Laureate to be an op-ed contributor. They dispelled a few myths and gave a lot of useful tips.


Myth 1: Don’t you have to be invited in order to write an 0p-ed?

Reality: No, anyone can submit an op-ed to any newspaper. But you probably have a better shot if you go through your university new and communications office.

Myth 2:  You need stature (tenured professor, Nobel Laureate, policy wonk) to publish an op-ed

Reality: Op-ed contributors can be anyone. But they are well-informed and articulate writers. They often have a relationship to the topic they’re writing about and bring fresh thinking to relevant issues.

Myth 3: If I can’t write for the New York Times then its not worth the effort.

Reality: While the NYTs, LA Times, and the WSJ have national coverage, your local newspaper probably reaches tens of thousands of people, and that’s a great start.

Myth 4: I should take my time writing an op-ed in order to craft a well-written piece

Reality: It’s an op-ed, not a peer-reviewed scholarly article. This is not an excuse to be sloppy with your facts or prose, but rather to better understand your audience and venue. News journalists live in a world measured in minutes and hours, not days or weeks, or months. If you have an idea for a compelling piece then write and submit without delay. Your work should be well written, but it also needs to be timely and relevant.

Myth 5: Op-eds should be written with objectivity and impartiality in order to be convincing.

Reality: No on several fronts. Op-eds are, again, not scholarly articles but points of view. The writer does and should have an opinion. The writer should have a personal investment in the topic. If the writer doesn’t care about the outcome, they why should the reader?  Op-eds should feel like one person talking to another. The writer wants the reader to know or do something specific, and they want that reaction now.


Effective Op-ed articles accomplish the following:

– Written under 750 words, if its more then editors will likely not even read it

– Don’t open with a question; state your topic and stance explicitly, preferably in the first few sentences

– Make an emotional connection with their reader; humor is one way

– Content is timely, connects broader or deeper issues to recent and important events (such as local issues for local newspapers)

– Try to inject yourself (maybe through personal or professional experience) into the article; this is an op-ed after all!

– If you have a claim, show the reader, don’t tell them. This means be specific with numbers, facts, events or provide an infographic, if possible

– Hook the reader within the first few sentences with a compelling reason to read further. The reader should understand the point of the piece within a couple sentences.

– The editors will be asking, “Who is the writer, why are they writing this piece, are they writing on a timely topic in an original and concise manner?”

– Have a clear OPINION


If you’re thinking about writing an op-ed, contact your university news and communication office with your ideas before pouring your heart and soul into a piece that’s not publishable.




As someone new to documentary arts, I was curious how nonfiction films measure up against their big-budget fictional counterparts. In order to give docs the best fighting chance, I compared data for all (or many) documentaries over the years and compared their stats to fictional films released in 2012. As you might expect, Hollywood types […]