The House of the Dead is an ethnographic documentary of a Brazilian psychiatric asylum. This paper describes the initial stages of the production, particularly the fieldwork stage and the construction of the script. The goal is to show how the first ideas of the movie were provoked by the ethnographic encounter and affected by a poem-testimony written by Bubu, a patient who had been confined twelve times before. The ethnographic encounter is decisive for the definition of the documentary’s script, which materializes as a text on the images in the montage. This specificity of the ethnographic narrative brings a series of bureaucratic challenges for the institutional authorizations to proceed with the film, particularly regarding totalitarian institutions such as psychiatric hospitals and penitentiaries.