Wednesday 25 March 2015

To script, or not to script

Today we edited some scripts, which led to the question ‘What do we want in a good screenplay?’

Does it need a good narrative. What about dialogue, or settings? And in what way does a script differ from a short story or a novel.

Well the first thing to say is that writing a script is a totally different way of writing to a novel. Scriptwriting is more about description. Painting a picture with your pen (or computer). The characters don’t have to be described in any great detail. The script must be really engaging, after all it is there to impress the producer/director and/or the person holding the purse strings.

The scriptwriter is creating a quick visual shorthand for the actors and director, and they need to remember that the first draft has no intrinsic value because scripts can, and do change right up until the last scene has been shot. A script is a collaborative process, and the end product may bare very little resemblance to the original script.  

The short story/novel, doesn’t change too much from the original work.
I put a couple of questions to one of the best screenwriters I know, and certainly a name to look out for in the future - TIM SHELLEY

ME: How much dialogue should a script contain?
TIM: It's a tough question, and one that I don't think has a straight answer. It all depends on the script you're writing. A soap opera script will have tons of dialogue, whereas an action thriller could predominantly focus on the scene description/action elements. It really comes down to knowing the genre, the story you're telling, and the market you are trying to hit with your script.
It's the same with screenwriting rules. They are intended as a baseline, because so often new writers fail to really study their intended audience and analyse the scripts that have been picked up by the networks. But as with all rules, they can be broken. As long as it works. Whether it works or not though is entirely subjective.

ME: How would you describe the difference between novel writing and scriptwriting?

TIM: I'd say novels and screenplays share a grounding at a story structure level. What separates them are the tools at the writer's disposal. In a novel, a writer has almost complete freedom over the way their final piece is portrayed. What tense they use etc...   A screenwriter, unless they are also the director/show runner, generally has very little input towards the final work, and has to follow the conventions established by Hollywood and other networks. They have to write in present tense, and adhere to screenplay format. If they don't, producers won't read past page 5. Similar to what an author deals with when approaching an agent/publisher. They expect the manuscript to be formatted correctly. Failing to do so just comes across as lazy to those who have to sift through material on a daily basis.
Then you also have to contend with the limitations of writing for the screen. It's a visual medium so you can't go into character thoughts very easily, yet you still need to give an audience a way into the character's psyche. Obviously there are ways around these limitations, such as using subtext laden dialogue and character descriptors, etc... It all comes down to weighing up how much you should show, what you know needs to be on screen, and laying out the blueprint for a film/show so that a director can go out and shoot it with the final image already in their heads.

Thanks Tim, Great answers.

Finally: 5 things to remember when writing a script:

1. Do your homework.

2. Don’t make assumptions about what your readers know.

3. A script can contain a lot of set ups, but remember if you set something up,     you have to revisit it.

4. Make it engaging.

5. Remember, you don’t put camera angles in.

Hope you've found this post informative.

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