As a screenwriter, you’ve no doubt been told time and time again to remove anything from the page that details camera movement and cinematic direction. Why? Because doing so undermines an established formulae that is has become prevalent within the industry.
Continuity of style and presentation may be cornerstones of studio screenwriting where script readers must sift through tens if not hundreds of scripts a day but its appeal is often lost on independent and aspiring filmmakers.
There is no one true and correct way of writing a screenplay despite the emphasis many educational institutions and instructional courses place on keeping to a rigid set of dos and don’ts. Developing a gripping screenplay is, after all, about capturing a series of emotions as portrayed by characters and conjured up by environments.
So, to argue that it’s a writer’s job to conceive a story but to not articulate it in a visual sense creates a double standard that continues to confuse many students of the craft.
The fact is that a successful screenwriter must be able to communicate what’s written in the script to a variety of people — a list which typically includes the producer, director of photography (or cinematographer) and the film’s director. Therefore, you absolutely should be writing with a visual mindset.
Overcoming the Challenge That is Visualisation
While noting things like camera angles and movement are tasks better left to a later stage of pre-production where the script is broken down into a shooting script, there are several ways a writer can create specific scenarios that not only read well but translate seamlessly to the screen.
Achieving a fleshed out scene is difficult to do at the best of times and one of the best ways to go about it is to always be thinking about two things whilst you’re writing: language and realism.
Develop Your Visual Vocabulary
Use the most evocative words and adjectives you possibly can to engage the script reader’s imagination. This is the basis for the popular adage, ‘Show, don’t tell’ and using objectively descriptive terms is a sure-fire way to heighten the dramatic intensity of any script.
Of course, depending on what your writing process is like, it may be helpful for you to dedicate a specific pass to updating the language you’ve used and make everything just that much more evocative.
Guy Magar covered this tip in his hard-hitting guide to visualisation and provides some very useful advice on how to lead the director’s eye in a particular fashion. Definitely worth the read!
Create Realism Where Its Called For
We all know that some scenes will require heavier action sequences while others may ask more from the characters in terms of dialogue, however, it’s important you spare a thought for how these particular scenes will play out in motion.
With green screens and CGI having become so common place, actors are finding it increasingly difficult to orient and conduct themselves within a scene. Naturally, part of your responsibilities as a screenwriter is to plan for the processes that come after your own and ground the script.
That said, the director will be the one who ultimately decides whether particular scenes or shots will require practical effects or VFX but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take some initiative here and reduce the amount of work slated for post-production. This may give the producer and director more room to manoeuvre the budget and realise the intended vision.
On One Last Note
All of this is to say that it is not enough to put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard if you want to get ahead. But then again it was never meant to be easy.
With that in mind, remember to check back regularly or visit our Facebook Page and sign up for our new monthly newsletter aimed at helping aspiring filmmakers and promoting the importance of good pre-production.
See you next time!