Discover the 10 tips every scriptwriter should know about preparing a script.

Ten Things Every Scriptwriter Should Know About Preparing A Script For Filming

How can a scriptwriter make life easier for the filming team? Jesper Petzke explains the 10 tips that will make everything run smoothly on set.

Unsure how you as a scriptwriter should prepare your screenplay for filming during the early stages of a project? Wondering how you can help a director, production manager or production designer to save valuable time in preparation or on set? Screenwriters are not always familiar with the complex processes of film production. To help you find your way, here's a list of the top 10 tips you need to check in your script before distributing it to the shoot team.

1. Keep Scene Formatting Clean

Location, Location, Location

A scene in a script is defined by where it takes place. Every time you change location, a new scene with a new scene number and title will be required. Sometimes authors ignore this rule in favor of better readability, adding a change of location without any new information. Do not do this!

Give Clear Directions To The Filming Team

The shooting team need to identify every set and every scene in full to prepare for filming. If the characters go in conversation from the living room to the bedroom - this should be a new scene. Otherwise, to give one example, it may not be understood that the bedroom must be set up for filming too, and the lighting department hasn't prepared for illuminating the room. If the scriptwriter disregards this rule, the First AD has to indulge in all kinds of scene changes, which can lead to misunderstandings and delays.

2. Choose Lighting Moods Correctly

Don't Add Time of Day

The description of the lighting mood in the scene headers should never be a literal description of the time of day. These are factual indications for the camera and lighting departments detailing the shooting situations they must prepare for technically. Regardless of the suggestions made by popular scriptwriting programs, you should therefore refrain from providing detailed information such as "INT / noon" or "EXT / late afternoon" - if necessary, such times can be mentioned in the stage directions.

Consider The Technical Effects

Instead, you should limit yourself to the lighting moods that have technical effects on the scene-scheduling process: These are exclusively day and night mood and twilight situations that are implemented either as original twilight or as a mixed-light situation during the day. All other lighting moods you can safely ignore.

Following the description of lighting moods can make a world of difference when preparing for the technicality of a shoot.
Following the description of lighting moods can make a world of difference when preparing for the technicality of a shoot.

3. Uniform Names For Sets

Avoid Misunderstandings

Always assume that the shooting team will take everything that is written in your script literally. Therefore, you should name sets uniformly. If one scene caption says "family house" and another "house", it can lead to a misunderstanding that you're describing two different houses. Even when naming individual rooms, you should proceed in a consistent manner.

Differentiate Effectively

Once you have begun to differentiate the rooms within a set description ("family house / living room"), then you should stick this out across the entire script. Please note, however, that a scene header is not a place for elaborate descriptions. Nobody can do anything with a scene heading saying "a bourgeois residential building on the outskirts of town."

4. Uniform Names For Characters

Not The Time For Mystery

Like sets, characters should be uniformly named across the script. Sometimes authors have the habit of first calling a character who has not yet been introduced a "woman" and later renaming her "Mrs Jones" when the viewer knows more about her. It may of course be clear from the context that it is one and the same person.

Keep Things Clear

Nevertheless, it helps to avoid irritation when the character is clearly identifiable by name from the outset. Incidentally, it is also appropriate to give characters such as "Man 2" or "Policewoman 3" a proper name, instead of downgrading them to nameless functionaries.

Characters should be identifiable by name and uniformly mentioned across the script to keep things clear on set.
Characters should be identifiable by name and uniformly mentioned across the script to keep things clear on set.

5. Avoiding Too Much Prose

Leave Flowery Language Out

Before a script is filmed, it must first be sold. With that it mind, of course it should be entertaining and exciting to read and picture. Unfortunately, some authors try to reinforce this effect by using flowery language to increase the 'salability'. Such "scriptwriting prose" may be helpful for the selling process, but for the filming of the script it is anything but. A script is the textual basis for the filming and thus for the interpretive work of the director. This needs to be done in the form of factual directives and dialogues.

Let The Director Direct

It is not the script's job to relieve the director of interpretation, especially in relation to emotions: "she has an embarrassed, sad but grateful smile that breaks the viewer's heart" cannot be staged by any director in the world. If you use such prose in your script, it will likely happen that the director's instructions replace yours before filming starts.

6. Consider The Script's Logic

Does It Make Sense On Screen?

"The bank robber crosses the street with a pistol in his hand and heads for the branch. He pushes open the door and ..." This is the prelude to the bank robbery in your script? Excellent! But have you also considered why the bank robber holds the pistol in his hand while he crosses the street? You probably mentioned the weapon to show that the man is dangerous and to build up tension. But would it not make sense to keep the pistol hidden and only bring it out when he opens the door so as not to give himself away?

Psychological Coherence

These scenario descriptions can be very annoying for a director. In the script this can be overlooked, but in the production the director must find a psychologically coherent solution for the actor to make the weapon plausible. This can be complicated, especially with information which is only in the script for dramaturgical reasons. For this reason, you should always check your script to see if what is written on paper also works logically and conclusively on the screen.

Make sure that the written scenario makes sense on screen.
Make sure that the written scenario makes sense on screen.

7. Only Describe Visible Things

Absence Doesn't Film Well

Film is a blunt medium, especially in comparison to text. In contrast to language, a picture can only show things that are really visible. You should therefore refrain from mentioning the absence of a character or a prop in the script.

Avoid Inelegant Stagings

Instructions such as "Mr. Mayor cannot be seen" or "The book is gone" can only be made visible by staging additional shots, one in which Mr. Mayor is first visible and then disappears after a cut or by showing a figure who is looking for something and says "where is the book?". Since such staged solutions are inelegant in most cases, you should avoid them and think of other script solutions instead.

8. Always Include Present Characters

Be Clear About Who's In The Scene

When characters are present in a scene but have no active function, scriptwriters sometimes forget to include them. Especially when it comes to ensemble films. Conversely, if a character has no dialogue and also isn't mentioned in the directional statements it may happen that the director assume that there's a reason for their absence in the scene.

Inexactitude Leads To Confusion

Or worse: The director assumes that the character is present, but the role is forgotten by the First AD in the breakdown. By making sure that all characters present in a scene are mentioned, you will help to avoid such misunderstandings.

Make certain that all the characters (with/without dialogue) mentioned in the script are present for the scene.
Make certain that all the characters (with/without dialogue) mentioned in the script are present for the scene.

9. Series Need Uniform Episode & Scene Numbers

Work Of Many Hands

In serial productions, several authors often work independently on individual episodes, sometimes over several seasons; The scripts, however, are implemented by the same team afterwards.

Keep It Consistent

While the format of episode and scene numbering does not matter in most cases, it should still be consistent across all episodes. So before you get to work, it's a good idea to ask questions about the production or to agree with your fellow writers on a consistent spelling.

Consistency across all episodes is key on a serial production.
Consistency across all episodes is key on a serial production.

10. Working With Colored Change Pages

Coping With Changes

Often, the production process will require changes to the script. These changes are distributed to the team in the form of colored pages. Only the script pages with text changes will be replaced. In order to differentiate these from the existing scriptwriting pages, they are printed on colored paper, with each version getting its own color. Such script changes are a time-drain for the team as each employee has to work through the changes that relate to their position.

Mark and Define Changes

You can make it easier for the team if you do two things when creating the pages: Firstly, all changes should be marked in the text:: Secondly, you should provide an informal overview of which type of change there is in which scene. The gaffer, for example, is not much interested in dialogue changes, and the actor hardly cares for changing lighting moods. With such a listing, you save the team from having to check each scene individually to see if your changes affect their work or not.