Writing The Script
The value of a script is too often undervalued in short format media. It is the core document upon which a production is based, serving as the central point upon which every department turns. The size or urgency of a production can make participants think that their structure remains malleable through delivery, but small deviations late in the game can still cause massive complications as each department struggles to cope. Are we writing the script just for your client to get a sense of what it going to be shot? No, it’s much more than that. Just who are we writing the script for?
Everybody. There is often a misunderstanding about the purpose of production days. These are rarely moments of discovery and script consideration. Few projects allow this flexibility, and then likely only in a few keys areas. Production is largely about acquiring the footage that has been planned in advance, not about figuring it out. Only the performers, locations, props, lights and other elements that have been planned will be available. The time to scrutinise the script is in the days or (preferably) weeks prior, and it remains critical that creatives and clients cooperate to ensure that the details are correct, that dialogue is acceptable and coordinates correctly with any other action, and that descriptions of the product or service are accurate to what is desired. Introducing an additional shot during a shoot, even though the physical elements are present, can be extremely destructive to the day’s schedule and jeopardise the entire production. Similarly, revising a line of dialogue can make a video run long, which can be problematic for certain genres that have a set duration. These are the kinds of critical detail that require absolute scrutiny during the approval process.
Depending on the script, each element can tolerate more or less flexibility by happenstance or design, and it is best to assume that things can not be changed once production is imminent rather than to cavalierly take your chances. Not every production requires (or can afford) a full crew, but let us consider how the various departments depend on a script for information.
The producer will break down the script to reveal certain information, such as: the number of scenes, locations and performers, and for how much time each is required; any special effects; likely number and type of crew; any permits or permissions that may be required; budgetary demands; and any health, safety, legal or security concerns. With this information in hand, they will parse out the budget, hire the combination of crew required for this particular shoot, schedule and plan through to delivery, and deal with anything else that has come up through their analysis.
The director will read through and consider the most appropriate style for the production, the type of cinematography required, deal with casting, select locations, create storyboards, determine aesthetic choices with the DoP and Art Department, and conduct various other preparatory activities. There may be elements that need to be shot in advance of the production, and the director will likely be involved in putting together the edit. For the remainder of the team, the director’s vision will offer a unique, guiding interpretation of the script.
The director of photography will determine: the lighting required to achieve the aesthetic and mood for each location; what camera, lenses and support gear can best achieve the look and feel; and determine how the sequences in the storyboard can be best accomplished.
The production designer identifies locations, furniture, props, special effects, images, art, phone screens or computer usage mentioned in the script and plans the team of buyers, dressers, graphic designers or specialty artists required to build or transform a space into what is required.
A sound recordist will try to assess how many people will be speaking at any given part of a scene so that they prepare the correct audio device that records the number and type of microphones required. They’ll also look for problematic scenarios that may cause a need for re–recording during post–production.
An editor will need the script to figure out how the various pieces fit together. There will hopefully be notes coming from production that explain what was shot, and ideally a continuity script will be created that marks up a copy of the script with vertical lines that run the length of each setup and take, indicating the shot size and whether a line was spoken on or off screen.
A performer will want to read for context, an idea of where the focus of the scene may be at any given moment, and of course to learn their dialogue and actions.
Similarly, make up artists, stylists, and other professionals will take cues from the script on how to properly prepare for the production.
Suffice to say, any late changes to the script can cause a major knock–on effect of chaos. The art department may not have time to order things online or get to the prop house and arrange for delivery in time. The sound recordist may need to completely change the gear they have planned. The DoP may need a completely different style of dolly or to change a lighting order.
Things definitely happen on set that ultimately require changes to the plan, but these are best left to unforeseen circumstances that have an “act of god” nature to them. Revisions may seem minor, say if they are restricted to dialogue, but these can result in audio no longer corresponding to the image, or a previous line of dialogue needing a revision that is now too late. With everything that competes on set to vie for attention, it can be very difficult to fully account for the ripples caused by these small changes.
You’re writing the script for the whole team to help do the best possible job that they can for the client. They are an amazing resource, and it’s best to put that energy to positive use rather than fixing negatives. Probe your client for consideration of the critical details, as they may not understand the importance and all of the implications that we’ve discussed above. Do it early, check that it is right, and enjoy the process.