Screenwriting and the Shooting Script

Throw out the notion that the shooting script is written by the screenwriter… IT IS NOT.

The shooting script is created right after your film enters pre-production. Ideally, the director and cinematographer will work side-by-side while determining the desired shots for your film. Think of the shooting script as an elaborate version of your screenplay.

The shooting script is broken into shots, featuring precise cinematography terminology such as close-ups, dolly, canted angle. Scenes are assigned numbers which are included in the script alongside the scene headers. The numbers provide a convenient way for the various production departments (Makeup, Wardrobe, Set Design, etc.) to reference individual scenes.

After a shooting script has been widely circulated, page numbers are locked, and any revisions are distributed on revision pages. Revisions are made distinctively by implementing techniques such using different colored sheets of paper and revision symbols. A great way to inform your crew members of script revisions is to place a symbol in the corrected area. Most film studios implement asterisks and place them in the left hand side of the script page. This will help anyone searching for the newest revisions made on your script.

The idea here is to inform the crew what is going on. Before principle photography starts, the shooting script will be divided into dates, so everyone knows what is being shot when. This ensures that everyone involved will be on the same level once the filming process begins.

Rather than shoot chronologically, from the first scene to the last, most directors group shots by location or set required. This method maximizes productive shooting time, facilitates the work of set designers, lighting and sound and ensures a smooth production process is achieved.

The assistance director prepares shooting scripts, which group together all the scenes (or parts of scenes) scheduled for each shooting day. Shooting scripts take two main forms. Either the AD lists the scenes/parts of scenes scheduled for each day or assembles each day’s scenes into a packet. The latter is preferable, providing a compact document which actors and crew can annotate and work from while preparing to shoot.

Either the AD or the producer then issues the relevant shooting script to the actors and to each member of the crew. The assistant director or producer should issue shooting scripts at least a week in advance of the relevant shooting date. But the more time the crew and actors have to prepare, the more efficient the shoot.

Each crew member should work carefully through the shooting script and note exactly what he or she needs to prepare, find, check, or practice prior to shooting. Actors should apply their own notes on the shooting script from rehearsals indicating any changes needed for their performance.

On location or set, as each scene/part of scene is shot, producers, directors, actors and crew should cross out (preferably in black or fluorescent marker) the completed segment on the day’s shooting script. Everyone thus tracks the progress of the shoot, and can check that no scenes/parts of scenes scheduled for the day are forgotten.

When you get to a point in your life and say, “I never thought I would be here or doing this?” It’s because you tried.

- David L. Spies

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