Screenwriting Today and Tomorrow

In Steven Price’s A History of the Screenplay, chapter 11, he discusses the ways scripts, or scenarios, or indeed outlines have been written in the past, and continue to be written today. He moves on, at the end of the chapter, to discuss how a screenplay can be presented digitally for consumption by a consumer, or for further analysis.

It is interesting to read the different techniques that film-makers have with regard to whatever they may consider to be their ‘screenplay’. Some use a full screenplay in the form that it’s best known, others still use more of a checklist, much like Melie’s, as previously discussed, and then use improvisation to ‘flesh out’ the scenes, others still have written near-enough a complete novel from which they will direct the script.

However, it seems that all of those which make use of an ‘alternative’ script format either know for a fact that they will be directing the film for themselves, or at least are outside of major studio productions, so able to do things a little bit differently from the norm.

I have read a great many books on the craft of screenwriting, including one of those mentioned as being about writing in an alternative way. The vast majority still do make a point about using the 3 / 5 act structure, which – for me – works well for laying down at least a backbone for the script. Price is correct when he says that the ‘alternative’ script-writing books tend to try to steer screenwriters away from this structure, and more often than not it’s Pulp Fiction that’s at least partially responsible for this.

Overall, though, the message I got from reading the chapter is that standardised script formats change – there never used to be standards, then that gradually changed, and eventually became the script format we know now. BUT there’s no reason, when you’re writing for yourself, why you have to stick with this particularly format if you have good reason not to. If you’re going for a more naturalistic feel about the piece, perhaps an overall structure followed by improvisation could work best. If visually you know what you want to say, and you know what your characters are thinking, perhaps a more prose-based ‘scenario’ would work, and then again get the actors to improvise.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure how likely it is that I will get to make anything I have written myself, so for the time being at least I will be sticking with standard screenplay format.

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