The script or screenplay is a blue print containing the vision of the film, describing all relevant details and containing all dialogue. The challenge lies in using only verbal tools for presenting a multi-dimensionally narrated story expressed not only in language (in form of dialogue), but also via image and sound.
The script represents the pre-cinematic text which conveys a real-time-experience while reading; i.e. the length of the film should be as long as the reading of the script.
The script is the shared foundation for all departments in the process of filmmaking, by containing explicit information about production, casting, directing the actors, production design, camera, light, sound, costume, make-up, visual effects and montage. It has no intrinsic value but is totally geared towards the final product film. Content-related development is subject to dramatic-editorial modification and production cuts as well as adaptation to the reality of shooting the film – i.e. actors and locations. This process is reflected in several drafts and polishes. Basically a script may be redrafted until it is shot and loses its function. Scripts are divided into scenes.
The style of a script is purely functional. It consists of externally presentable – visual or audible – actions, expressed in clear and concise sentences. Descriptions are to be kept short and focus on relevant aspects. Instead of describing the entire scenery and all characters, one should try to evoke appropriate associations in the reader, so that she can sketch the scenery in her mind’s eye. Stylistic artfulness is not just unnecessary but may also be obstructive – when it tries to cover up that a scene is not working cinematically. Expressions borrowed from comics, on the other hand, are quite common when they are used to encapsulate actions and sounds onomatopoeically.
The narrative tense used in a script – as well as in its textual pre-steps – is the present, because the final movie also takes place at the moment when the audience watches it including an impression of immediacy.
Unlike a theatre play which allows the biggest possible interpretation freedom a script should be very precise in its concept of mood, milieu, narrative tone as well as the characters. It is the binding reference point for a creative analysis and interpretation.
A writer can also influence the visual realization in the script – point of view, lighting, field size or camera movement. For example: one can lead the reader’s perception so that he arrives at a specific interpretation. When a writer intents to start a scene with a particular detail and to show the rest of the room later, she can start by describing the detail first and only then go on to describe the room.
The formal script standards are from the US where their observance is obligatory. They originate from the US-American studio system where an industrial division of labour production style required a formal compatibility of scripts. Standardised scripts specify the mental image of the story and simplify script communication. Formal script standards are supposed to make sure that emphasis is put on the content of the story rather than any possible literary style.
By now international script-layouts all follow the US-American Standard within a certain range of variation. These contain detailed standards for page lay-out, font, numbering, the formatting of dialogue or the use of capital letters. The script standard setting of DramaQueen follows these terms exactly.
To find out the exact length of a script it is measured. Each scene is individually clocked while reading out the dialogues (without character instructions) and going through the actions in imagination. This is the first timing and will be used as reference point for shooting times and editing times in the further process. The first timing is part of the assistant director’s responsibility.
The director’s script is the director’s version of the script. Furthermore, she creates her own script with crucial notes: such as on directing actors, the cinematic realization (shotlist) or the division of scenes into situations and actions. With the help of the director’s script the director is able to pre-visualise the film story according to her needs and make shooting specific notes.
In a spec script the flow of the story should not be interrupted by technical details while in the shooting script it is common practice to include the camera setting: by inserting a ‘shot heading’ a camera setting is provided. This enables the documentation of interpretation ideas in the script. The same principle works for scene transitions.
A formal development of a script into a shooting script is uncommon in Germany. Instead the rule is to not explicitly include camera work.
Scenes are numbered during the pre-production phase at the latest. It is quite common that a script is laid-out in a way that each new scene starts on a new page. The advantage of this is that each scene is separable and can be worked with individually at the set. To gain a better overview the actions are separated so that each incident starts a new section.
At a certain point of pre-production the scene numbering is locked so that each scene is assigned a specific number regardless of whether other scenes are added or deleted.
A scene that is added after a scene-lock receives the number of the preceding scene in conjunction with an ‘A’. Every further scene added at this point in the script receives letters in alphabetical order. Newly added scenes are further marked by being printed on yellow paper.