Spec or shooting?

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  • Spec or shooting?

    I've been reading some scripts. The best ones, IMHO, are those where reading the script is almost like watching the movie. I can see the images in my mind.

    But here is a conundrum. I will illustrate it with two examples describing the same thing. (Please ignore the typing format here.)

    ---

    Version one

    EXT. A ROAD IN WALES - DAY

    A troop of mounted soldiers approach at a trot. Leading them is Cassius, a young nobleman in gleaming armour. Camera pans with him as they pass, then rises to show their destination: a large ROMAN VILLA.


    ---

    When I asked people about this, they said it was wrong. -You are writing a spec script. You should just tell a story. You should not be giving instructions about camera movement and angles. That belongs in a shooting script.- So I rewrote it something like this:

    ---

    Version two

    EXT. A ROAD IN WALES - DAY

    A troop of soldiers ride toward a large ROMAN VILLA. Their leader is Cassius, a young nobleman in gleaming armour.


    ---

    Ever since, I have been avoiding everything that mentions -camera- doing something or -from above/below- or -we see-. But I have also always felt that the first version was a better read. Later I have found that in actual scripts, such descriptions are actually not a no-no. Here are two examples from a real (Sci-fi) movie:

    ---

    A planet of massive, tortured ROCK FORMS, distant cities constructed atop and underneath them. A HOVER-SPEEDER in the mid-ground kicks up dust, backlit by the sun, as it traces the horizon. We PAN WITH IT, revealing a FAMILY HOME, built seamlessly into a rocky mountainside.

    ---

    The shuttle SAILS AWAY with the others... HOLD ON THIS... for a long beat. Then PAN OVER to see NERO'S SHIP TUMBLING SILENTLY THROUGH SPACE -- DEBRIS still raining from the explosion -


    ---

    So here is my question. Where is the border between a spec script and a shooting script? Are my sci-fi examples a shooting script? Would a movie company reader throw that in the bin? I think, despite the instructions for shots, that it reads excellently.

  • #2
    Re: Spec or shooting?

    Originally posted by Merlin View Post

    Version one

    EXT. A ROAD IN WALES - DAY

    A troop of mounted soldiers approach at a trot. Leading them is Cassius, a young nobleman in gleaming armour. Camera pans with him as they pass, then rises to show their destination: a large ROMAN VILLA.


    –––

    When I asked people about this, they said it was wrong. ”You are writing a spec script. You should just tell a story. You should not be giving instructions about camera movement and angles. That belongs in a shooting script.”
    –––

    Ever since I have been avoiding everything that mentions ”camera” doing something or ”from above/below” or ”we see”. But I have also always felt that the first version was a better read.

    So here is my question. Where is the border between a spec script and a shooting script? Are my sci-fi examples a shooting script? Would a movie company reader throw that in the bin? I think, despite the instructions for shots, that it reads excellently.

    You’re not doing anything wrong. If you want to change anything at all, the only thing you need to change in the first example is the “Camera pans with him.” Change it to:

    EXT. A ROAD IN WALES - DAY

    A troop of MOUNTED SOLDIERS approaches at a trot. Leading them,
    in gleaming armour, is CASSIUS, a young nobleman. We follow him as they pass, then rise from the band of mounted soldiers to show their destination: a large ROMAN VILLA.

    Maybe you can rewrite some variation of this. Anyway, IMHO, when it comes to spec writing, the gloves come off, and you use all the craft you know how to use, and yes, by all means, please do make it an easy read.

    An easy read makes a good impression, and you only get one chance to make a good first impression. So pay someone as a proofreader (who isn’t interested in screenwriting) to eyeball your screenplay. Strictly grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Just my 2ยข.
    Last edited by TigerFang; 09-16-2019, 12:58 PM.
    "Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.- - Ray Bradbury

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    • #3
      Re: Spec or shooting?

      I am not a professional, so you can keep that in mind.


      But I have seen what many professionals have had to say about this through the years. The main thing that they say is: There really are no rules.


      Second, and this is more my own opinion, you can write a scene and present all your images without talking about what the camera does.


      Have you ever read a novel? I am sure you have. Did the author at any point talk about a camera that panned left or right? Of course not.


      You just write what you see.

      "The fact that you have seen professionals write poorly is no reason for you to imitate them." - ComicBent.

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      • #4
        Re: Spec or shooting?

        EXT. A ROAD IN WALES - DAY

        A contingent of MOUNTED SOLDIERS approaches at a trot. CASSIUS, a young nobleman in gleaming armor, leads them. As they pass by, we rise up and above the dust and men of the cavalry to show their destination: a large ROMAN VILLA.
        Last edited by TigerFang; 09-18-2019, 11:33 AM.
        "Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.- - Ray Bradbury

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Spec or shooting?

          Originally posted by Merlin View Post
          –––

          Version one

          EXT. A ROAD IN WALES - DAY

          A troop of mounted soldiers approach at a trot. Leading them is Cassius, a young nobleman in gleaming armour. Camera pans with him as they pass, then rises to show their destination: a large ROMAN VILLA.

          This first example is a specific set of visuals. We start on the soldiers, then focusing on ONE, Cassius and his armor. Feels like a medium shot (to me) where we "track" with the Cassius, then rise up (crane shot possibly) to a wide shot of the Roman villa.

          In this visual the camera is participating in the active story, it moves with the soldiers. And is a part of the storytelling by using rising shot to "reveal," what we could not at first see from the tighter shot.

          1. soldiers -- the camera is static UNTIL...
          2. pick up Cassius and his amor, then we track (camera motion) with him
          3. high shot of the villa (camera moving as we rise up)

          ––
          When I asked people about this, they said it was wrong. ”You are writing a spec script. You should just tell a story. You should not be giving instructions about camera movement and angles. That belongs in a shooting script.” So I rewrote it something like this:
          Don't listen to them. Write what you see with action that clearly demonstrates the visual.
          –––
          Version two

          EXT. A ROAD IN WALES - DAY

          A troop of soldiers ride toward a large ROMAN VILLA. Their leader is Cassius, a young nobleman in gleaming armour.
          Your second example represents a static, wide shot. The entire visual is seen at one time and there is no "camera movement" to the scene. The camera is set in one place and the scene unfolds "in front" of the camera.

          These are two very different visuals, do you see what I mean?

          1. shot includes all soldiers, Cassius and the villa. This suggests a stationary shot.

          IMO, the moving shot is far more interesting and dramatic.

          –––
          Ever since, I have been avoiding everything that mentions ”camera” doing something or ”from above/below” or ”we see”. But I have also always felt that the first version was a better read. Later I have found that in actual scripts, such descriptions are actually not a no-no. Here are two examples from a real (Sci-fi) movie:
          It seems to me that you already feel the need to ignore any "rules." Don't listen to the "rulers," listen to your creative self expression. You're right, the first is better.
          –––
          A planet of massive, tortured ROCK FORMS, distant cities constructed atop and underneath them. A HOVER-SPEEDER in the mid-ground kicks up dust, backlit by the sun, as it traces the horizon. We PAN WITH IT, revealing a FAMILY HOME, built seamlessly into a rocky mountainside.

          The shuttle SAILS AWAY with the others... HOLD ON THIS... for a long beat. Then PAN OVER to see NERO'S SHIP TUMBLING SILENTLY THROUGH SPACE -- DEBRIS still raining from the explosion —


          So here is my question. Where is the border between a spec script and a shooting script? Are my sci-fi examples a shooting script? Would a movie company reader throw that in the bin? I think, despite the instructions for shots, that it reads excellently.
          In a spec, one of the most important aspects is to entertain the reader. Use direction when it is necessary to tell the story. If you need a close up shot as a plot point or a story beat use it. You can imply much when writing, and sometimes it's easier and faster to just write in the direction.

          The way you train this skill is a simple matter of doing it, then evaluating if it works, or if it feels heavy-handed. And read more scripts.

          For example, I write scene transitions, because that's the job of the screenwriter. I do a lot of camera motions as well. but there are times, like in the last example where you want to pause-- for reflection or what have you, because it better dramatizes the story. I think of every way to possibly connect the last scene to the next scene to drive the story forward. It makes for more seamless storytelling. I see a lot of amateur writers that barely have a suggestion of scene transitions.

          It's your vision, until it's not. Use every single tool, device, trick you have to make your story engaging and entertaining. Trust me, you're not stepping on anyone's toes, because the minute the director is attached it won't be YOUR vision anymore it will be theirs, but if you use the camera as a POV it can and will make your story more entertaining, visual, and interesting.
          FA4

          PS. One last thing I will add-- camera direction can interfere with the narration of a story. It can actually pull you out of the story. You DO NOT want that to happen. remember, a production draft will have all the direction that specific director needs to shoot the film. A spec doesn't NEED all that. You should write camera direction on what is important to the story and must be included. I've used: TIME STANDS STILL, PULL BACK TO REVEAL (I use this for a transition shots to reveal something important), REALITY SLOWS TO A CRAWL:, REAL TIME RETURNS:, A FLASH OF LIGHT BURNS THROUGH THE TITLE CARD (another scene transition)... anyway, you get the idea. Like anything, the more you play with it the better you'll get.
          Last edited by finalact4; 09-16-2019, 01:33 PM.
          "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

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          • #6
            Re: Spec or shooting?

            Whatever reads better. No one really cares except writers and old screenplay books. Write what tells the story best. And you can try some ways to hide directions like for close up I CAP a character name on single line. Same idea.

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            • #7
              Re: Spec or shooting?

              Like TigerFang said, just get rid of the camera mention — "we see" is basically the same thing, but it's not as mechanical.

              I agree with you, the first example reads better than the second. We "see" the scene more clearly. Stick with your instincts on this.
              STANDARD DISCLAIMER: I'm a wannabe, take whatever I write with a huge grain of salt.

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              • #8
                Re: Spec or shooting?

                Thanks ever so much for all the replies! I feel uplifted. Especially Finalact4, your message was awesome. Thanks for taking the time to write this. I'm gonna cut it out and stick it on the wall above my desk!

                Merlin

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                • #9
                  Re: Spec or shooting?

                  Depends on what the needs of the project are. *If* it's a spec, best pair it down and make it as sparse as possible, easy to read, +/- a few tricks here and there (including asides, if you can do them well) to help whoever SEE the movie. If it's an assignment, standard no-frills format (but still as clear and clean as possible) is probably best. In both cases, rhythm and economy (of writing) as much as possible. An LP will be combing over my current assignment, for example, so it has to be standard format (none of that minimalist spec stuff ).

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