Screenwriting: How To Write the Shots

If you have a great story to compete in the entertainment marketplace, then you should try screenwriting. As you write down your blockbuster, there are four elements that are part of any screenplay: slug lines, dialogue, transitions and shots. Slug lines tell where and when the scene takes place; dialogue is what the characters say; transitions are how you get from one scene or shot to another.

But, the mainstay of most screenplays is the shot. In previous eras, screenwriters indicated a Close-Up with "C.U."; you could indicate a "Wide" "Establishing" or "Medium-Shot." Now, most directors don't want screenwriters doing their job, so that practice is frowned upon in the industry. Nonetheless, there are ways to indicate the shot you'd like without being so direct.

Get Closer

If the main prop motivating the action of the entire script is a flash-drive containing government secrets, rather than writing "CLOSE UP - FLASHDRIVE", you can lead up to it and indicate it by dropping down a line and putting the close-up in capital letters:

"John moves forward and reaches for

THE FLASHDRIVE"

This isolates the object you want to pay attention to. You could also put the FLASHDRIVE in caps within the sentence, but dropping down puts it on its own on the page. Remember, white space on a screenplay page is your friend.

Widen Your Horizons

You can use a similar tactic when indicating wide shots, but there's another opportunity just by using your slug lines. A slug line indicates "EXT. BARN - DAY," but you can pay particular attention by describing it: "EXT. BEAT-UP BARN - DAY."

Move the Camera

Movies move, and the camera doesn't have to be locked down. It can pan, dolly, tilt, etc. Indicate camera movements simply when describing the shot. "John races down the hallway to the locked door" or "Jack looks up to the sky." The director can cut, or he can use the movement. Sometimes you just have to trust the director to do his job.

Describe

Screenplays are like poetry in that there should be no unnecessary words, but if you have something you want the camera to focus on, take the time to describe it vividly. You could write "a bedroom," or you could show the reader "an elegant, silk lined boudoir." There's a difference, and a trained director will know more of what you want. If a character "picks up a watch," that may not be important, but if he "snatches the antique pocket watch," that's something else entirely.

Elaborate

If it's important, take the time to say so. If you describe a big rock following the hero down a tunnel, that may be one thing, but when Lawrence Kasdan described "a gigantic boulder chasing down Indy," that's memorable. You can probably see that shot in your mind right now. Write the shots that people remember.