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What Do Directors Look For In A Script?

By Nick Smith

I'm currently directing an independent feature called Captain Felder's Cannon.

During preproduction, one of the writers asked me whether I wanted all the setups numbered. She wanted to break each scene down into shots, camera angles, to take the movie that she imagined and convey it on the page.

This raises the question: what does a director NEED from a script? How much depth should a screenwriter go into, in terms of adding angles and camera moves?

It's important for a writer to communicate the way a scene should look and the way the viewers will see the action.

But if that writer expects every image to remain intact, from their mind's eye to the final product, they're going to be disappointed. There are too many people involved - designers, cinematographers, moneymen, and even the humble director.

I told the Captain Felder co-writer that I only needed the scenes numbered, with camera angles kept to a minimum.

After all, she was providing a READING SCRIPT - something that the actors could follow as well as the crew - not a SHOOTING SCRIPT, with all the technical directions included.

Unless you're asked to provide a shooting script, the only reason for you to include camera directions is if you can find no other way of depicting an image.

There's a scene description in Tom Schulman's screenplay of Dead Poet's Society where Keating (the Robin Williams character) gets onto a desk and quotes Walt Whitman.

It's a rousing scene in the movie; in the screenplay, it's conveyed with one simple, matter-of-fact line of text.

Schulman knew it wasn't his job to decide whether the camera should tilt up to Keating, or track or pan. It was his job to write a script in simple language that was entertaining to read.

As a director, I changed the order of the shots and scenes for production purposes.

They"ll be put back in their original order in post production, and I'll be paying close attention to the original screenplay during the editing process (another good reason to keep the reading script simple).

The script itself is easy to follow, with a strong story and some powerful images; as a basic template for shooting a movie, that's all I or any other director could possibly need.

Copyright (c) Nick Smith.

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