Written by Karyn Keene
To be an effective screenwriter, you must keep in mind that a script is a roadmap to the final film. Each department wants your script to fulfill a certain job so they can execute the creative vision in the best possible way.
Last time we discussed writing for Directors and Actors. Today we’ll finish up by looking at Camera & Lighting and Production Design.
Writing for Camera & Lighting
Writing for Camera & Lighting requires the cunning use of paragraph breaks. When the Director and DP (Director of Photography) sit down with a script they look for the best way to break up a script into shots. When you break between paragraphs, the reader visually resets and gets ready for the next chunk of information. For the camera team, this break suggests a cut.
Therefore, writing one long paragraph suggests a long shot through all the action with few to no cuts. Lots of short paragraphs suggest quick motion and lots of cutting back and forth between different shots. As the writer, you get to play with your format to find a layout that best suggests how shots should run.
Writing for Production Design
Production Design is the general term for the teams who do wardrobe, make-up, hair, props and set-design. These people are responsible for creating new worlds so it’s important to include lots of world building details. Below are a few tips for how to help each of these teams out.
I’ve seen far too many scripts written that never once mention clothing. While presumably characters aren’t running around naked (we hope), these missing details make wardrobe people crazy. An easy fix is to provide details when they are first introduced. You certainly don’t (and shouldn’t) have to spell out every outfit they wear, just give an initial impression.
Make-Up and Hair
Details for make-up and hair come in two varieties: everyday and special effects. Everyday make-up should be described in the same fashion as wardrobe. Once you have given an impression of the character’s habits (or lack thereof) you can leave it alone.
Special effects make-up includes things like tattoos, scars, wounds, or any other bodily feature that is out of the ordinary. If a character has an unusual feature, be sure to include it up front and give some space to describing it. It’s easy to miss these details if they’re only discussed in passing pages after the character has been introduced.
The prop department deals with any object that a character picks up. Since these objects will receive more intimate exposure to the camera, be sure to include clear visual details. Props people like to blow their directors out of the water with the awesome props they create, so give them a hand and describe it for them.
These designers are in charge of finding, building, and decorating sets appropriately. Unless a specific object of needs attention, general information about look, style, and mood will be quite helpful. If a scene takes place in grandma’s kitchen, be sure to point out if she has knick-knacks from her grandkids littering the counters or if she goes for a clean, minimalist style. You don’t have to describe each knick-knack, but just pointing out their existence lets the set designers go to town.
Filmmaking is a medium that demands trust so that creative collaborators can do their jobs effectively. The trust required can be difficult, but if it works, the final project is a masterpiece beyond the capabilities of any crew-member. This collaboration makes filmmaking and screenwriting fantastically rewarding.
Interested in learning more about collaborative storytelling? Take a look at Sarah Yoon’s series on The Art of Collaboration.