Screenwriting : Camera Angle Notation? To do or not to do in your script? by Matt Holmes

Matt Holmes

Camera Angle Notation? To do or not to do in your script?

So as I look at a variety of scripts for films that I respect in artistic and mechanical terms (in various draft stages) I see that some scripts seem to include camera angle detail for each action sequence where as others just frame character motivation and movements. Now working on my 2nd and 3rd screenplays, I've found that including camera angles really helps me imagine the scene and build more effective transitions, but my question is: Do I leave in all of the camera angle notations (i.e. POV, Narrow, Wide, Angle, etc) when I submit the script for consideration? Or is this something that producers/directors will look at and say 'this guy is an idiot for trying to tell me how to see the scene'? Sounds like a basic question but I can't find clear direction so I figured I put it out here to all of you for feedback and advice....

Jon Bonnell

If you are seeing camera angles, etc, they are most likely shooting scripts or were written by the director. If you aren't the director, don't direct in your script. Its that simple. Describe the scene and in that description hint at what you want the camera to do without saying it.

A AA

I agree with Jon. I just recently finished a script on my own, and I got it critiqued, one of the things I wanted to emphasis was the angles and the shots. I was told that the DP does that, and it is not your responsibility as a writer. I felt like, since it's my "baby" I wanted to make sure that people got what I was saying and how I wanted it shot...and unless your directing it as well, unfortunately that is not something that is standard format in a script. All that stuff is added later when you make your shot list (if your directing). I know what you mean by trying to paint the picture, I want people to see what I see! But a script, will always just be the story per se, and not the actual shots and angles. Good luck with your script! :)

Matt Holmes

Jon and Annika - thanks, respectively, for both the advice and the real-world example. Huge thumbs up to you both for the guidance - just reinforces whats so great about this community! :-)

CJ Walley

Matt I'd consider a couple of things here; 1) You can imply the type of shot within the writing to a certain extent. 2) Directors of photography are generally going to do a better job of this than us.

Matt Holmes

Thanks again for the reco - I try to imply the shot I want as I write the action...on this particular project I had only been using the camera angles for my personal reference to visualize the scene and drive the dialogue and I now realize I definitely must redact them ;-)

CJ Walley

Sounds like you have a good process that works for you there Matt :)

Matt Holmes

I hope so ;-) I'll see soon enough!

Stephen Thor

a sticky subject. putting in camera angles and such and you risk the chance of being labled the dreaded "GASP"... amateur! the advice on writing the scene so that the angle you want has to be what the directors also wants is spot on. on the other hand, i see no harm in sneaking in one camera angle if it seems no way you can write it in. personally, i used a "pov" in my script because i felt there was little chance that a director would "get it" otherwise. it was a risk i thought worth taking. and if your script gets tossed out because of only one or minor transgressions, then it never had a chance in the first place (at least with that particular reader). of course, the solution is to write such a burner of a script that a minor (or only a very few deviations) from todays accepted "norms" in format is the last thing the reader is concerned about. just my opinion.

Matt Holmes

Stephen - thanks again for the insight and yes, I really feel pretty strongly about the handful of POV's I've got written in so I may try and keep them

D Marcus

I think of the script as the foundation of the film - the story and characters. On that foundation actors give life to the characters and directors, cinematographers and editors build the look. We each have our place in the construction of a movie. If, as the writer, you feel it's important to you to set up each shot (i.e. POV, Narrow, Wide, Angle, etc) then you should do it. Yes, some (maybe most) people reading the script will be put off. But it's your baby - dress it as you like. Do so knowing the way the business works. It may be better for you to take that risk and set up the shots in the screenplay so in the end you get exactly what you want on the screen. In general that isn't the way the industry works; writers do not get a say in what shots the director uses.

Matt Holmes

Thanks again for the thoughts....I already had the picture that given the volume of stuff written and limited number of things that get options and even more limited number produced, screenwriters are the beggars of the industry so I'm not put off by the (sound) advice....I really think that only in a handful of ACTION areas will I try to denote camera angle, only as it pertains to an emotional beat or a plot beat (for example a specific angle to denote how a character might 'perceive' something that happened and hot it might drive their future actions)....I'll try to polish the script off in the next week or so and then pull most of the shot directions and then get it out to a script consultant to see if it needs further 'streamlining'....thanks again, all for the sage advice and examples of "how not to alienate" potential customers ;-)

D Marcus

I bet you are a good enough writer that you do not need to use camera angles to emphasize an emotional beat.

Matt Holmes

I'd like to think so ;-) I will certainly find out soon enough on this one - thanks again for the advice and encouragement!

Jon Bonnell

Although this talk and no examples (including from me) so here's a few (quick and dirty). Instead of using POV, in the action state "We watch from the killer's eyes as". Instead of OTS (Over the Shoulder) you can try something like "We follow John as he sneaks up on Jim from behind". Overly simple, but you get the idea. It visually paints the picture, but doesn't actually state the shot that they should be using.

Matt Treacy

Production scripts will always have camera angles, as they are an essential part of the director's vision. For those writing a spec script (you), the key to success is telling a good story succinctly and without jolting the reader out of that story. Adding scene direction and (sorry to say, Jon) 'we see' simply reminds the reader that they are reading a script - when they should be totally engrossed in the action and dialogue. Instead of Jon's examples, I would suggest, "John sneaks up on Jim from behind". There's no need to add the additional layer of context. Just describe what the camera sees. That does not include thoughts, ideas etc.

Jon Bonnell

I agree, Matt. Hence why I said, "Overly simple." The key is to describe the action in a way that they see it how you perceive the camera (as a character) interacting with the audience. Oh, and "we see" and similar 'reminders' are used by Shane Black all the time. Its all in the execution and how you draw your reader into the story.

Stephen Thor

Matt, you mentioned running the script by a script consultant. mine went to about 4 such consultants. nearly every one of them had contradictory advice on just about everything... almost to the extent of the differing opinions you are receiving here. some of the formatting was either approved or ignored while other formal issues were advised to be changed. some things are the norm and are not to be ever violated... such as putting in all caps the name of a character the first time he/she shows up in a scene, etc. i think the main value of a script consultant (depends of which "service" you are ordering") is alternative plot, scenes and dialog deviations or changes that are suggested. as i said before, if you have a burner of a script minor deviations from the current "norms" will be ignored by a competent reader as long as such deviations are far and few between. it all depends on the reader/consultant. write a global success and you can write just about any way you want. and if your script ends up in a major studio with their own writers they are more than likely going to shred it apart anyways. look what happened to that poor kraut who wrote "springtime for hitler" when he was sitting in the audience while attending his movie's opening! sorta kidding there but few scripts will make it 100% unscathed on the screen as originally written. just call me captain obvious on that one. personally i do not think you will be doing a lot better dealing with a $300 fee from a script pro than some of the experienced writers here. there are consultants who deal only with format issues (much cheaper) and i am assuming this is the sort of consultant you will be using... just be sure to get more than one perspective or forget that whole thing and go with the experienced writers here. you are and can get differing competent advice for just about any issue or question about your script on this site and it's a lot cheaper. you just got to figure out which ones will work. i think the problem for some beginning writers is that they look at a screenplay software's glossary and figure that since every camera angle, time of day, shot, scene and so and and so on is listed that this is the way the script should be written. personally i think that RECENT big burners on the screen are problably the best examples to go by and many of these are online or on screenwriting software to use as an example... i refer to them as "oklahoma blueprints". just keep in mind that some of those were written by star writers who can get away with things you and i can't. just my opinion... stephen thor

Laurie Ashbourne

Everyone here is spot on. Write in a way that puts what you see in your mind on the page, in the order you want the audience to see it. If something needs attention for a story point it's okay to put the occasional INSERT in (such as in a note) but even those should be used sparingly. Sometimes, just breaking out the detail on it's own line will give it the same attention without taking the reader out of the story.

Matt Holmes

Stephen - thanks for the heads up on script consultants....just out of curiosity - do we have a 'peer review' group anywhere on this site because I haven't seen a formal one. If not, perhaps we could suggest it (for those brave among us to share our intellectual property)? Lauri - thanks also...I'm going through the script now (only on Rev 1, with at least Rev 2 to come before I show it around) and 'verbalizing' the action that would drive the camera angles I envisioned. As I said before, I know enough to know that a director always knows better; the notes were initially only there for me to visualize the scenes for emotive and dialogue purposes....its the first time I've done it on a draft script and it worked really well for me, placing inside the characters POV so I think I'll keep doing it....then going back and revising the angles out on subsequent drafts ;-) Thanks again, all....its incredibly valuable and helpful to get this support and feedback from you on what does/doesn't work :-)

Laurie Ashbourne

Happy writing Matt, everyone needs to find what works best for them to get to the finish line and it sounds like you're of the right mind set toward the end result. As for the peer review on here, I'm willing to bet eventually the fine crew at Stage 32 will have even more resources for everyone.

Stephen Thor

Matt i put a link to my entire screenplay on my profile page. i did so not to solicit advice (i already know where it can be improved but since i wrote the script mostly for mine and other's (questionable) pleasure i am not interested in any more critiques at this time because believe you me it has already been thru the masher plenty). however, in your case, you would be after critiques. one example i have is that when i wrote my script i included plenty of white space, to include 2 spaces after every sentence. the upside is that it makes a script easier to read. the downside is that it makes the script longer, which can have your script deposited in the old round file by some kid reader with 2 years of writing education. on the other hand, i've seen several 3 hour movies that had to be at least 180 pages long but this is pretty much only the relm of the famous and established writers. being new however you want to take as few chances that you think you can get away with. this is yet again another example of the differing opinions you are going to get and chances are is that most will be right (altho some will be more right than others). if you want another example just ask how long your script should be... some will say anything longer than 90 pages or less than 120 is a kiss of death... and it depends what kind of movie you are writing. confusing, ain't it? may i ask what screenplay software, if any, that you are using? i do not wish to get into a pissing contest on "which software is best", but personally i used movie outline 3. it costs less than final draft and includes step blocks if you choose to use them to organize your script. plus they have excellent customer support. but back to your question... if you post a link to your script and ask for volunteeers who might want to review it and give you some feedback i am pretty sure you would have a taker or two or more... however, if you are simply interested in format issues right now i would also suggest using the "format only" assist that many services offer (be sure to check their references but don't put a lot of stock in it... scripts that suck can get glowing results as well). these usually run under $50 and i would recommend using at least two format services to get the differing outlooks. or you could just ask here for free. i've seen better advice here in this thread alone than several of the services i paid big bucks to do the same thing for. or you might want to do what you are already doing here... asking about specific points on their own. i doubt many here would get too tired of it. or maybe get what you can out of here and then turn to a service for possible even more "fine tuning". or do the reverse. Matt T... i agree. using the old "(we follow)" Jim as he"... or "(we see)" the sky turn red" and things like that are currently looked down upon by most readers. however, in defense of Jon B... i betcha if Nicklas Cage provided a script with those kind of "transgressions" they would be overlooked so fast it would make your head spin. The studio would problably take them out anyways, and if he happens to kick in a couple of million dollars to get the ball rolling on a movie he intends to star in nobody is going to care anyhow.

Matt Holmes

Thanks again for taking the time to elaborate, Stephen - I take no advice or discussion personally....lets say "I don't know enough to know what I don't know" so everything is educational for me....I've also read about script length do's/don't do's and the "we watch, we see" taboo....as you said, seems to me that if you know your audience you can get away with about anything if you're making quality product. I think I am but I don't know yet....so yeah....as soon as I finish Rev 2 of the script (by just after the weekend) I'll pop it up on my profile with a logline and anybody who is interested can have a whack at it if they want to help me whittle it into shape ;-) Thanks!

Matt Holmes

And BTW all, I'm using Final Draft 9...mostly because it seems like a lot of Hollywood uses it and I'll take any formatting edge I can get ;-)

Stephen Thor

you are very welcome Matt... and i apologize for all the notifications you must have received regarding my last comment. i have a habit of reading my comments and revising them for the smallest of details. the only thing i don't care about is using caps in casual writing (except names sometimes). i will be looking forward to seeing what you have and i know many others here will be too.

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

Matt - Regarding camera angles. If I read script in which some camera angles are included, that does not immediately 'scream amateur writer' to me. It depends on the rest of the script. If it's well executed, I don't mind some camera angles. You should consider the context of what you are writing, That is what is the purpose of your script? For example, are you submitting to investors who might put up money for the project. If so, then I might 'guide the read' a bit more to make everything going on in the story visually crystal clear. But you don't have to use camera angles. If you want a POV shot for a certain character, you could use 'George stares in horror at... (whatever).' A few more words? Yes. But also easy to read and see what's going on. And it doesn't dictate to people considering participating in your project (see below). I read a script recently which was well written but which included a lot of 'beats' (pauses) in the dialogue. The writer is also planning to direct so how an actor delivers dialogue is under his authority. But I pointed out to him that movie making is a collaborative art form. If you're trying to get a project going, you want people who read the script to be enthusiastic about participating. So don't tell them how to do their work. Let the actors considering roles in the film discover at least some of the beats themselves. If they don't get something which you want, that can come later. That's my objection to including a lot of camera angles. It doesn't give your potential director and DP a chance to get involved by thinking about these shots themselves. So my advice on this issue is creatively figure out how to get what you want in telling the story without using too many camera angles. As I say, using a few doesn't bother me.

Michael L. Burris

I agree with most of what has already been commented on. I will say however perhaps within the scene heading for an opening P.O.V. is appropriate. When I wrote a "pilot" The first scene opening vision had to be conveyed with the knowing of the Theme Song in the background. This is more pre-packaging for a television "pilot" though. Maybe I'm wrong but if a writer is going to make a sitcom "Pilot" I think it needs to be pre-packaged. I still need to hone my skills in this aspect but it is a necessity to pre-packaging and really in the realm of television. I really won't post polished work publicly. But yet it has the general idea with short character bio's eventually expanding to a "show bible" by the fourth episode.

Don Bledsoe

If it's a spec script and you are NOT going to direct it, leave ut the camera notation. For several reasons ... (1) they don't like reading it, (2) directors assume you are telling them how to do their job, and (3) they may have a better idea than you. It's the same in using parentheticals in dialogue ... actors hate it for the same reason. Occasionally, you'll need to indiocate something for a reason and if so, do it. After they buy your script and you are sipping rum punches in St. Croix, they will rewrite it with the camera direction the hired wants.

Matt Holmes

Well, I think it will be a long time before I'm on a beach sipping Mai Tai's but I definitely want to not alienate anybody who reads the script (i.e. maximize my chance at getting it optioned)....so, thanks again for the reco and I'll be diligent about minimizing and references still remaining int he strict as I continue to revise. ;-)

Matt Treacy

In terms of parentheticals, the only time I use them is when the dialogue needs to be read in a way that is contradictory to the tone of the scene - or if I am showing only one side of a telephone conversation and wish to show beats, where the other person is talking without being heard.

Matt Holmes

...to follow your line of thought, Matt, it seems you advise only to use parenthetical 'character verbal tone/action notes' if the dialogue is in someway contrary to the general emotion of the scene? I have them in there fairly regularly on a couple of scripts to denote things like sarcasm or momentary emotional fluctuations as well as a physical action or a specific person they are addressing as they are speaking (if they are among several characters)....is this terribly taboo and I should then remove all such references and break-up character dialog with ACTION elements? I just thought doing it that way made the script look choppy and unreadable but I'm certainly open to critique and advice. Thanks again.

Laurie Ashbourne

Parentheticals should be used sparingly and when used should be one or two words max. I often see them go on for 3-4 lines describing action that is much better suited and appropriate for an action line. As for the wryly use they originally spring from, consider this: if your story isn't coming across clearly enough that the reader/actor/director can't figure out the tone in which the line is intended there may be a bigger issue. Where they make most sense is when there are more than one character in a scene and the speaker needs to address one in particular. IE: (to Joe). As far as looking 'choppy', a parenthetical takes up a line on the page and makes the dialogue run deeper, broken out as an action line it will be (at minimum) 4 line spaces; one above, one below, the line itself plus the pick up of the character name. However, this actually helps the script read faster plus it gives the actors more leeway to own the part.

Matt Treacy

Parentheticals should never take the place of action lines. They should only be used where absolutely necessary to distinguish the difference in tone, where an actor would not be able to make that distinction themselves. Always remember that this script is not yours. You are not bankrolling it. You are not directing it. You are not starring in it. You are merely providing the groundwork for others to build upon. It takes a village to make a movie come together. Allow everyone else to bring their unique perspective to the party. Once you unshackle yourself from the ridiculous notion of being precious about 'your' script - as most amateur writers do, then you will write with greater freedom and produce a much better script.

Matt Treacy

Whenever I consult on other writer's scripts, the first thing I do is give them a handout that covers the top 50 things that writers usually get wrong. I get them to go back through their scripts and make the necessary changes before I will agree to look at their script. Saves me a lot of aggravation and makes their script so much better to start with. Enjoy: FORMATTING I often come across the same problematic issues in many of the scripts I read. Recently, I found an article that covered off 50 of the most common problems that newer writers need to master. Not all of them apply to your script, but I hope you find this to be a useful guide anyway. 1. Writing CUT TOs, FADE TOs, FADE OUTs, or any other Transitions between every scene. Referring to the Credit Roll at start or finish of the story. 2. Telling us instead of SHOWING us. 3. Description is in past tense instead of present tense and does not use the active form of the verb. For example, John drives – not John is driving. Danny stands – not is standing. Limit –ING verbs. 4. Not using pronouns or articles in your sentences. THE room, HIS dog, HER chair. You don't walk into room – you walk into THE room or A room. I know that less words are a good thing, but this is horribly distracting when the reader has to fill in the word. 5. Having wordy description paragraphs longer than 4 lines on a page without a line break. 6. Not CAPITALIZING your characters names the first time we meet them in your description. Also, capitalizing characters names every time they are seen or mentioned (Not the case in TV). Eliminate or merge superfluous characters. 7. Capitalizing every single noun and/or verb in your description. 8. Not having a new scene heading for every new location or writing things in your scene heading other than the location, time of day and relation to the previous scene. 9. Your description tells us exactly what your characters are thinking or are about to discuss in dialogue, or tells us backstory the audience cannot see. 10. The script is written in Microsoft Word, Notepad or Celtx. Yes, I know Celtx is free – but no one working in Hollywood uses it or even knows what it is. 11. Not knowing the difference between a Montage and a Series of Shots. A Montage condenses numerous scenes, locations and the passage of time while progressing plot and character arcs. A series of shots is a visual style to show many different actions or specific visuals all from one scene or a short time span. 12. Having Camera Direction in your description ("we see", "shot of", "camera pans" etc) 13. Writing parentheses before dialogue on every page explaining the emotion or how the line should be said. Never use to describe action. Only use parentheticals to indicate how a line is to be delivered when it is contrary to the tone of the scene. 14. You are not using "Intercut With" when going back and forth between two scenes instead of restating the scene heading each time. 15. Lengthy location descriptions or too much production design – we don't care what color the couch is. 16. Use of Voice Over to tell us things you could express though action and dialogue. 17. All conversations start with "hello" or "how are you" and scenes end with "goodbye, goodnight or talk to you later." Or if dialogue is full of conversational niceties – thank you, please, your welcome, etc. 18. The scenes lack dynamics – no conflict or tension or build or emotion. 19. Story is missing the meat – there are planning and reflection scenes instead of execution scenes. 20. The subplots are not tracked or seen for more than 15 pages. 21. A kitchen sink script where everything is thrown in to make it seem more commercial and original. 22. Scenes have no emotional goal. 23. There is a lack of emotional/reflective reactions and moments for characters. 24. Introducing more than 3 characters in 1 paragraph – each should preferably have their own paragraph so they don't blend together. Use the same character title throughout the story. Do not switch to abbreviated name or from first to surname. 25. Using incorrect margins on the page – having too much or too little white space around the edges. Also, incorrect font, spacing, or type set. 26. You use dreams and flashbacks interchangeably. Flashbacks are events that actually happened seen through a character's POV. Dreams are subconscious and uncontrollable thoughts that happen while sleeping. 27. Not giving us your main character's LAST NAMES and A SENSE OF THEIR AGE when introducing them. Do not describe a character’s physical features unless it is crucial to the story. 28. Using music – specific songs and artists - in your scenes or writing a scene to a specific song. What do the Beatles, Bowie, Beach Boys, Bon Jovi and Bon Iver all have in common? Their songs will add MILLIONS to your budget. 29. Your main character feels like they were born on page 1. 30. There's nothing on the line – no STAKES – in the first scene. 31. It isn't clear where and when your story takes place. 32. Your only antagonist is an emotion or a personal demon. 33. The most commercial moments are not exploited and the dialogue, SFX and VFX don't POP on the page. 34. There is no time clock of any kind in your story. 35. Your subplots and B stories are not resolved or connect to your main storyline. 36. You are lacking in Set Up, Execution, or Payoff. 37. Your scenes do not evoke any emotion from the reader. 38. You don't know how to use dialogue, actions, settings or set ups to create great smooth transitions between scenes. 39. Your scene goes on 1-2 lines too long and doesn't end on the most powerful or interesting moment or dialogue. 40. You don't know the difference between VO, OS, and OC or when to use each one. 41. The dialogue is slight, Q&A, isn't genuine to the characters or lacks subtext and is all very on the nose. 42. You think a theme and a message is the same thing. 43. Your first scene and first 10 pages don't grab me. 44. Your protagonist is passive and/or isn't present in your climax. 45. You write a comedic scene just to hit one joke or one visual gag. 46. You think when you finish your 3rd draft, you're done and it's ready to be submitted to agents, producers, actors or contests. It's not. There is no such thing as a ‘Final Draft’. When you send out your script, always send it in PDF format, with the file name being only the title of the story. NEVER refer to a draft number 47. Your story is not driven by conflict and doesn't contain an internal, external, mental, physical and emotional conflict. 48. You think the only difference between you and an A-list screenwriter is an agent. 49. The first words out of your mouth when you meet someone are "I've written this script…" 50. You think you can break all of these aforementioned rules and mistakes and people will still want to read your script and you'll still be able to break in because Tarantino did it.

CJ Walley

There's quite a few circumstances I've seen parentheticals used effectively in different ways within professional scripts, so I'd never apply any strict rule. I've also fallen victim to under-using them. On the short I had made last year, the director didn't understand a line was sarcastic so needed to check with me; I very much felt amateurish at that point. It's worth taking everything out sometimes and seeing how much of that context really is needed. It seems to me that the better the dialogue, the more context is woven into it. Plus the more defined a character is, the more the context of their dialogue is implied. I don't personally believe that wanting control is the sign of an amature, but given that's often the impression (certainly the one perpetuated), I think a smart writer is one that keeps that in mind. I like to think of my scripts as a gift I want to give directors, actors, DOPs, art departments etc but respect others may have different goals.

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

CJ - '...the better the dialogue, the more context is woven into it.' Yes. And to the degree that one can do that, it's a big plus for a script. You mention feeling 'amateurish' when a director didn't get that a line was sarcastic. In my view, you had no reason to feel that way. First of all, it was a short which means that you didn't have nearly as many pages to establish character, context, etc. But let's say you did make a mistake and the script for the short could have been better. If the director doesn't get something, it's time to ask why. Because [ assuming you get along well enough with the director to have a conversation :) ] learning why the director didn't get it may give you ideas on how to make the script better. Not necessarily so, but it's possibility and using the 'no stone unturned' approach to making the script as good as it can be, I'd give it a try. (Maybe you did. If so, comment withdrawn.)

CJ Walley

Thanks for the pointers Douglas :) Indeed it was most likely a fixation on page count which caused the issue. In this case I dropped the ball without a doubt, but I agree 100% with your approach to the issue.

Collin McKnight

Do not include angles. These scripts are shooting scripts & that is technical direction added by producers and the like. Stick to the screenplay & utilize a language that is descriptive yet subtlety directs the camera. It cannot be direct instruction but is all in how you craft the scene. Get yourself a copy of the screewriter's bible. It covers most issues like this & is very helpful.

Gerhard Schwarz

I can only underline the previous comment. You want a fluid visual discripton of the scene, but tell the story. Avoid frases like: 'We see, the camera pans' etc. And think about your main charackters: give them something to act, but don't tell them how to act.

Ryan Sasinowski

I say you should use them to get your vision down as clear as possible when you're writing. However, when it comes time to show it to people, that's when you take out the actual angle notation and replace them with prose that direct the camera without outright saying the direction. IE: instead of "JACK'S P.O.V.: the car comes straight for him" you might put "Jack sees the car gunning for him and leaps clear." The key is readability. The camera movements and directions can take the reader out of the moment. However, the easier you make it for them to picture the events, the easier they can invest in the reading experience, and the easier it will be for them to love it.

Ed Tasca

I use camera angles only when it is necessary for the reader's understanding of the scene and the character's eventual reaction to the scene, as in a POV. Always at a minimum.

D Marcus

Ed, I wonder if you could write a scene without using camera angles and still have the reader understand the scene and the character's eventual reaction to the scene. I suspect with a little creativity camera angles wouldn't be necessary.

Ed Tasca

D Marcus. I suspect that you're right. Master scenes do not as a rule need camera angles. But sometimes in a comedic scene, the punch or the joke is in the viewpoint. When I say angle, I'm talking about a special POV or an angle on a particular item or character reaction, nothing more. I would never call shots or transitions, but what specificially the viewer sees sometimes I think needs to be pointed out in a script.

D Marcus

I understand what you are talking about, Ed. I have the feeling that you could get get the same reaction from a reader without mentioning a special POV or an angle on a particular item or character reaction even in a comedic scene. It often takes extra thought and some creative writing to do it, but it can be done. I even suspect that in most cases good writing would be funnier without writing in a special POV or angle.

Mike Donald

if u plan to not show it to another human and just shoot it yourself, then write what u like. But other than the bare minimum of direction it is frowned upon by those higher in the food chain. The problem is this: People read great scripts by established writers, and not unnatuarally they emulate their style....wrong! Christopher Nolan and Quentin are not your friends...if they are, why are u here? To get an idea of a good spec script, by a previously unheard of writer, you need to look at scripts like Source Code, Killing On Carnival Row, maybe The Low Dweller, Section Six, The Numbers Station etc. Instead of shot size...use focussed writing to imply size...HANDS pack a lunchbox. Hope this helps.

Ed Tasca

Mike, I'm glad we got down to examples. Thanks. I understand what you're saying. And of course it makes sense. What happens is that we're debating what I once considered a simple thing. How a visual is established on paper. Yours is HANDS pack a lunchbox. And mine was (and I've decided to take your advice) ANGLE ON HANDS PACKING A LUNCHBOX. Seemed a minor issue to me. But yours I admit is less obtrusive to a pro. But certainly the discussion is worthwhile.

D Marcus

I disagree that camera direction is frowned upon by those higher in the food chain. I've covered scripts for many years and have never found that to be true of an agent or exec I've worked for. As a reader I personally do not like it when writers use upper case to emphasize. It gives me the impression they think I'm not going to pay attention or I'm not good enough at my job. Using Mike's example: I know if I read "hands pack a lunchbox" (no upper case) I would understand the point of that sentence. All the other ways of emphasizing ("we see hands pack a lunchbox" - "close up as hands pack a lunchbox" for example) is just overkill in my opinion. As a director I think I wold understand through good writing that the hands are important without upper case. My comments were directed at the word "necessary" in a previous post. I think it's never necessary to include camera direction or angles in a script. I believe their use can be (and is often) a choice of style.

Sean Farrington

I agree with D Marcus. The narrative sells the angle for 99% of most screenplays. Teleplays seem to allow for more, but most camera direction is unnecessary. If you say, "Her eyes narrow" the director and even the novice reader will see this as a CU or even an ECU. No need for direction. My opinion. BTW, good job on getting through your first few screenplays! There is no replacement for filling a blank page.

Ed Tasca

Again, thanks D. It's clear where you're coming from, and I don't believe you can be clearer in your position. As I said I'm tending to agree with you. I suspect the issue is more a writer's need to visualize on paper for himself than it is style. I have a grand prize winning screenplay, which drew a lot of attention and options, because it had no dialogue. I worked the narrative out through visual means only. Oddly, I found myself doing both what you propose (prose almost like a treatment of story) and some angle notations. What's odd is that I believe my choices were sometimes arbitrary, notations fitting my own certainty of exactly what I expected to see.

Darren Wiesner

Hello Matt and thanks for putting a great question out there. In my early days of writing I struggled with the same dilemma. How to portray action, cinematic and close up shots to better enhance your story. After attending a good many pitchfests, film fests and having listened to a great many writers talking about the same question, I can only tell you what they all said. 'No'. You never want to wear the directors hat or do his job for him. However, there are techniques used to illustrate whether you want a pair of legs walking toward your POV or having a broken crayon with a crooked crudely written message beside it on the floor taking up the entire frame. In the hands of a masterful and competent director, they may have a better way to shoot it than previously imagined. A director is a visionary and usually pretty good at determining best angles, frame size, and action sequence. Good luck, Darren

Ed Tasca

Thanks, Dan. I'm getting this loud and clear. I think my problem is that trends have changed, and I'm a little behind.

Yvette Tapp

I hope to hear more on this topic, myself....

Matt Holmes

Dan - great point about the spec script being a 'calling card'....and exactly why I have been so appreciative of the flood of insights from all of you regarding how to hone the script into something that I think will present me as a professional. Much appreciated, all, once more!

Kat Albert

The scripts I'm going to direct are written differently than my spec scripts. I try to follow the rules because I don't want to piss someone off by saying I don't know the rules or don't care about the rules or think I'm too special to even have rules.

Gerhard Schwarz

Thank for putting facts on the table. If you (any writer) can't write a visual script without technical terms - you are not a screenwriter, period.

Kat Albert

Another thing I've learned that as a writer...it's really NOT your baby. You're writing a blueprint...lots of people will come in and make it better. Just make sure you have good characters and a good story spine. The actors bring a HUGE component to the minutia and the DIRECTOR and DP should decide how to shoot the communal "baby." ;)

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

Having read scripts for others, I agree with D Marcus. As a reader I always wanted to read something good. Note that sneaky word 'good'. How easily I tossed it off. Much tougher to define clearly. But given that as a reader that I saw a lot of material that didn't cut it, I'd say that a few POVs or CUT TOs in a script which I liked and could recommend would have done no damage at all, at least in terms of my evaluation. A caveat - There are people in this business who are not so hot at actually reading and evaluating a script. Like anything else human beings do, being a reader takes practice. So one could argue that if your script must pass through the hands of some one who is. say, a bit 'evaluation challenged', you don't want to give them an excuse to say no. So you format properly and you might avoid camera directions, etc. as mentioned in the discussion above. The latter is really the writer's call.

Ed Tasca

Thanks, Douglas. I don't think anyone can be misguided by what all of you have said. A clear recommendation seems to be caution: little if any shot directions on the printed page, especially spec scripts.

Marilyn Du Toit

I would love for a producer to actually post the ideal script , just a few pages, that they want to receive from a writer i.e what it should or should not have, in relation to Douglas's post. The raw script before the producer or director start with the movie.

Michael L. Burris

I have been following this thread and I reiterate the need for a distinction between television and teleplay writing and script or screenplay writing I. E. movie. If a writer writes a "Pilot" there is a great distinction because in effect you truly are part of the creative team or process and you would quite frankly be a fool not to seek such in credit or compensation from your work. With that said there is still difficulty understanding the distinction. While I'm what is considered "New" I did a little homework to back-up my thought process. I've posted an article below that perhaps will either give clarity or lead to more confusion. Anyway as far as a spec. or original feature screenplay everyone else is exactly on target. With contests everyone else is also probably exactly on target. With a television "Pilot" we are talking a different animal so to speak here. When seeking representation perhaps it is good to know what they want but in my opinion what I want means much more. http://www.writersstore.com/the-ins-and-outs-of-tv-series-writer-deals

louis phillips

this is well known crap...THE director [boys/girls,] like to have something left...for them to do...Writers have been...on the knows. They have been...res er ected...like the laundry you cared about. [You washed it after all.] GIVE them something to do...Translation works...I have a tongue.

louis phillips

when the camera 'turns' it too fucking late...Good ideas...are felt in ones ''water,'' don't begin EASY ily...that why we need writers...biffers...[of the boff...etc...]...Finding the pleasure with their ilk...Human...or otherwise...Assume they are miners...[we few we galant few...]

Brad Brown

You are the writer NOT the director, cinematographer or production co. Stick with character and story. Including camera angles is a red flag that screams newbie.

Marilyn Du Toit

I agree Brad, what I know about camera's might just give the viewer 1 and half hours of blue sky.

Ed Tasca

Thanks, Dan. I don't think anyone is disagreeing with that wisdom. It's certainly been helpful for me to hear it. Whatever does the job, or helps do the job is valuable advice.

Joe Henriques

Unless you're directing it, limit your usage of camera directions/shots. Actors don't like being told how to act, directors don't like being told how to direct. There are ways of hinting at particular shots without being explicit about it with camera angles.

J. Ralph Fisgus MD

I've read the same thing - If it helps you write and visualize it - by all means do it, but then don't include them in the final copy you send out for evaluation unless you really think that its somehow critical to the scene. Also, by leaving them out, your page count may be more favorable to a company if it's boarderline long.....

Alex Winck

I only do it for some specific things, like I want a POV shot for a very specific narrative reason. Otherwise, I just describe the imaggery and the action and, hopefully, it will be sort of intuitive for the director to visualize it. But I think of someday writing something where the story is so connected to the way the visual elements are put together I may have to include it all.

Ed Tasca

Alex, my sentiments exactly, although they seem to be unpopular.

Cecil E. Davis Jr.

Leave out the camera angles! Until you are an accomplished screenwriter, writing a shooting script for the director whose telling you what angles to put in, leave them out. Otherwise it screams amateur! This is common knowledge and is found in almost every book on screenwriting.

Ed Tasca

Thanks, Cecil. That seems to be the consensus.

Ivan Alexei Dominguez

Dear Matt... Simplifies your work as a writer. Your job is to create the script (writing) dialogues, actions. Let others be part of your job by doing their job. the use of angles, camera is a technical question. Independent that you "almost" doing the work of director and cameraman. Focus on your story!

Ivan Alexei Dominguez

Good luck and best regards, Ivan

Hank Isaac

To some extent, this depends on what the screenplay is for. Is it a spec or are you writing this for either yourself or someone who has commissioned you to write it? In other words, you're already on the team and it's now just a tool to lead toward production. A pure spec screenplay should, IMHO, have no camera, acting, or other directions. Why? If you want your reader to be "in the story" he shouldn't suddenly be catapulted into a sort of behind-the-scenes moment - as in, "This is where the camera is and we're going to point it over there." Camera movement, lens choices, angle, and acting directions stop the story and take a reader out of it. And many of the "directions" in screenplays that have them are really editing choices. As was mentioned before, it's pretty easy to "suggest" angles, lenses, movements, etc. in the way action is written. Spur-of-the-moment examples: WAY ACROSS THE STREET, A WOMAN WAVES HER HANDS = Wide Shot. A WOMAN WAVES HER HANDS IN FRONT OF HER FACE = Medium Shot. A WOMAN'S FINGERS FLUTTER AS SHE WAVES HER HANDS IN FRONT OF HER FACE = Close-Up. In each example, the extent to which the woman dominates the frame is suggested by what we're told first. Just some thoughts...

Matt Treacy

At the risk of repeating myself, at no time ever should you include camera angles. Even POVs are irrelevant. Unless you are funding, producing and directing the film, then your ONLY job is to tell the story. Tell a story that is engaging and captivating. One that is driven by well drawn characters that come to life on the page and drive the story forward through their conflicts and pursuit of their goals. The biggest problem that you should be looking at is how engaging is my story? Does it leap off the page or just dribble along? Why would someone invest millions of dollars and years of their life to make my story into a feature film? Focus on putting together a sequence of events that make an interesting story. There are over 2000 books on the market that can teach you all the techniques you need. Start with the most popular ones

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