Screenwriting : When do we put lighting and camera shots in our scripts (if ever) by Thomas Ray

Thomas Ray

When do we put lighting and camera shots in our scripts (if ever)

I have seen several scripts with various directions such as "Close on" "from another angle", etc. And other scripts without such notations. I have seen conflicting comments concerning this practice---Some producers I have contacted say they want this IN the "finished script" they get and others, feel, like I do, that camera angles and lighting and such are up to the director in the production phase. I have also read that Spec Scripts do not have such notations. So what should I include or not, in this respect, in a Spec Script.

Kenneth Hughes

I always encouraged people to make the scripts easy to read and FEEL like you want the story to feel. Put in what needs to be there but in general tell the story...if it is not mandatory to the story then you are wasting peoples brain space.

Kiril Maksimoski

If ure not planning on directing the story yourself, best is to avoid any technical details and descriptions. Focus more on characters and their actions.

Eoin O'Sullivan

A spec script tells the story. You are not the director. Avoid technical details that interrupt the read. The action description informs or implies the shot and each director will have their own take on it. Scripts written by writer/directors or pro scripts uploaded online are Shooting Scripts. These will have all technical information added in before principal photography.

Shelley Stuart

I consider "close on" and "another angle" and "insert" and "so-and-so's POV" (among others) as part of my storytelling toolkit. For example, I establish a scene where two people talk at gunpoint, and JOE needs to decide if he should trust FRED. They have intense dialog. Joe's just about swayed to Fred's side. CLOSE ON a bead of sweat trailing down Fred's temple. JENNISE and ROSA fight about their daughter being possessed by a demon, and hiring an exorcist. ANOTHER ANGLE showing their daughter hiding behind the open door, hearing every word. Your mind's eye can see those movie moment in a very specific way with only two words used. You don't want to overuse these terms, obviously, and when you do use them, make 'em count. These two quick-and-dirty examples deliberately illustrate the terms in light of character and story -- not just a random shift in camera angle.

K Kalyanaraman

As a speculative scriptwriter, you are expected to describe the story as well as you can, and develop the killer dialogues. It is for the director to take a call, nay, decision, on the camera lighting, angle, and coverage. A scriptwriter will be stepping on the toes of a director, by packing all these notations-which will, in all probability, be dumped, for more reasons than one! So, again, tell your story well. That is what and only for that, writers are for. Unless it's a combo package of writer plus director, in which case, the stage is all yours! Cheers.

Thomas Ray

Then apparently a couple of producers did not know what they wanted or were talking about when they wanted ME to include this stuff in my script. I always DID think that was a DIRECTORS job and not my own as a writer---Thanks for helping clear my own doubts and confusion.

Jason Dennis

In general, you don't want any angles unless you are directing it yourself. But, in rare cases, they are okay - POV, WIDEN TO REVEAL, FADE TO BLACK, INSERT, MONTAGE, SERIES OF SHOTS - the big storytelling camera directions. But always avoid the mundane ones like the transitions - CUT TO, DISSOLVE TO, CLOSE ON, etc.and never say aerial shot or anything like that.

Frank Di Muccio

In most cases, I write my scripts with 'vanilla' direction such as POV, Montage, Series of Shots, etc. But, I do not put camera angles or movement especially in first and second drafts. As a director/writer, I find I'll change my mind once I speak to my DP or during a table read. I "hear" the script, picture the action in my head, take notes and move on!

Christopher Binder

Unless you are writing a script that you are going to direct yourself, never put in anything that tells other people how they should be doing their jobs on set or in post.

William Martell

You do your job, the director does their job. Your job is the write the screenplay so that the director (and everyone else who reads it) imagines those things when they read it without spelling it out, the way you imagine those things when you read a novel. It's all about writing.

Richard Toscan

Never. Unless you're producing the script yourself or doing so in partnership with a director and have funding in hand. Only shooting scripts have that sort of info in them. You might occasionally get away with slipping in a CLOSE ON... or similar if it's absolutely essential to telling the story.

Shane M Wheeler

I would avoid it as much as possible. If you have a really specific look/vision, do your best to suggest it with your descriptions first. If the vision is conveyed well, and agreed upon, the director will figure it out and put it in anyway.

Chris Herden

Do not include. Leave them out of your spec script and focus on writing great scene description that suggests camera angles, close-ups, lighting etc...

David Youngquist

I would say the only time you would make such a note is if it's important it be that specific type of shot. Like if you're inserting a visual gag that calls for a certain shot, it should go in. Other than that, leave it out of the spec. The scene description should give the director an idea of you want to be looking at.

Thomas Ray

YES, I share those opinions I NEVER put such directions in my scripts--Besides it will make them LONGER. I just wanted to clear the confusion, as I had been told by a couple of production companies that they WANTED scripts with directions. --(How they defined "Completed") I did not submit as I agree it is the directors job--and I would have to cut dialogue to accommodate the info.

Larry Gilmore

It is a waste of time placing camera directions in your screenplay not matter how clear it is in your mind how that scene should be shot. As soon as you hand the screenplay over to a director, he is going to make up his own mind (I am using the politically incorrect, old fashioned "he" here, so apologies if it offends any reader) and shoot the scene any way he pleases. A good director will always consult with the writer anyway, but camera directions should never go into your screenplay.

Tim Vanbaelen

my first script was like this, completely how it should be filmed => i gave it to a friend (this was a couple of years back) and it was impossible to comprehend, so i only do descriptions and let the reader decide how it should look (which will be different for every other person anyway)

Mark McQuown

A screenplay is the blueprint of a story for a Director. If you are not the Director then the story blueprint is the essential element which shouldn't include camera angles unless you are the Director and then who cares what you write in the piece - you are the one interrupting the blueprint as Director/Writer. Another Director however may not appreciate you telling them where the camera is since that is what the Director does after they decide what the story really is about in their mind.

Jen Govey

It depends on the impression you want to give off and how much you care for your craft. It probably doesn't matter quite so much lower down the food chain, but really you don't want anything to stop your screenplay going all the way, do you? If you're submitting your script to a professional to read, I wouldn't advise you add any direction - unless you want to look like an amateur, who doesn't understand the process. I wouldn't recommend that, as you want to look confident and like you know what you're doing as that is what get's people to invest in you! :) You want to produce and present the best quality you are able to professional standards. So you send out spec scripts that show you have an understanding of the process and your craft. The scripts that contain direction and scene numbers, etc are called 'Shooting Scripts'. These are created after the script development stage (the stage after you've sold your spec script). After development, the script is 'locked' as a 'Final Draft' script and from that the pre-production process starts and the 'Shooting Script' is produced. Filmmaking is very expensive and these protocols are important as dilly-dally and ignorance costs money and can sink a film. It's up to you, but personally I believe you'll want to present your work in the most professional way you can, so it has more opportunities.

Doug Nelson

Thomas – the basic answer in a spec script is never. The scripts that you get off the internet are almost all “shooting” scripts. The term “finished script” is a shooting script. If you are going to direct your story – then you will create the shot list, handle scene blocking, lay out your camera/lighting and bring out the best in your cast. Otherwise, let the Director do his job.

Chris DeChristopher

It's interesting to read the different takes on this question. I agree with everything written, yet I'll use 'Close On' or something similar ('Angle On') to spotlight, for instance, a gun in a character's hand. But I would never think to put lighting directions in a script; or any particular shot, for that matter. That's up to the Director and/or the Director of Photography) (DP). But if a certain shot advances the story or adds clarity for the reader, I'll consider using it. But that's just me.

Shaun Graham

You never need camera angles in a spec. And it takes the reader out of the story.

Terry Moyemont

These various observations seem to come from people who have differing concerns with scripting. Some are dramatic, others "writerly", and yet other cinematic. The accuracy in all of this depends on whether you have a company with numerous individuals handling distinct roles or a very small group that have have interlocking interest and skills...

Ruby Kleinschmidt

Everything I have ever read about screenwriting has always said 'never use camera angles, or lighting suggestions in your script'. This is completely up to the director.

Doug Nelson

You got it Ruby.

Graham Giddy

In the seventies when I trained in London, the writer in those days did use terms such as close ups, pans, sudden cuts. Now days the screen writer hopes the director see's the script the same way the writer does. Golden rule today is let the director decide.

Floyd Marshall Jr.

I don't. I write the script and leave it up to the director to position the shots and lighting.

Jean-Pierre Chapoteau

I haven't read the other comments but just to put my useless two cents in... NEVER!

Mark McQuown

A screenplay is an outline for a Director to follow, once a Director has decided on a script. If the Director likes and buys the script, that Director would then pay someone to write a 'shooting script' which would include all of the light and camera angels. Your original script is the story - not the technique behind shooting the story, sans light and camera directions.

Doug Nelson

Mark - so that's how it works (an to think I been doin' it wrong all these years.)

Mark McQuown

Not wrong, just close and sometimes close makes the grade so its is really just a 'heads up' for future projects. Keep writing.

Dan MaxXx

Never met Directors with money to buy scripts. A shooting script is NOT a narrative script. It is done by Director, Cinematographer, Line Producer, Prod Designer, or whoever Technical Advisor. It is simply a blueprint, a bunch of excel spreadsheets of every scene broken down, from shot list to lighting to cost, cast, budget, time, etc. Writers, dont worry about shooting scripts. That is not your job. At this point of production, you simply wait by the bank and pray a check arrives on 1st day of shoot.

Doug Nelson

Over the past few decades, I've worked as a spec writer, staff writer, a Line Producer, Producer, Director, Assistant Director and I started as a “Gophor”. I think I've got a pretty good handle on how it works. Now I'm a retired hyphenate; a Producer-Writer or maybe just an Indie Filmmaker – whatever. You do not sell your spec script or shooting script to a Director. Period! You take your spec script to your Agent/Manager who may present it to various Producers he/she knows. The indie filmmaker market is undergoing some changes but that's still how it work. You're free to argue with the system all you want, but you're rollin' a big stone uphill.

Craig D Griffiths

I don't write them as a rule, because I am novelistic enough as it is. But if you read Locke it is good on angles. I have directed my own stuff and I don't put angles in those scripts because I know them in my head (so that theory isn't right in my mind). It is your story and you should use every tool at your disposal to tell it to the best of your ability. Be aware that your skill may not let you use the tools correctly. Give me a scalpel does not make me a surgeon. So unless you know you are doing something 110% right, it may be safe to stay in the shallow end. If people are getting stuck in a bit of your script and describing a shot would fix that. There is a reason to use one.

Doug Nelson

Craig, the OP is talking about a “SPEC” script – one for sale in the open & competitive market. If he intends to produce/direct/act/cast and/or edit it himself – then he can write it however he wants. In commercial filmmaking; it takes a lot of people to make a movie and each & every one of them brings certain assets/knowledge to the process. Some folk take offense to being told how to do their jobs (creative people in particular.) So if your script includes shot/scene directing; I won't buy it because you make my job as a Producer harder when it comes to finding talented Directors, Actors and Editors. A writer can certainly “direct” by selecting certain words in the action lines or dialog and the occasional parenthetical (don't go crazy with parentheticals): But it's generally best to stick pretty close to the industry standards/norms in a “spec” script.

Dan Guardino

Doug is right. You never do that sort of stuff in in a spec screenplay if you want people to read it and take you seriously. Camera shots are done but the director however sometimes I will stick some in a script if I was hired to write it if it saves me some time.

Dan Guardino

Vitaly. What do you mean Indy producers do not read specs unless there is already something go on that train?

Dan Guardino

That is what producers do not screenwriters. I have attached directors to my scripts before to make them more attractive and hopefully add more value to them. However, I have never heard of a screenwriter attaching a director, bankable actors and bring in 40 percent of the money. A screenwriter would have to be crazy to take something like that to a producer instead of producing it themselves.

Doug Nelson

Vitaly – over the past few decades I 've performed all/most (you left out teaching) of the activities you mention to various degrees. I can't speak for Dan G but I do know that he's been on set for years and he seems to know of what he speaks. There are others (in this thread) who have taken their training wheels off some time ago. The OP's question was answered early on. Move on.

Dan Guardino

I wrote something that I just decided to delete because I don't feel the need to answer questions about myself and my career. If Vitaly wants to say things about me without know anything about me that is fine. Life is too short for me to waste time on someone like him.

Bob Couttie

Personally I do not nominate the shots in a spec script but write the script in such as way that it pretty much tells the reader what they are seeing without explicitly saying it.

Christopher Binder

When you're directing the thing yourself.

Dan Guardino

Vitaly. I am not the one here that is bragging about their accomplishments. From your comments here I really don't even think you know the difference between a screenwriter and a producer so I don't believe a word you are saying here.

Doug Nelson

Sad...very sad turn of a thread intended to help, guide, enlighten & educate others. I recall that there's a way to stop receiving posts from this thread – it's time to go find it. Doug has left the building. Over & out.

Dan Guardino

You can't even get my name right.

Erik Grossman

If you're writing a shooting script, you can add them. If you're writing the script as a writer that will be read by directors, producers, actors, etc. - you're telling a story, not telling a movie. Leave them out. I'm sure this is already been said, but this seems to be a long and cancerous thread and I don't really want to get involved in that. But here's your answer. Enjoy.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Hi Vitaly. Just a friendly reminder... While we welcome healthy debate about any given topic, we do discourage personal attacks. Stage 32 does have a Community Code of Conduct. I'm happy to post it for you, or it also can be found within the site's "Terms of Use." Anyway, should it become necessary, abusive comments may be deleted. But let's please not go there. Thanks.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Vitaly, thanks, I appreciate that. But I have to disagree with you as the members you are addressing within this thread have been contributing to this site and to our community for years. They have not been "misleading"; they are sharing their personal and professional experience, and opinions, as are you. No one person is universally "right" here. There are no absolute rules. You can use camera directions in a spec script... However many would generally agree: it's best to keep it at an absolute minimum—perhaps if needed for specific clarity, for example. A spec screenplay should give visual sense to a story, of course you don't need technical jargon to do so. Those elements are developed and handled by others: directors, etc. Anyway, like most generalized discussions, blanket statements are often too reductive. It really depends on the context of the project, specific situations and/or creative intent.

Phillip 'Le Docteur de Script' Hardy

Thomas: Here you go sir. This is a great little article on the difference between spec and shooting scripts.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Vitaly, with all due respect, it's fair to say that you truly don't know each and every person's screenwriting and producing experience. Plus this discussion is about screenwriting, more so than about producing, so I'm rather confused by your argument. I also do not think belittling people because they may or may not measure up to some sort of personalized standard of yours is relevant to this discussion. There are different points of view, and all views are valid. I have not produced a feature length film myself, so am I not worthy to comment or share my thoughts? According to your statements, probably not. Glancing through this thread and seeing all who have participated, many have a ton of working experience and knowledge. I've learned much from many folks here. But that's what makes Stage 32 so great: we have people from all different levels, from all different backgrounds engaging and networking with each other. We share information and personal experience; we encourage each other and offer support. Perhaps bear that in mind. ;) With that, I'll stop and let this thread return to topic. Best to you!

Beth Fox Heisinger

Great share, Phillip. Thanks. :) I also recommend Scriptnotes and/or John August for various thoughts/information on these matters. Here's his library: In it he includes his very own projects at various stages, so you can see how a script changes and progresses through production. He also includes examples of treatments, outlines, shooting schedules, etc. Lots of great stuff. ;)

Beth Fox Heisinger

Vitaly, you do realize I'm a S32 moderator, right? Lol! I believe you did continue a conversation within the wrong thread. This one is about screenwriting. But, no worries, it happens. I only stepped in as a moderator, keeping the peace. I have not engaged in conversation with you prior to this. Oh, and I never said you were a teacher... or you should revert to being a teacher??? I'm not a teacher... but I am confident in my knowledge of screenwriting. Perhaps let's just move on and let the thread get back to its topic: camera directions in a spec screenplay. Again, best to you. ;)

Dan Guardino

Vitaly. I never made any of the claims you said I made and I never promised anyone here anything. I never said one bad thing about you and have no clue why you tried to start and argument with me which I refused to be drawn into. Goodby and good luck.

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