“Writing is Thinking : The Importance of a Treatment and Shooting Script”
By: Tom DeAngelis
Owner, The Production House
“Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.” – David McCullough
This quote from author and two time Pulitzer Prize winner, David McCullough , for me personally, is the single most important thing I can do in approaching a new video project.
As the quote suggests: when we sit down to put our thoughts on paper, we necessarily, because of the nature of the action, have to think.
The creative process is unique to each person. So, there are no hard fast rules that dominate the creative process.
You may feel like creativity comes to you like a muse. An idea just bursts upon you. Or you may be a person who sits with pen and paper and scratches random notes until the idea takes form. In our medium, perhaps you’re like I am and you watch a lot of film, broadcast and cable TV as well as independent video productions.
Regardless of where your ideas come from, it’s important that we make them real by putting them down on paper.
This means writing a treatment which is a written narrative that explains what your video will be about and how you intend to execute the video.
It should explain your goal, identify the audience, and address storytelling components of tone, plot, and character, etc.
From the treatment, you begin to flesh out your story in an outline.
Sequence the events. Your visualization soon begins to take form.
From the outline you will add detail and begin to develop a shooting script.
The shooting script is to you what a blueprint is to a builder. It should contain all the components needed to create your show:
- Directions to talent
- Shots with appropriate designations as to camera placement, movement, locations, etc. You want to be as detailed as possible here to facilitate shooting on set.
- Scenes and scene changes
- Sound Effects
- Props needed
In short, any notations that you can make to maximize shooting time in the field and provide the talent and production crew with a clear picture of your story and your vision.
A common method used to format a script is to divide your paper into columns:
- Dialogue or narrative
- The visualization/shots
- Accompanying music and/or sound effects
- Maybe a fourth column for whatever graphic may be superimposed in the shot
- Sometimes a fifth to designate any special effects or layering that will be done in post production
Personally, I like a prose format with notations made right within the written paragraphs of dialogue/narrative.
I triple space my copy to leave room for notes and I color code particular items. So a sound effect may be designated as blue: a graphic overlay in red, etc.
But that’s my own design. You can design a system that works for you.
The important thing is that all crew members who will be reading the script in the field are able to interpret your own personal legend. Everyone needs to be on the same page.
Writing is Thinking
Once you commit to writing all of this down, you will be forced to think it out clearly.
Writing is indeed thinking. Having a clear vision of where you want your show to go and how you’re going to get there will enable you to be organized both physically with your gear and crew and mentally with how you are going to visualize your story.
In our next article, we’ll talk about organizing and setting up your shoot day.
For more in depth thoughts and info on the value of having a script and when you should use one, check out this article from Videomaker Magazine.