Reader question in comments from mrchristf01:
Thank you for the post.
I didn’t really get what you were talking about until I saw the line:“Yu uses every weapon that’s available against Jen but none are any match for the Green Destiny.”
Then it hit me: it’s like show, don’t tell in novel writing.
My own reading of this script would never have told me that. Thanks for pointing it out.
From a review of some of the other scripts on your site, I would say the same concept about the differences between types of scripts [shooting script, selling script, etc.] is necessary to understand the script-in-hand. This leads me to a few questions.
Is there any way to annotate which type of script is posted on your site?
Is a ‘selling script’ the same as a ‘spec script’?
mrchrisf01, you picked up on the subtext of my post: there is a selling script and a shooting script. Sometimes they end up being one and the same. For example, if you read a Coen brothers’ script, what they write reflects pretty precisely what they shoot. Being writer-directors helps in that regard because they have an inner knowledge of what they mean by their scene description.
Re my point about Crouching Tiger: It may have been fine for the minimal description of the fight scene relative to production because they knew they would work out all of those moves in rehearsal, then refine during shooting. That is a shooting script also known as a production draft.
If, however, you were writing a selling script – which is in effect what a spec script is and, frankly, any draft up to the point of active pre-production – you have to do more. Find that delicate balance between enough description to evoke images and mood in a reader sufficient so they experience the movie you envision, but not so much that it bogs down the read or includes content extraneous to the forward movement of the narrative.
There is no simple calculation or formula for knowing how to do this. You simply have to read movie scripts. Lots of them. Then you write scripts. Lots of them. You try out things. You write too much. Then too little. You get feedback. In the end, much of this boils down to the development of your own writing style. And by the way, different genres play out differently on this front. Action scripts will almost by definition have a lot more action description than, say, a character-based drama.
Again the single biggest key in my view: Read movie scripts. You just start to ‘get’ it after a while.
As to knowing if a script is a selling or shooting draft: In the world of online scripts, it’s really the wild, wild West, you’re never sure what you’re going to get. In general, I recommend focusing first on spec scripts that sell or make the Black List. Those represent the closest to what we want to be writing, at least stylistically, when we write a spec or even a writing assignment – again before pre-production. But it’s also helpful to read production drafts in order to compare them to the movie as that helps you to discover that balance between writing too little / too much, and always to write visually.
For more on selling script / shooting script, check out this Business of Screenwriting post I did on the subject.
Final point: Scene description is a critical component of the craft if for no other reason than the fact a majority of the words we write in most screenplays is not dialogue, but action. How we handle that aspect of the script-writing process is key. To that end, I will be offering a new Craft course through Screenwriting Master Class in May 2015 called Scene Description Spotlight. Look for more information on that soon.