Directing on the Page: Cameras and Angles in Screenwriting
Written by: Esteban Jaramillo
What is called ‘Directing on the Page’ is to various degrees considered a bad move – screenwriting wise.
I have lost count on the number of times a script has been posted online to receive – not story criticism – but the feedback that involves something along the lines of “you’re a screenwriter, leave directing to the directors”.
There is leeway, as always – and as always, the leeway can be somewhat limiting. Another comment you see often in these types of scripts is “Are you directing? Because you should only put shots on the page if you’re directing”.
Here’s the reality of it. Ultimately you do not ever have control of the story once the script leaves your hands and goes to a director’s. Your privileges of final say are gone and are handed off to whoever has the last word on a motion picture.
If you a brought into production, as some screenwriters are, then you can be onset and be able to describe certain emotional realities where they may lie ambiguous.
Or perhaps they’ll get you in for rewrites, which is useful as it can give you a chance to either talk through the script changes with the director or allow for a controlled crash when changes to come around.
But if you sell and are unable to be available for such fun activities – here’s the gist: anything you do not specify on the page will be decided for you. And following that: anything you write on the page can be changed easier than it was written down in the first place. Putting a shot angle in your screenplay can be ignored, crossed out, and forgotten if the director or director of photography will it. What you can control, always, is intention.
If the intention is to be followed is not for you to decide, but if you give the production team something strong, then the understanding of how you intended pacing, or edit to the scene, will go a long, long way.
We are not fans of rules in art, so we won’t be talking about limitations – but effectivity. How does one write angles in a script in a way that is the most effective, and brings forward how you intend a scene to play out. Our first example comes from screenwriter Frank Nugent, from his revised final script that eventually turned into John Ford’s ‘The Searchers’ (1956).
— To be continued in our April 2020 Issue of Cut Frame Magazine. —
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