Let Your Creativity Flow
I am a big proponent for teams to come up with their own concepts, scripts, and programs for two reasons. The first is the financial factor involved. It is so easy to spend a fortune to get permission to use other people’s material. The second is because is gets the creative juices of the group to flowing and helps pull the team together when they are racking their brains to come up with ideas and creating the script around their characters as opposed to working their characters to fit a script.
I know I said two reasons, but if I had to have a third it would be, by creating your own scripts, you can be the one selling the rights to use your material to others who haven’t read this book yet…Joking, but there is some truth to it.
Writing it out
In my training I wrote screenplays and Storyboard sheets for animated shorts and commercials, so I tend to do a little overkill in my scripts, but everything is detailed so there is no second guessing as to what needs to happen where. For you, this may be a little too much (like I said, I tend to lean toward overkill), so here we will discuss basic elements of script writing.
Element 1- Show it, don’t tell it.
When writing a script, remember that you are relaying the actions of the character in a format that leads the actor (in this case, your puppet) in a series of events. If you write it as if you were writing a novel then it would be very descriptive to get the reader to visualize in his head how something appears.
In a script, storyboard or screenplay, you are basically telling the actor what he or she is supposed to do in order to get the viewing audience to see what is going on. I know, it’s kind of confusing, but as you get more into writing your own scripts, you will see what I mean. Writing it as a novel will just create unnecessary words as well as force the puppeteer to figure out how to effectively show what is happening.
As Jack skips past the vacant lot, he thinks he hears something, so he stops and looks at a box from which he thought the sound was coming from. Hearing the school bell and realizing that he is going to be late, Jack shrugs his shoulders and continues skipping on his way to school.
The above is how it would be written in story form. It’s informative and gives you a mental picture of what is going on, but for the sake of a script, this is too many words and opens it up for too much individual perception.
Now, to say the same thing in a script style format that will tell your actor exactly what he or she is to do.
Scene: outside next to a vacant lot full of trash.
Jack: skips past the vacant lot.
F/X: scratching sound
Jack: stops and looks toward vacant lot. (Focus- box)
F/X: bell ringing
Jack: shrugs shoulders and skips off stage.
Instead of a lengthy paragraph describing the entire scene it is broken down into what the actor is supposed to do and separates out the effects that will play a part in the action.
Element 2- Format it simple
The script format used in example 2 is called a “scene heading” or a “slugline” if you are familiar with the old forms of typesetting. This is used primarily in the beginning of each scene to give a description of the scene. Everything from location to the mood of the scene will be in your scene heading. By following this style of formatting throughout the script will help every part be separately identified. This breaks the script down into basic functions for everyone involved.
If the sound tech was given a script written as example 1 then he or she would have to read the entire thing and make a guess as to the when’s and where’s to apply sound effects, etc., but in example 2, it is pretty much laid out. This allows for the actors and techs to listen for cues that will lead them into the next action or line.
On professional movies, television shows, and commercials the actor, prior to shooting, does not memorize the entire script; rather they learn the parts for the sections that they are shooting that day. Can you imagine how difficult it would be for every actor to memorize every line and action of a performance before they started production? The same holds true for your team if they are doing an entire program all at once.
A note on character names in script writing; consistency is important. In writing out script parts, you have to refer to the character the same way each time. If, for example, you have a character named “John Smith” and you have that character’s scene headings marked as “Mr. Smith” in some of the script and “John” in other parts, this will be confusing to the actor trying to follow his lines.
The exception to this format
As I keep reminding you in many of my posts, there are exceptions to every rule. Though this is the format that you will write your scripts in generally, there are times when you will have multiple characters speaking over each other. This is referred to as Dual-Dialogue and can be descriptively written in the above format, but is much easier to write in the dual column dialogue format.
I'm singing in the rain... Stop it please, you're going
Just singing in the rain... to drive me crazy with your
What a glorious feeling... bad singing.
I'm happy again.
(humming, now) Vicky (O.S.)
Hmm-hmmmm-hmm-hmm-hmm-hm... Could you please turn off that noise!
Hmm-hmmmm-hmm-hmm-hmm-hm... Some of us are trying not to sleep
Can you see how this alludes to an approximate location as to where Betty and Vicky are to introduce their lines?
This can also work great with transitions from one conversation to another character having another entirely different conversation.
(in a rocker speaking to the air)
Back in my day, we didn’t use cell
phones, in fact we…
(cross fade conversations)
I feel sad for Jack over there. Why?
Well, just look at him over there all by himself. It’s because he always talks to
Again, this is not something that will be used frequently when script writing, but it will come in handy on occasion and help show multiple overlapping conversations without having to break it down sentence by sentence as to when a character is to start speaking over another character.
Element 3- breaking down the script
Your script cannot be a run on sentence. Break it down by acts and scenes. For most of the programs that you will be doing, there will only be scenes, but on occasion (such as if you were writing a Christmas performance) you will have the story broken down into segments with interludes in between for songs or short skits, or even breaks. These multiple segments of the same story are “acts” whereas when a segment in the act changes location, time of day, etc., this is a scene.
As I stated, you will mostly be dealing with scenes, so that is what I will cover in detail here.
Whether an act or a scene, it must always be properly identified in the script. I have seen so many times when a script was written in a way that one scene cut into the other so that, in some cases, lines from the next scene were read in on the first scene. I have also seen situations where part of an ending paragraph was on the top of a page that started the next scene and was confused as being part of the next scene and therefore, that paragraph was omitted from the scene all together sometimes leaving a confusing end to that scene.
Element 4- organize everything up front
At the beginning of every script, I have a character list, a props list, an F/X list, and a synopsis of the story.
It is funny to mention this as element 4, I know. I have been chastised for this, but there is a method to my madness. My reason for mentioning this here instead of as element 1 is because, in the art of script writing, you are going to have epiphanies and conflicts that lead to story changes.
Organization is key. Works on the script first, then from that create character lists, prop lists and F/X lists, then use those lists to go back in and finalize your scripts.
Element 5- Copyrights and proprietary information
You cannot copyright a concept. Plain and simple, if you give your storyline idea to the wrong person, they can take your idea, change some things, and “POOF” it is now their script, not yours. Have you ever watched a movie and soon after it is released, another movie comes out that seems to be very similar to that one? Usually this is because a concept was leaked and there began a race to see who could conceptualize the idea on film first.
Your concepts and ideas are proprietary information and should be kept close. If you are getting assistance in writing a script, have a non-compete clause signed before any work begins, making all involved aware that script concepts shared outside of the team dynamic will be considered breach of the proprietary information agreement.
In theory, this doesn’t hold a whole lot of clout unless you can prove without a shadow of a doubt that it was your script that was taken, but it does serve to help keep the honest honest.
Now, let’s discuss copyright. If you are writing scripts for your current team, then copyright it under the name of the team if you want, but I always copyright my scripts under my own name. I had a situation in the past where I moved and left a team that I was a part of. I had developed an ongoing storyline around a specific character that I had created and had written skits for. I had no problem leaving them this information because I thought I could use it wherever I ended up at later.
About 6 months later, I emailed the new director of the team at the time and asked him to send me a copy of a specific script, so that the team I was with in my new location could perform it. I received an email back informing me that the script and character belonged to them and I did not have permission to use them and if I did, legal action could take place. Needless to say, since then, I keep originals of every script I do and I copyright it in my name, this way it is mine and I can use it or its likeness whenever or wherever I wish.
Harsh? Yes, but if you get into character development, script writing, etc., you do not want someone coming in and taking your hard work and claiming it as their own and then turning around and suing you for using your own creations. Most people aren’t like this, but better safe than sorry. Even the Bible speaks about effective stewardship, plus can you imagine the sour grapes you will be having if someone else takes an idea that you worked on long and hard and then makes money on it?
An addendum to the story is that, a few years later, I attended another church where this person had moved to and taken over the children’s ministry where the main character of my scripts was the mascot of this new children’s ministry.
Most typing programs automatically create time stamps on a document every time it is updated. Microsoft Word, for example shows the creation date of the document and when it was last updated. Keep a copy on disk that has this time stamp on it and make sure to have a cover sheet with your information as well as your information somewhere on every page.
Note: Most of the programs that you would use to develop your material now allow for watermarks to be inserted onto the work.
Heads up: You don’t have to believe in karma to know that “what goes around, comes around” and if you are going through these measures to protect your creations, don’t be one of those that rips off someone else’s ideas and uses them as your own. If you are using someone else’s creations, give them credit for it.
Now, in the Bible, Ecclesiastes says it best with “there is nothing new under the sun” and this is true. Every concept out there in movies, sitcoms, and songs all have an underlying theme that has been used before, just not in the same way. Taking a concept from someone else and creating your own take on it is totally different than using their storyline and claiming it as your own.
Boy meets girl is a concept that is as old as time itself, but how many stories have come from that one simple concept?
I hope that I have not scared you off from trying your hand at writing your own scripts. With purchased scripts you are at the mercy of the company that you purchased them from (some have guidelines on usage), plus you have to develop your characters around the script, but with your own script, it is yours and yours alone. To do with and modify how you see fit. Should it be something another group would like to purchase down the road, all the better for you. Also, if you are a generous person or the script is a joint venture from multiple individuals from the group and you want it to belong to the team, then have it in writing. Officially sign a letter turning over creative rights to the other person or organization.
Now go and start creating.