Thursday, March 09, 2006

What's Your Angle?

Rarely do I blog about structure, format, or semantics and rarely do I use absolute words like "completely", "always", and "everyone" because usually, there is an incomplete exception to "complete", a sometimes exception to "always", and a somebody exception to "everyone". Case in point: a question about camera directions in my Script Pimp Email Newsletter --

Question. Where is it necessary to have 'camera shot' direction?

eg. Close up: Character giving emotional confession.
Pull back: Character is confessing to a dog.

Can this be written into the script, and if so, how?

Answer from Ask the Script Pimp Expert. Generally speaking you want to avoid shot description completely. There are two main reasons for this:

1. A spec script is intended to tell a story. Camera directions pull
the reader out of the story and are distracting. These kinds of
technical instructions are inserted into the script when the
shooting script is prepared, but not before.

2. Directors like to make decisions regarding shot construction etc.
Many get offended when the writer tries to play director.

I agree with both of the points made by the Ask the Script Pimp Expert (no idea who that is, by the way -- he/she just has periodic questions that show up in my Script Pimp email newsletter). However, I did find occasion in my latest screenplay to use camera directions when a person was introduced as one twin, but his press pass had the other twin's name so I wrote in a closeup on the press pass to tell the reader and/or viewer which twin they were really looking at. Did this take the reader out of the story or clarify the story for the reader? Was there another way to write it? Sure. Was there a better way? Probably.

Thoughts? Is eliminating camera directions completely really always the way to go for us newbies?


oneslackmartian said...

I don't know how to do the formatting here, but these are two ways to not use camera shots:

Hello, I’m Tom.

His PRESS PASS identifies him as JERRY.

Or if you use the “we see” style:

We see his


which says JERRY.

MaryAn Batchellor said...


So, is that a "yes" unproduced writers should ditch camera shots entirely?

oneslackmartian said...

Well, I fall into the "unproduced writer" category, so maybe we can get a pro reader to weigh in. I know that I don't have any in my scripts. Although, I had to untrain myself.


Anonymous said...

what about POV shots as in a dog'e eye view for example?

mernitman said...

As a pro reader (I work for Universal) I can tell you: though people abuse this no-no all the time (and some pro writers, damn them, do it at will, because they can) generally speaking, w/ spec scripts -- don't do it. Camera language does distract from the read and is usually more superfluous than the writer thinks and subliminally makes the reader think "amateur."

Oneslackmartian has it exactly right, and I'd add one more variation to his, which is to go:


says "Jerry."

The old school way is to say ON HIS PRESS PASS (short for "ANGLE ON"). Putting the object in a slug line says "close-up" to the reader.

Same principle for POVs. Most writers just write:


The piece of bacon looms large.

Generally OneSlack's approach applies to all shots, meaning: describe what the shot would look like clearly (as in his first example), e.g. if you say "Long John is a thin silhouette in the far-off doorway" then we know we're looking at a long shot or wide angle... Etc.

p.s. MaryAn, I resisted the obvious gags about "exploring your issues" on my blog, but BTW you're a funny lady.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Well we all have issues, don't we? Some of them are just more obvious than others.