A quick note: After I read my 30th script, I decided to start keeping formatting notes. This serves two primary purposes:
- It makes it easier to look back on old scripts and quickly find needed data: For example, what themes are present in The Great Escape (1963)? Instead of reading through my entire analysis, I can now just look at the formatting notes.
- It allows me to write faster analyses, no longer needing to write whole sentences to state what version of the script I read.
Script Formatting Notes Explained
- Simply, what version of the script I read. There’s no universal formatting, one script may be titled Draft 4, another by date 1-6-88, another undated. Some scripts use the WGA color codes.
- For features, the type of script read. Could be spec, which means a script written on speculation (hoping that the movie is made), shooting (ready for production), television (made for T.V.), etc. Update: It took me a bit too long to realize that the line between spec, scriptment, shooting, etc. is pretty loose. Plus, not all scripts even use a traditional shooting script. Therefore, since it is sometimes unclear which type of script I am reading, I just make my best guess based on formatting.
- How many pages are in the script.
- How quickly the script reads. This is subjective. A more recent spec script (ex. Air (2023)), with shorter action lines and witty dialogue, reads quicker, than an older shooting script (ex. The Graduate (1967)). This doesn’t make the latter a worse script, which is why I try to label most scripts medium, but a script that reads excessively slow or that reads very fast (taking into account that a spec generally reads faster) is worth noting as it can be useful for learning the craft.
- Where the film takes place ex. America, England, The Moon, etc. Note: I try to note all of the locations present in the screenplay, but if it’s just one or two scenes set somewhere else, I may miss it.
- Is the plot linear or nonlinear? I consider a chronological plot with a simple flashback as linear.
- Does the plot take place over a day, week, month, or millennia?
- Are there three clear acts? Does the plot have a climax? Is it strong or weak?
- I tend to stick to the John Truby genres, which include: Horror, Action/Adventure, Myth/Religion, Memoir/Biopic, Coming-of-Age, Science Fiction, Crime, Comedy, Western, Gangster, Fantasy, Thriller, Detective, and Love, with additions, such as Sexuality, Classism, Mental Illness, etc. Many screenplays combine multiple themes together. For example, Elysium (2013), clearly sci-fi, has elements of Myth and Western.
- Theme are ideas that generally repeat through the course of the movie. Themes could be abuse and poverty, such as in Slumdog Millionaire (2008). A genre could also be a theme, such as classism or love, although themes are generally more specific. Themes are essentially the central concepts that helps the writer share the dramatic arguments of the film.
- Does the protagonist change (mentally, physically, etc.) throughout the script? Contrary to popular belief, the protagonist does not need to change for a good story. Don’t believe me? Tell me how Ferris Bueller changes in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). You think Cameron is the main character? Okay, then how about Luke in Cool Hand Luke (1967)? I try to use the categories of none, minimal, moderate, significant. Change doesn’t necessarily mean growth either. For example, Remy certainly experiences personal growth in Ratatouille (2007), but does he change? That’s a bit more ambiguous. I could add a new category in the future but for now will stick with protagonist change.