HOW TO PLEASE A SCREENPLAY READER: Know Your Job: Storyboard on your own time

KNOW YOUR JOB: Storyboard on your own time

The second type of overwriter are those who write from a director’s point of view, often what we call storyboarding a screenplay.

Their screenplay often reads something like this:


A pair of hands clear the remainder of dishes from a table.

A cat rubs up against a pair of legs.

Two feet in worn slippers pad against the floor.

A set of fingers, one with a tarnished wedding band, change the channel on a radio.

An arm wipes sweat off a tired brow.

A figure covered in a sad blue dress starts swaying to the bosa nova beat coming from the radio.

The woman, now fully seen, is Elizabeth, 40’s. She loses herself in the lush music.

Let me say here and now, storyboarding is not your responsibility. Don’t do it. Don’t even think about doing it. Don’t even think about thinking about doing it. Cut off you right hand (or your left if you are so inclined) if it threatens to offend you by doing this.
It’s not your job.

Now that I got that off my chest:

For the scene above, all that is needed is


Elizabeth, 40’s, careworn, clears a table and washes dishes.

She changes the station on the radio, then loses herself in the bosa nova music that comes over it.

It’s actually unclear to me why author’s even want to storyboard a screenplay. They often say it’s an attempt to get the director to film the image the way they see it (sneaky little devils).

I would accept this if the way the author was storyboarding the scene was essential to the meaning of the story, that the plot or character or character arc or whatever is driving the story would be meaningless if the scene was shot in any other way. But it would take a lot to convince me that the second way the scene was written (the way I wrote it) is significantly different, changes the plot or arc or whatever, in any way from how the scene was written in the first example.

I can just see the audience now. “I don’t understand that scene. It makes no sense. Wait, I know. If they had only had close ups of the hands first, then everything would be crystal clear”.

And in the end, the second example, the way I wrote it, is much easier to read and follow and brings more forward momentum to the story. The other is just a bit slog, bog heavy, unnecessarily slowing the scene down.

Storyboarding is the director’s job. They put long, hard hours into it. It’s one of their few creative outlets (we did write the screenplay and come up with the whole idea, characters, themes, mood–you know all the good stuff). So throw them a bone and let them add that something creative to the proceedings since it‘s all they have to offer.

The problem writer’s have with director’s is not that they do the storyboarding, it’s when they rewrite the script, which are two different issues–and writing the screenplay as if you were storyboarding it isn’t going to stop the director from rewriting it; it might even encourage him to do more of it.

In addition, storyboarding is often based on issues that you as a writer are not aware of yet: budget; scheduling; how many takes a director can take; how does he edit a scene out of the shots he made; the location and set design; how the actors want to do the scene and what they want to bring to it; etc., etc., etc.

What I often find interesting here is that more often than not, when a screenwriter begins their screenplay the way the example does above, it usually only lasts a couple of scenes. After that they tend to go back to writing in a more clear, concise manner (notice I said more clear and concise, not clear and concise).

Why, I don’t know. I mean, if the story or characters made no sense in the opening scenes without the storyboarding, then that should be true of the screenplay as a whole. My guess is that it’s much harder to write a screenplay by storyboarding it and the author quickly realizes they don’t need all this directory type stuff to communicate their intention. It’s an exhausting way to write a story and it doesn’t really do what the author thinks it does.



So tell me what you think.

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