Directing – It’s All In the Script

Although we all think of the director as exerting his or her influential on set, in reality the director’s work is mostly done well before hand in pre-production. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the complexities of production. From working with difficult actors, to fighting the setting sun, to trying to overcome problems with the location, it’s easy to lose sight of the fragility of the emotional moment you’re tasked with creating amid this chaos. As a result, it’s always best to do your homework in a quiet environment, and look to your script for the answers.


Prep is where the big part of the director’s job happens. That’s where we figure out: what is this scene really about, what is the story I’m telling, what is the emotional point of view of each character, and what is the intent and obstacle of each character? Now how do I illuminate that by how I shoot this scene? Where do the characters want to be physically in the set, and how do I demonstrate that with a camera? I cut it all together in my head before I shoot a single thing, so that my screen direction will be correct. And so that I can answer any questions that an actor might have about intention, or about obstacle, or about subtext, or about point of view. I have to know it all through and through and completely, know it cold. Once I know that, I can come on set that day and throw it all away, just like an actor does, and let the magic happen.


– Bethany Rooney, Critically Acclaimed Director, “Brothers and Sisters”, “Grey’s Anatomy”, “Desperate Housewives”, and “Private Practice”


Here are a few tips to get the most from your script before you start shooting:

  • What is this scene about? Know the complete story arc of both the A-story and each subplot.  Work through how each scene moves the story forward and the narrative purpose of each scene. Determine what each character wants in each scene, where each character is going, and where each character is coming from before the scene begins.
  • How does it fit into the scene that came before and the scene that comes next? Determining this will help you design transitions to segue from one scene into the next scene.  Let the emotion, energy, and pacing of each scene guide these transitions.
  • What is each character’s motivation in this scene? Perform a character analysis for each and every scene.  You can learn more about this process in the chapter,  “Analyzing Character.”
  • What is the driving subtext of each line of dialog? Invariably, actors will ask you why their characters are saying a particular line, so be clear what each character really means, and why he or she is covering this truthful subtext with the written line.
  • What does each character really want and is he/she speaking the truth or masking it? While dialogue can seem to be a truthful representation of how a character feels, it probably isn’t.  Look at the scene to determine why the character is masking or revealing his true intentions.
  • How would you like the lighting and cinematography to serve the theme?  In addition to the performance, determine how the other creative elements of filmmaking will work to enhance the emotion of each scene.  From the blocking of the camera to sound design,  understanding how the technique can adorn the actor’s performance can greatly enhance your control of the moment.

By unraveling and understanding these three principles in advance, you’ll be able to much more effectively tackle each scene on set.

Writing a Great Low Budget Screenplay

It’s easy to get lost in the world of your story, weaving tales of intrigue, romance, action and adventure through the lives of your characters. But as engaging as you would like that world to be, the reality of tighter budgets, fewer shooting days, smaller crews and cheaper equipment force producers to look at cheaper scripts. As a writer, it’s important to learn the balance between the story and the cost of producing it.

One of the biggest strengths you can have as a writer it to learn how to attach a price tag to each scene. Here are some pointers when writing on a budget:

  • Focus on story – not on the scale of production – Emotion is the most powerful tool you have when building a low-budget story, and the great news is that it’s free!  When you develop your project, focus on the characters, creating a conflict that inflicts as much pain on them as possible, and set-up the story to invoke an emotional journey for the audience.  Emotion will have a more powerful impact than a cast of thousands or Earth-shattering visual effects.
  • If you’re shooting a feature, keep your script at 85 pages – If one scripted page (properly formatted, of course) equals one minute of screen time, then keeping your script length down means you can concentrate your budget.  A feature film that is 85 minutes will actually sell just as easily as a 120 minute film.
  • Car scenes can be expensive – Building car rigs, or renting a process trailer to tow the hero car around is expensive, so whenever possible, write scenes that take place in a stationary car, or have your characters get out of the car and continue the conversation at their destination (or pulled over).
  • Keep your cast small – Although we would all love to have a cast of thousands, the most budget-friendly scripts have only a handful of actors.Take Shane Carruth’s “Primer,” a mind-blowing science-fiction time travel film shot for less than $10,000 with just a few actors.
  • Reduce the number of locations – You won’t just save money in location fees and permits, but time.  Each time you need to pack up the cast, crew, and equipment for another location takes valuable time out of your shooting day. Many low budget movies shoot at one location – a cabin in the woods, an abandoned building, one house.
  • Avoid night exteriors – Contrary to what you may expect, shooting at night requires a lot of light, generators and crew. A forest at night is dark, and it’s impossible to get an image, even under a full moon, so massive 18,000 watt HMI lights are positioned hundreds of feet away to simulate moonlight, while the areas of the forest in which the action takes place must also be specifically lit so the cinematographer can properly expose the actors. When in doubt, write exterior scenes for daytime.
  • Special effects take time – Even though you may have access to the best make-up effects artist from Stan Winston Studios, or a top ILM visual effects supervisor, know that on-set effects take time… lots of time. And on set, time costs money, so be aware that some producers may cut effect-s heavy sequences to accommodate the budget.

All in all, producers are always looking for next script to produce. And almost as important as the quality of the story is the price tag that comes with the script. Writing for the producer can greatly increase the chances that your script will sell.

Pro-Tip: Check out the site  It’s a script brokering site that allows writers to post scripts, then vetted producers can review scripts, treatments, and outlines. Hundreds of scripts have been bought and sold over the years, and it’s a great place to either shop your script, or find a  great script for your project.