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1. screenplay style & use

The screenplay: a tiny pitless and pitiful acorn from which, oftentimes, nothing grows. A thin, slippery creature, three holes, two brads, impossible to read in the tub.” – Nathaniel Kohn1


For those who’ve never read a screenplay before (particularly a real shooting script), picking one up for the first time can be a daunting, awkward, or confusing experience. What’s with the binding? Why are THESE words in caps but not those words? Why do some pages only have a few lines on them (in a shooting script)? And oh, that ugly font!

At Screenplayology, we hope to explore some of the fundamental issues encountered by first-time screenplay readers as they navigate through the pages of their first script. In order to understand the formatting conventions of screenwriting, we will need to appreciate how those conventions arose within the context of a particular history and in service of specific artistic and industrial activities, so we will begin by clarifying those areas for our readers.

First, we will look at how the screenplay evolved, both as a practice and a concept. Second, we will seek to examine the various functions of the screenplay text at different stages of reading. Third, we will investigate in greater depth the interaction that takes place between the screenplay and the feature film by exploring the process of script analysis many directors utilize in constructing shots and performances.


  1. Kohn, Nathaniel. “Disappearing Authors: A Postmodern Perspective on the Practice of Writing for the Screen.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. 44.3. Summer 1999. Pg. 443.

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1.1. history of scripting and the screenplay

Originally the screenplay was called a scenario, or continuity script, and consisted of a list of scenes that described the silent action and camera angles. These first screenplays evolved from the economic necessity to pre-plan rather than rely on costly extemporaneous scene development on the set. Later, when sound on film was invented, words, sound …

1.2. screenplay function and readability

Different types of readers are associated with the three functional text stages: property, blueprint and reading material.” — Claudia Sternberg1 1.2.1. Overview. As we discussed in the previous section, the rise of the Package-Unity System of production management brought about the division of the screenplay into two functional iterations, the master scene script and the …

1.3. the director and the screenplay

“The main questions a director must answer are: ‘where do I put the camera?’ and ‘what do I tell the actors?’” — David Mamet1 1.3.1. Overview. Screenplays have many readers, but one person’s reading matters more than any other: the director’s. In script analysis, the triangular relationship between the director, the cast and crew, and …

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