Production & Filmmaking
March 31, 2021

Why and How to Create a Shooting Script for Your Project (Download Free Template)

By Jonathan Mateer 6 min read

Highlights

  • Work with your cinematographer on the shooting script to work out the shots for each scene
  • Break down each shot with the coordinating action, runtime, visual effect and sound effects so you can focus on other departments, such as set design and costume
  • Having a shooting script will protect you in the event last-minute changes need to take place

Transforming your screenplay into a shooting script means you’re that much closer to bringing your vision to life. This also means that you get to start thinking in terms of a producer and cinematographer. That means that you get to turn your drafted screenplay into a shooting script.

What is a shooting script?

A shooting script is a version of your screenplay that incorporates the production of the film. Usually created by the director and cinematographer, it adds shots, camera angles, scene numbers and other directions for the production team. For reference, download our template of a shooting script by clicking on the banner below.

These are different from normal screenplays due to these additions. Screenplays treat the film as one continuous story and are intended to garner interest to producers based upon the strength of the narrative. The shooting script stage comes when your project has already been approved for production. It is then broken up to show the different production days and all the nuts and bolts needed to bring each scene to life.

How to start the process

Assuming that your story is airtight and ready to go, pull out your script and start numbering each scene. Your shooting script will be much longer, as each scene will get its own page. This process may well coincide with the storyboard process, and learning how to create a storyboard has plenty of overlap here.

After you number each scene, meet up with your director of photography to begin imagining the story through the camera’s lens. This is where you can collaborate and lay out your vision for how you want to compose and shoot each scene.

It is also a time to be specific about your vision and realize the trade-offs you need to make to make each scene work. Perhaps you thought one scene would be very elaborate, but now realize the time it would take to pull it off would be too much of a burden on the other production days. Putting the specifics of your vision down on paper will enable you to make those decisions about logistics and creativity.

The format

As noted above, the shooting script is broken into individual scenes that are then further broken into the constituent shots. Say, for instance, that you’re writing the opening scene of your short film involving someone coming home. You’d break the shot into 1) them walking inside, 2) putting their keys into the bowl in the foyer, 3) walking to the kitchen and4) finally, walking inside and seeing something mysterious on the center island.

All of these actions require their own shots. Therefore, you’d first determine how you’d want to shoot it before assigning each action its own shot. Maybe you decide a close-up shot works to try and get into the character’s psyche from the get-go. Or perhaps they live in a large house, and you go wide to show how the house overtakes them, making their character small. These are creative choices, and you’d start there by listing the shots ahead of time.

You’d then specify which shots would comprise each action. You could break it down further by determining how much runtime would be in the shot, any special effects and the audio or dialogue necessary. This breakdown of the scene will help you be exact in the needs of the day so you can coordinate between the other departments to make sure everyone is working in concert.

Another consideration is that having this information down will allow you to think of other departments. You can now focus on wardrobe, set design, makeup, etc. Having a clear and complete shooting script will allow you to move to other production stages with more peace of mind.

Having all this information down will also save you the headache of missing something when you’re in post-production. Although you still may face gaps when you’re assembling your video, the shooting script will provide you the roadmap and reassurance that you have documented everything necessary to make the project happen.

Differences between projects

Obviously, the process may play out differently depending on the project you’re working on. For instance, promotional videos may be less complicated and involve a medium-shot of the person speaking. This would still mean you’d introduce the speaker with the camera angle but continue normally as the script beforehand.

Commercials can be misleading since the shortened length can lead one to ignore the prep work to make a good shooting script. Don’t be mistaken! Although it is a shorter document than for a short or feature, it will provide a blueprint to ensure that everything is captured on set.

The amount of detail grows from there when writing a short film or feature shooting script. Although you’re not doing anything different, the volume of pages will grow, and you’ll want to make sure you have a great script supervisor or assistant director to keep everything organized. Seeing the workload grow may also force you to scale down production, as some shots or setups become costlier or longer than expected. However, having the clarity of the document will allow you to make those executive decisions with confidence.

Last-minute changes

Video productions rarely go according to plan. Maybe a location gets rained out, an actor is late or a shot simply isn’t working. This may force you to pivot from what you set out to do with your shooting script. Don’t worry! The fact that you had the document from the beginning means you’re anchored and can return to scenes later if you need to move on.

Making changes in your script will require a re-write of both the script and the shooting directions. These changes must be re-written with asterisks and given to all department heads to keep everyone in the loop. Keeping each department involved in the updates will allow you not to be rocked by changes in production and have some stability along the way.

Conclusion

The shooting script is the bridge between the image that plays in your mind when you read the script and the concrete steps to making it a reality. It involves creativity with your cinematographer, sound department, lighting, effects and set design. As shown by the free downloadable template,

it also forces you to be exact in the production needs, and this economy will force you to make tough calls beforehand. Don’t worry, though. You can also find new ideas that surprise you, and the story could benefit from it. Having the shooting script on hand will allow you to make those decisions with confidence.

 

Author bio

Jonathan Mateer is a writer based in California. Currently attending UC Berkeley, he covers topics such as filmmaking, storytelling, politics and culture.