Screenplay Types

Updated: May 29, 2020

I’m strictly into a mentoring works these days, now that about seven screenplays are in the process of writing and development. The ‘process of writing’ – a phrase that comes to me right now as I write this blog, is what I really like to explain and share with you some other time. You know why? I almost get about ten queries a day about this ‘process of writing’ from many a student, at my Screenwriting Academy Studio – ScreenWrite.In, as they plunge into the meticulous exercise of writing.

This blog is about the kinds of screenplays. When aspirants come to me, they’re confused about the format and styles and kinds; and wants to differentiate between what I mean by a speculative screenplay, commissioned screenplay and Shoot Script; a Step Outline and Treatment.

SPECULATIVE SCREENPLAY is that one writes on one’s own, without any contract from any producer, but of course, intended to impress one to get it produced. For the same reason there’s no payment involved in the spec screenwriting or any promise for payment foreseen. ‘Specs’ are generally written by aspiring screenwriters to establish their talent as a writer; or to direct the movie themselves. So the intention is to impress the reader – a producer or a representative. And the intention is also for easy reading of the structure and content they have written, not giving too much possible distractions to the reader as to the technical aspects of the picture making process viz. camera angles, edit suggestions or any other technical advices. The spec screenplays don’t carry scene numbers. Specs usually tend to be accepted as originals, but can also be based on written works, real events, or on people living or dead.

Here’s a film that shows how screenwriters move around with their ‘specs’ to get identified in the industry: Dreams on Spec (2007).

COMMISSIONED SCREENPLAY is usually written under a contract. As I have found through my experience, a professional writer is called to work on a topic of interest of the Producer or Studio, for a screenplay already made, or a story already written and/or the rights of the story bought out, or to remake a movie etcetera. As the writer is under a contractual commitment, a mutually agreed remuneration is absolutely present at the very outset. The writer sometimes may even have to work in collaboration with other writers. The format is almost the same as Speculative Screenplays, but most of times may be written as a shoot script with technical details and scene numbers (for the simple reason the project is already on).

CLOSET SCREENPLAYS, strange enough to be curious about, are screenplays written purposely not to be produced. The intention of the screenwriter here is to write a screenplay to be read by a lone reader or a group (or for just publishing).

The first thing to understand here is that the SHOOT SCRIPT is not another edition of the screenplay. A shoot script is written to help the production of the film go efficiently well. The most important component that makes shoot script any different from a spec is the scene numbers, and some definite formatting rules to help revisions and rewrites work easier and effective. To look at Shoot Script in another perspective, is to make the script pages and content convenient for direction and planning to the various departments of production.

A STEP OUTLINE (SOL) is an immediate prelude to any kind of screenplay. A Step Outline is a detailed outline of the proposed action sequences for the screenplay. The purpose of the SOL is to work out story problems at the initial stages of the story development and get feedback from the close friends of the screenwriter, to strengthen plot and character development. It has to have a beginning, middle, and end, character conflicts, act builds if any, story twists, high points of crisis and the story’s resolution. Step Outlines are usually written in small paragraphs and numbered. Each paragraph may represent a collection of scenes or episodes or clearly marked scenes for reversals or plot points. Personally, I’d consider this a vital tool for any screenwriter in the ‘writing process’.

TREATMENT – A detailed, third person, present tense, narrative summary of a script. Treatments are more of prose-writing and help the screenwriter to get a grip on the story at the initial stages of development.

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