Thursday, January 7, 2010

Should I write a scriptment?

Benjamin writes in with another question:

"Is it advisable to write a scriptment rather than a script? Like the one James Cameron wrote [for Avatar]?"

For those not in the know, a "scriptment" is a hybrid of a script and treatment, combining elements of both. It's longer than a treatment - largely because it includes and summarizes dialogue.

In a word: no. At least not if you harbor any delusions about selling the scriptment before writing the full script. Unless you are an established, known quantity in this town, no one is going to pay you money for a script unless you've actually written a script. Guys like Cameron can use scriptments because they're not only established writers, but also the director who'll be bringing the project to life. Thus, the scriptment is a tool that they can show around to their producers, studio execs, or agents saying, "This is is the story scene-for-scene, beat-for-beat. You know what I can do, so if this piques your interest then maybe we can be in business together."

It's useful because there's a lot more detail to a scriptment than there is to a pitch or even a treatment. Making these details less vague is especially useful when you're talking about a $100+ million dollar film.

I personally have seen a few scriptments for franchise films done by companies I've worked for. In those cases, the known quantities were not only the writer/director, but also the characters and the world they inhabited. These sorts of scriptments not only gives everyone a strong idea of how the story will continue to evolve, but it also could be of use to the various departments in preproduction. When the studio has already selected an impossibly close release date, time is of the essence.

And yes, a scriptment might be useful to you as a document for your own personal reference. I can see the value in laying everything out scene-by-scene and then summarizing each scene as a way of revving up for fully writing every scene. (Personally, I can't work this way because I feel it robs my ideas of their freshness. I'll work on structure for a while, and refine my treatments over weeks or months, but when working on the first draft, I don't like to overthink every single conversational beat too long before I actually start dialoging.)

But for an unsold writer, selling a spec script would probably be a piece of cake compared to selling a scriptment.


  1. Great advice. I have come across a few of these from unknown writers and for the most part were complete trash and just confusing. I can only recall one that worked well and hat was because the writer had a phenomenal grip[ on dialogue.

  2. Excuse my typos, I think it's time for lunch

  3. Are you telling me I wasted months on something useless? I may go crying in a dark corner for the next hour.
    Didn't Robert McKee in his "Story" write that was common in the golden days of Hollywood to write 60-page treatments (or scriptments) throwing in them all the ideas for dialogues, characters, settings and so on?
    I think it's a good tool for writers to have a document where you have a structured caludron of ideas. Not something to send around to agents and prodcos anyway.

  4. Reference to writing'film'scriptments; I think there are quite a few extremely important points that haven't even been mentioned or have just been totally overlooked here.First;if you accept the fact that;it's the job of a 'professional' Screenplay writer (usually employed by the producer anyway) to write the final screenplay which in itself is a extremely techincal job anyway; and for this to be then turned ito a shooting script. It goes without saying that; if there is a 'proper' Scriptment (usually written by the director himself anyway)it makes life a whole lot easiler; not only for the possible producer to 'play around with it' before deciding; but also for the actual Screenplay writer to then move scenes, delete or add; and to also see the 'type' of dialogue wanted as well. In any case;and though a scriptment is extremely detailed in every aspect; it also should always leave quite alot of sequences 'open ended'; precisely for producers and Screenplay writers. Apart from a 'good' Scriptment being a extremely important reference for the actors, DoP,PD,editor etc. once in 'pre. or post.' production. And just as a last passing comment,one usually has to write and rewrite up to 4 full compelete treatments of the story before even begining to put into shape a proper least for one that is presentable. so belive me; it's extremely hard and 'trying' to write one; but by the same token, it can also be extremely rewarding as well if; you want to direct your own work; as you can then and even on 'set' make quick decisions, clear doubts and rethink whole scenes that you just can't afford to make a mistake with or with having time to go away and just think about it. But as you already know your Scriptment upside down, backwards, upright and sideways; you can then spend your time on much more impotant things that are happening all around you and at the same time. Of course; I've been talking from the director's standpoint of view on all this anyway. And in any case, it goes with saying that first; one must have a extremely good and exciting one and half page Synopsis to send off before even thinking about anyone even asking you about your Scriptment; and sadly few even read a Synopsis these good luck, as it takes pure 'guts, sweat, natural skill and one hell of lot of unlimited 'tranquilo' to get anywhere in this bloody business my friend. Still, no one said it was going to be easy...did they?