Originally posted here
When you are writing the script, what is driving it? Is it character? Plot? Structure? Do you see the words in your head, hear the dialogue, know the characters as if you remember them like old friends (or enemies)?
Or do you see the movie, and set about describing it?
I was surprised in a recent thread on Triggerstreet, that I seem to be among the minority in being a visually driven screenwriter. People were talking about their technique, about what they begin with, how they develop the story - and among all of the comments, I was the only one who said I began with an image.
I'm sure there are others, but what I mean is this:
I start with an image. Every idea for a poem, or a screenplay, or novel, or anything I've attempted - starts with an image. Sometimes static, sometimes moving. I can describe every nuance of that image: the textures, the focus, the light.
From that image, I figure out what is happening, and to whom. The story and the characters come from the image.
As I outline, and write my scenes, I have an image of them in my head. Usually, from the original image, I get a series of other images.
one script (which is now taking a very different direction) began with the image of a large white cat with a red collar, sitting on the chest of a dead man in a snow-blanketed forest, looking him in the face. The man was asian, and had a moustache, which had frosted over from his breath - so I knew he had been alive recently, and yet he was quite pale and frozen.
other images that came up while outlining: a man with golden skin and a pretty (yes, pretty) face, dressed as a warrior, barechested - the sun shines behind him as he rides a large horse with a golden mantle, beside him is a rough-looking bearded man, and just behind - a boy on a pony with a banner, also in gold. Several yards behind are more mounted men.
A pale asian woman in white, with a red collar around her neck, walking around a battlefield among the dead - she bends to one man who is gasping for breath. He smiles slightly as she caresses his cheek, but then, as she brings her her lips close to his - panic flits across his face for a brief moment. She breathes in, and his eyes glaze over.
The golden man, sleeps in a sumptuous tent on the battlefield, on furs laid across a divan. Beside him is a morrocan-style table, sexagonal and elegantly carved. On the table rests a silver bowl filled with oranges. The pale woman stands a few feet from him, looking down on him. She reaches a hand cautiously toward his face, as though warming it at a fire, and holds it there. She edges closer, and grasps one of the oranges. As her hand closes on it, his hand closes on her wrist. He turns his head and opens his eyes to see who the orange thief is, and blinks in wonder. She pulls away and in three steps, disappears from sight - without disturbing the door to the tent or the guards posted outside.
When you have the film in your head, and write from that - describing what you see, then it's rare to write "unfilmables." And yet, with these purely visual scenes, I was able to learn about my characters, and see the potential story between them.
By seeing the scenes clearly, you also can find ways to hint at camera direction without spelling it out. For instance, the last scene might be scripted something like this (note, this is NOT from the actual script, I'm just winging it)
Rei sleeps in a sumptuous tent on the battlefield, on furs laid across a divan. Beside him is a morrocan-style table, sexagonal and elegantly carved. On the table rests a silver bowl filled with oranges.
Itsura stands a few feet from him, looking down on him. She reaches a hand cautiously toward his face, as though warming it at a fire, and holds it there.
She edges closer, and grasps one of the oranges.
As her hand closes on it, his hand closes on her wrist.
He turns his head and opens his eyes to see who the orange thief is, and blinks in wonder.
She pulls away and in three steps, disappears from sight - without disturbing the door to the tent or the guards posted outside.
I threw some names on the characters, his derived from him being the king - and of the sun, hers similar to the Japanese word for frozen... but other than that, just broke up the paragraph of description in a way that suggests the shots as I see them in the film. It suggests that the camera is focused on him, lying on the divan, pulls back to show her nearby
Then the focus is on her, as she moves forward, and then a close shot on her hand and the oranges - and then his hand.
Then it pulls back to show his face, and back again to encompass both of them, closing with a shot of the tent doors, and the silhouettes of the guard.
Now, I'm certainly not saying this is the right way to write a screenplay... I'm still a novice, so I can't even say that it's a good way... but I read so many screenplays that have unfilmable scenes, or scenes where the action doesn't quite make sense - or where opportunities for visual themes are missed - and I wonder if the writer was seeing the movie.
Do you see the movie when you write? At what point do the images coalesce for you?