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May 24, 2022

What Is a Shooting Script in Film?

If you're in the envious position of having had your script accepted by a production house, it's now time to start thinking about the production itself. Of course, your spec script might have been enough to get a producer's attention, but now it needs some work to prepare for shooting.

But what does a shooting script need to include, and what involvement does the writer have?

What is a shooting script? 

A shooting script is a script that the production crew uses that explicitly states what happens in each scene. Most screenplays you read online will be shooting scripts or production drafts. They are formatted differently and include different details. It's essential you know the difference between the two.

To start writing a shooting script, the writer or cinematographer must first compile a list of shots. Shot types, locations, and sound effects are referred to in detail, unlike a spec script in which the writer's directions merely imply these details. Instead, the page is divided up into two columns: picture and audio. Finally, there is a new row every time we change a shot. 

The more details you can include, the better. Once this is complete, you can number these shots up and line your original script so that they coincide.

A photo of a shooting script.
Lining your script is an important part of turning your spec script into a shooting script.

Lining your script is the process of applying numbers and times to indicate exactly where each scene occurs in your script.

Here is a great video explaining how to do this in more detail. 

The purpose of a shooting script is to convert the story on the page into a tangible, real-life plan and to iron out any glaring practical errors that might occur when you do this. 

There's no need to attempt this on your own if you don't yet have a production company backing you. Instead, they will advise you, and you might find that this job falls to the cinematographer and their assistants on a more extensive set. 

You are more likely to be asked to produce a shooting script if you are involved in an independent film. This is because indie films are generally more collegiate, with roles less defined and everyone willing to chip in to help each other and get the movie done. 

A great example of how a shooting script differs from a spec script is that a shooting script includes scene numbers where a spec script doesn't. The scenes have now been decided upon after discussion with the production crew.  

What are the revision colors on a shooting script? 

Shooting scripts usually go through several rounds of revision. For example, rather than being referred to as draft one, draft two, etc., which can get confusing when you are only making minor changes, the tradition in the film industry is to use specific colors. 

The order of colors are:

  • Blue
  • Pink
  • Yellow
  • Green
  • Goldenrod
  • Buff
  • Salmon 

On production, the scripts will be printed on paper of these colors when they are distributed to the appropriate people in the crew. However, when you are reading scripts online, you will be reading black text on a white background. 

The date these revisions took place is also usually included beside the color of the draft written in words. 

Why are scene numbers on a shooting script important? 

Sometimes a scene might need to be added in at the last moment, so you might see a scene 8A to indicate this. For example, a scene labeled 8A has no connection to scene 8. 

Scene numbers are significant because they help the director and the location manager properly plan the script. By pinning down specific locations to specific scenes, the team can make plans to film those scenes together in one shoot.  

The same technique is applied to page numbers. For example, if a revision leads to page 45 being extended onto a new page instead of the production team printing a whole new script, an additional page is noted as 45A. Printing an entirely new draft for minor revisions takes time and administration - it's also inconvenient and confusing if actors have already started annotating their scripts.

Pages that are subsequently removed in minor revisions are labeled OMITTED. 

Here is a shooting script example of Casino Royale. You will notice that its scenes have been numbered, and it was issued to the production company shortly after it was complete. Notice how the opening sequence is more extended than appears in the film's final cut, suggesting this was not the final shooting script. 

Using screenwriting software to handle your revisions

Most screenwriting software includes the ability to make detailed revisions and to have the extra details you would need to add to a shooting script. 

Remember that collaboration is of paramount importance when it comes to scriptwriting - especially since the chances are you as a writer won't be making the necessary revisions to turn your spec script into a shooting script.

Thankfully Arc Studio Pro makes this easy. Scripts are saved in the Cloud and can be shared with members of the production crew. What's more, you no longer need to bother with saving multiple files of a single script. So, for example, if a team member accidentally deletes part of the later revised script, you can call this back using the drafts tab. 

Arc Studio also has a comments feature that allows other production crew members to write in the margins and discuss their revisions. 

Write your shooting script today

Arc Studio Pro will see you all the way through from the planning stage of your script until an actor on the production has filmed their final lines. 

Even if you think you're unlikely to be involved in actually composing a shooting script, it's still getting to grips with an industry-standard platform like Arc Studio and understanding the process. 

After all, the more you can understand what directors, executives, and crew members want, the better you will become at meeting their needs.

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What Is a Shooting Script in Film?
Harry Verity

Harry is a professional writer. His first novel The Talk Show was published in the U.S and the U.K by Bloodhound Books in 2021 and he is currently working on adapting it for screen. He's also written for Media Magazine - a UK magazine for students of A-level Film, Media and Television Studies. In addition, he was a senior ghostwriter at Story Terrace from 2015- 2021, the private memoir firm.

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David Wain

For decades I've been searching for a seamless screenwriting app and and everything has come up way short – until Arc Studio. Writing and collaborating is easier than ever and it gets better every week. Well done!

David Wain
Writer/Director "Role Models"