Developing a Screenplay into a Shooting Script: The Art of Being Surgical with a Chainsaw


“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”

Antoine de Saint Exupéry

Great movies that stand the test of time all have certain things in common: they are tight, they considered every detail and every frame of film precious and they avoid exposition (exposition is explaining things to the audience with dialogue to much of it is clearly an insult to the audience’s intelligence). These are they thoughts that should be top of mind while developing a screenplay into a shooting script. The two documents are greatly different. A script is a fantasyland where the writer is free to create whatever they want as long as they write in a way that clearly conveys what they are envisioning. A shooting script is more of a blueprint for what you are actually going to do, based on what you are able to do with your given resources and how you are going to convey that vision visually to the audience.

Resource limitations often lead to great cinema. Perfect example is the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The original script was 160 pages long, then before they decided to shoot it they cut it down to around 106 pages, but the movie is only 83 minutes long (one page of script averages about one minute of screen time). What they did between the 106 page script and the 83 minute movie was cut out any unnecessary dialogue, any exposition and created an ultra tight movie that still keeps an audience on the edge of their seats four decades later. TCM further benefited by not being able to shoot with 35mm film and instead using 16mm which was more often used in news reporting and documentary work then in feature films. Yet a further benefit from limited resources was not being able to afford to shoot high detail special effects, so when you watch the movie it is not particularly gory or bloody but they were able to provide the perfect amount to information to lead your mind in visually things much more horrific then anything you could ever put on screen.

So with that inspiration in mind I have been hacking away further at our script to make the final shooting script as good as possible and to address any resource limitations. Those limitations are often when great moments can come from so I gladly accept them as an opportunity to do something real special. I do consider every second, in fact every frame (which is 1/24th of a second) to be very precious and want to make sure I am giving my audience the very best I can in return for that time. We will continue to hack away until the shooting script is the right blueprint to give my fellow hardcore horror fans something worthy of their time that is my promise, a promise I take seriously and remind myself of every day as I make the cuts and delve into the details that will bring our story to life.

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