IFH 120: What the HECK is a Scriptment?

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What the HECK is a Scriptment?

So what is a Scriptment? I found it to be a liberating form of prepping a story to be filmed? When I was in pre-production on my first feature film This is Meg, I wanted to get into production as fast as I could without waiting to develop a full screenplay.

I’ve written a few screenplays in the past and as any screenwriter will tell you, it ain’t easy. So I found inspiration from filmmakers like Mark Duplass, Joe Swanberg, Lynn Shelton, and the Godfather of independent film John Cassavetes. According to Justin Ladar (writer of Mark Duplass’ The One I Love), he defines a scriptment as follows:

“Basically a full script minus a lot of the dialogue…If you take away exterior or interior sluglines, it reads like a short story.”

He explains what it was like working with Mark on The One I Love:

“What would happen is that I would script [the dialogue in] a scene the night before or while the crew was prepping. [The cast] would get the pages and they would see just from a pacing standpoint [what needs to happen and when].”

When I was working with Jill-Michele Meleán on This is Meg we came up with a style that would work for the budget and time we had. It was the most freeing experience of my creative life.

No pressure, no hitting your marks, and no drama (except in the story of course). As the director, I was there to capture the lighting. The remarkable actors that were cast in Meg brought themselves to the project.

Jill and I would discuss the scenes with each actor prior to the shoot day. We would have plot points in each scene that need to be hit for the story to move forward, how the actors got to those points was up to them. They would improv the dialog and flow in the moment. It was amazing to watch.

That energy spills off the screen when you watch This is Meg.

The term “scriptment” was coined by the legendary filmmaker James Cameron, during his involvement in bringing SpiderMan to the big screen. Cameron wrote a lengthy 57-page scriptment for the first proposed Spider-Man film (read the James Cameron SpiderMan script-ment here).

According to Wikipedia,

“Cameron’s scriptment for Titanic (1997) was 131 pages. The term became more widely known when Cameron’s 1994 scriptment for the 2009 film Avatar was leaked on the internet during pre-production, although other directors, such as John Hughes and Zak Penn, had written scriptments before. The scriptment for Avatar (2009) and its notoriety caused the spread of the term.”

Though James Cameron used a scriptment as the starting point of the screenplay, Mark DuplassJoe Swanberg, and Lynn Shelton used the scriptment as the blueprint of the film. Take a listen to my explanation of what a scriptment is to me and how it can jump start your first feature film.

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