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 at the moment. It was amazing to watch.
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 scriptment 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 Duplass, Joe 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.
Alex Ferrari 0:00
So guys, today's show is all about giving you freedom to make your feature film. And I you know it this is one of the most freeing experiences that I ever had while I was making this is mag is being able to move so quickly through the creative process, from from idea to script meant to shooting it, editing it, finalizing it. And we did it all within I think about four months, literally from the idea all the way to the final edit and color and export. And it was such a freeing amazing experience that I wanted to share with you guys what exactly it was. And hopefully you guys can do something similar for your first few films. Now, what is a script meant? Scripting is basically a full script minus all of the dialogue. It allows it takes away a lot of the exterior, the interior kind of slug lines, and reads like a very cool short story. Now, I'm not the first to think about Scrivener is by any stretch. Mark Duplass has been doing it basically his entire career as well. I mean someone like James Cameron and Quentin Tarantino, they love writing scripts prior to writing their screenplays. But what Mark does is he actually writes the script and and that is what he uses to make his movies. So what he likes to do and I'll tell you from from what I heard about what Mark does and to also what I did was you reverse engineer your story based around things you have around you. Robert Rodriguez did this so to Kevin Smith, these guys, this is not a new concept. I think it needs to be a lot of people need to remind be reminded of what this could what this very powerful thing is for especially for first time filmmakers for people just you know, just starting out people who just want to make a feature film, and, and not get caught up in the drama, if you will of writing a screenplay at the very beginning of their career. You know, I've written screenplays before. They're very taxing. They're very, they're rough. You know, as anybody will tell you, they're rough they write they can be extremely rough to deal with. But I didn't want the writing and the formatting and all this kind of stuff to kind of get in my way of telling the story that I wanted to tell with Jill on this as Meg. So we decided, hey, let's just do this. Kind of like the league, the effects show the league did or Reno 911 or Curb Your Enthusiasm. All these guys have very loose scripts. So they would just start with an idea and structure it out very well. And that's it. That's the misnomer. That's a kind of myth about scripts, or about these non scripted feature films or television shows as they are scripted, but there's just scripted in a different format than you're normally used to. So let's say that you were going to do, you know, like, again, I'll use Meg as an example, what I did was,
I took, I took me and Joe sat down, and we're like, Okay, what do we have access to, okay, we have my office, my back office, your house, this other house, this other house, this other location. And we'll you know, we'll go up to the Hollywood sign and do a location shot there. And we'll grab some stuff on the street and be like, okay, boom, boom, boom. And once we knew all of our locations, and all the things we had access to, we started riding around that idea, and started building everything around what resources we had at our disposal. And by doing that, we were able to construct a screenplay or a scriptment fairly quickly, Jill, did a lot of heavy lifting, and came up with a story. I gave her my notes and like, hey, no, you know, what, we have this location, let's try to change it over here. And, you know, gave her some guidance in regards to the production aspects of things what we had access to, but, you know, she came up with this scriptment that was, at the end, almost like 45 pages, so wasn't like, you know, we just throw a three or four page outline together and ran, it was it was a pretty detailed script meant, and there were scenes that were fully scripted out. And there were other scenes that were very loosely screened, or scripted out, you know. So, once the movie gets released, I can talk a little bit more about specific scenes in the movie. And you guys, and inside the inside the indie film Syndicate, I'm going to be going over this in detail in the coming weeks and months, on on how exactly we did this. So by doing this guy's, we were able to get this movie done so so quickly. And, you know, a lot of people who work with Mark do plus, you know, especially screenwriters, they just get are in awe of how quickly they're able to put stuff together, like he'll come up with an idea. And six months later, they're done, like literally done six months later, because he keeps the budgets very low. And that's the other thing too, you keep the budget very low, you use what you've got, it's a collaborative art, you need a lot of help from a lot of different people to make something like this happen. But it's extremely doable. And you write around what you have. And it's not that difficult to do, honestly, you have to use proper structure, you have to get your storyline and everything organized properly, have your your points, your hero's journey, or whatever kind of story you want to tell if it's a three act story, if it's four Act, or 6x story, or two acts story, you can do so but just organize it out. And then when you get on the set, this is what happens. When you get on the set. You've already hopefully talked with your actors prior to get on the set. When you do that, when you get on the set, you could start riffing, and you go, Okay, guys, this is what the scene is really about. We need to we need to hit this point, this plot point, this plot point, and this plot point. And we have to hit these marks, how you get to those marks is completely up to you. But we need to hit these marks in order for the story to continue to move forward. And when you allow actors to really feel free to do so. The magic that comes out is pretty remarkable. Now again, you have to hire the right actors who are really kind of versed in improv, and are comfortable doing this. But you'll be surprised at a lot of actors who are able to do this. And also, you know, when you're casting actors, this is on a side note when you're casting actors, try to cast people who are very close to the role that they're going to play that there is not it's not a complete stretch for them to do I mean look, Daniel Day Lewis is Daniel Day Lewis, Robert De Niro's Robert De Niro. And you know, all these guys do Meryl Streep's Meryl Streep, generally speaking, if you as a director, or as a filmmaker can cast someone who's close to the character that you are trying to have them portray, it's going to make things a lot easier, because at the end of the day, you don't want them to act. You want them to be, you want honesty out of those performances. And if they can be themselves and just come up with lines or read lines that you've written for them, all the better. And that's how fast that's how we were able to do what we did on this as make so fast is we, you know, Jill actually wrote the screenplay, or wrote the script meant around her friends. And she talked to her friends before she wrote the scenes. And she knows like, Look, I know this person, and I'm going to write the scene based on her or based on him on their characters on their, their people. And, you know, I know I can get this performance out of Carlos or Deborah or Joe or Krista. And and, and that's how we wrote the scenes out and we kind of found things on the day, and it's so freeing, it's so exciting and so fun because you really don't know what's going to happen as a director as a filmmaker. And a lot of times I was just there trying to capture the lightning in the bottle. That was my job was there to just capture the lightning that was coming off in front of that lens.
It's my job to capture it, and then to mold it when I get into the editing room. But that is the power of a scriptment. And it's something that I think a lot of filmmakers, you know, the screenplay, at least for me, was always this big monstrous thing that had to be perfect and had to be read perfectly and you know, if the the formatting wasn't right, or the the way you said things wasn't right, or this or that it just created so many obstacles from actually going out and making your movie that I think that discriminant is a way to loosen those shackles, if not shake those shackles completely off, where you could, in theory, grab 1000 bucks and go make a movie. You know, grab a camera, grab some lights, maybe even lights, maybe no lights, grab some audio, get some friends together make a movie, this is what Mark Duplass did. This is what Joe Swanberg did this is what Lynn Shelton did, you know these guys all did that, and they kind of just ran with it. And they made some really fun, heartfelt movies by doing so. And I don't think it's something that you guys can't do yourselves. Now, it also depends on the kind of story you're trying to tell guys. If you're trying to tell a story. That's super action packed, big thing, you know, big action sequences and all that kind of stuff. This, this process might not work for you this is this process will work. You know, though I am I'm interested to one day try this formula on an action movie, or on a horror movie. I'm really curious to see. And I might do that in the future, just to see what happens. You know, and it has been done to the horror genre, as well. So, you know, well, I mean, the biggest example of that was Blair Witch, The Blair Witch Project was done, they did that there was literally no script, they just kind of were guided along and the actors kind of made everything up as they went along. So it can it can work in those genres as well. But if you have a lot of big science, you know, big science fiction or big visual effects and things like that, you really have to plan certain things out. But there's no reason why it's some of the dialogue in those scenes cannot kind of riff like this, but again, you have to keep that budget low. And you know, I kept I kept the budget under 25 million, like I say all the time. afford this is Meg and kept it in a budget range that I felt very comfortable with by doing this kind of this kind of work, but I know that Mark do plus and those kind of guys they'll work with, you know, under a million dollar budget, sometimes a little bit over a million dollar budget. You know, I know drinking buddies the movie with Olivia while Jake London, and a Kendrick by Joe Swanberg. They, that movie budget was about $550,000 I'm like, that was his biggest movie ever, budget wise. And that movie was completely done by this way. It's just that was his. That's, that's Joe's process. That's how he likes to to work. And I understand I once I did it with this as Meg, it's so fun, so freeing, and the actors get to really have fun with the characters and create the characters on the fly. And by just being able to loosen things up a little bit. It works so wonderfully. And again, this is not for everybody. But I think for a majority of you guys out there for at least a portion of you guys listening to this, this might be a way for you to get off the ground to get your first feature made, you know you do very low risk, again, 1000 bucks. You know, if you guys can't raise 1000 bucks by asking your parents and friends, you're in deep trouble my friends. So you gotta at least raise a grand, let's say, get somebody who owns a camera or shoot it with your iPhone, for God's sakes. Do something like that. Make sure your sound is good, make sure your visuals are decent. And go tell your story make a movie, there's very little risk involved there. When you start getting into the 50 100,000 to 200,000 million dollars, you guys better know what the hell you're doing. You know before before you get going, you better have a distribution plan and all that kind of stuff. But at this level at that low budget. Under $10,000. You can you can have some fun and experiment. So if you don't feel comfortable doing with a feature film right away, do it with a short, you know, take take 50 bucks, take 100 bucks, and go make a few shorts like this. Get your feet wet. And see how it works. Do a few scenes do a few five minutes short films like this. Again, keep the budget really low 100 bucks, you know no more because if you start doing like 234 100 500 bucks, well shit then you could go make a feature at that point. But anyway,
I just hope that this this podcast kind of helps you guys understand that there is another option out there for you. There is another path to make your first feature film that you don't have to go the traditional route Out of getting a screenplay like getting it developed going through all of the rigor Maryrose submitting this to a to actors and so on. And again, at the beginning guys, I know, I know a lot of people are gonna have this question like, Well, Alex, if I have a script, and I've never done anything, can I approach named talent? I'm gonna probably say no, unless you have a relationship with that name talent, or some somebody like that it's going to be very difficult. We were lucky that Jill had very, you know, you know, they're her friends. And they were able to reach out to her friends and and we were able to do this in this fashion because they trusted her, and they trusted me. But when you're starting out, don't don't worry about getting actor like big name actors, if you can. Great. It all helps, you know, even if it's you know, TV actors, or people that we recognize are just good solid. performers. Great. But don't get caught up in that. That's another obstacle. Again, you go look at Mark Duplass. Go look at Joe Swanberg. Oh, look at Lynn Shelton. All of those movies when they first started out, did not have names in them. They just wanted to tell a good story with their friends, or people that they knew who can act, and so on. So that's what I would recommend for you guys to do as well is to go in, get a bunch of your friends or actors that you can find, to go out and have some fun with. And that's a big key point, guys have fun. This should not be stressful. There should not be anger, and high jinks and drama and all this kind of stuff. It should be fun, guys, if not you'd go out and get real jobs. You know what I mean? I know it's hard work. And I know it's sometimes it's stressful. And I know, it can be a little bit overbearing, sometimes making, making movies and being an artist in this sense. But at the end of the day, man, you have to have fun. And if you don't have fun, that shows up on the screen. And when you guys finally see this as Meg, I hope you can sense the fun we had. We had no drama at all ever on the set. We everything flowed so beautifully, so wonderfully all the way through the editing to the final part to the final, you know, cut of the movie in the final color in the mix and everything. It all just worked so beautifully. And I've never I've never experienced an artistic endeavor like that in my entire career. And I was like, wow, because I completely loosened the shackles. I completely just said, Fuck it. I'm just gonna go out and do this, I'm not going to think about it. I'm not going to think about, oh, I got to do this, or I got to do that. And this is the way I have to do I finally after 20 odd years, decided, You know what? I'm not gonna listen to what everybody else is doing and do and I'm going to do it my way. And for me, it's working, you know, and I did again, I did make a budget that I can feel very comfortable with that I can continue to do those kind of movies indefinitely if I have to. You know, Joe Swanberg made, has made like 32 feature films, you know, when you have made six feature films, you know, I'm going to put in the show notes, my links to both Mark do plus and just wants Berg's keynote addresses at South by Southwest and, you know, backgrounds on both those guys because if you want to study, you know, people the process, these guys are definitely two guys that you should definitely look look for, look at and study their processes. And again, of course, the show notes are at Indie film hustle.com forward slash 120. But, but again, Jo Jo was one of those guys that just kind of decided to keep making movies, he's like, Well, if no one's gonna pay attention to me, at least I want to be prolific. And that was such a great way of looking at, he's like, I'm just gonna keep making movies. And he'd made one year he made six feature films. He made it with his you know, I think I don't know if it wasn't VHS, but it was mini DV cameras. You know, he just went on shot with a bunch of friends, no stars, no faces, no marquee value.
He just said, Hey, I'm gonna go make some indie movies. And he did. And he sold them. He did some for a lot. But he sold them and he was able to make that year he said he was able to make 50 or $60,000 by selling six movies, you know, and having some other movie money come in, in that keynote address. He really talks a talks a lot about the financials, of how he was able to make it and it's so wonderful to hear. It's very honest, and tells you exactly what you want to hear. So definitely check that out anything else.com forward slash 122 in the show notes for his his keynote speech because it's it's really amazing. But back to scripts. Again, I just want to give you guys the tools to feel free to make your movies no matter where you are in the world. I want you to be able to feel free to make these kinds of movies and just go out and make them and then from there that grows to the next level and the next level the next level. And one last thing before I go guys, I want you to just please and I've said this before in the podcast, but I'm going to continue to repeat this until people understand it. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. You can't expect every movie that you make, to be the homerun, to be that one lottery ticket win that you're looking for. When you put that kind of pressure on the movie, it will succeed, you will be you will fail many times, and you are setting yourself up for failure. With this as Meg, I am putting it out into the universe, I'm putting it out into the world. And whatever happens happens, people will love it, people will hate it. I know that for a fact that people will love it, and people will hate it. That's it. And there'll be some people in the middle and other people on the extremes. And that's just the way it is. That's just the way it happens with all arts. So you have to prepare yourself for that. But am I expecting it to get you know, to get into Sundance and when me the lottery ticket? No, because you know what I didn't get into Sundance. And it wasn't the end of the world. Because I was excited. I was like, hey, if I get it great. If I don't, let's go on, you know, so you always go for you always aim for the fences. But understand that don't put the pressure that if it doesn't, your whole world is over and you can't make any more, I want you not to feel that way, I want you to feel like I'm going to make five feature films. And I'm just going to keep going no matter what. And you make them at a low enough budget that you could keep going, you could have a day job and save yourself up 1000 bucks, find yourself somebody with a camera or shoot it with your own iPhone, and you make your movies. And that's how you do it, you just keep going. But the thing is that if if you're going to go and I'm going to use baseballs and analogy, because it's a great analogy. But if you're going to go up to the plate, a lot of filmmakers will go up to the plate for the very first time. And they expect to hit a homerun when they've never taken a swing. That's what happens with most filmmakers. Most filmmakers have not been shooting commercials or music videos, or short films, or anything for a long period of time where they have gotten a lot of swings at bat. You know, I've gotten a tremendous amount of swings at bat. But I've never want I've never done one with a feature. But I've done a lot of other shooting in my career. So I feel comfortable up there at the plate, you've got to feel comfortable up there at the plate. So Robert Rodriguez before he made mariachi, he shot like 20 or 30 short films, he do it every weekend. And he didn't show those films to anybody. The no one, he was just doing them to practice, because he's kept going up there and swinging away, swinging away. Sometimes you hit maybe he'd made it single. Maybe he fell out. If you guys don't know about baseball, you got to look up the rules. But anyway, um, but that's what he did. And that's what I plan to continue doing with my features. Because I think what you need to do is you got to focus on those singles, those doubles, possibly some triples, instead of going for the home run every time. Because if you focus on those singles, so let's say, you know, let's say you make a movie and that movie, you know, you made for 1000 bucks, and you sell it for 4000 bucks you make on it. We've made four times your money. Well, how that's a success for me. It might not be the game winning home run, but damn, you made money as a filmmaker. You're, you're the top 1% of filmmakers if you're able to do that. So what do you do next, you make another movie for maybe $2,000 This time, I if it was me, I'd make I make another movie for 1000 bucks. But that's just me. But you make another move for 2000 bucks this time. And let's say you go out there and you make another 4000 bucks, you doubled your money. And you move on and you make another movie for 2000 bucks. And that other movie makes 10,000 bucks. And all of a sudden somebody's looking at you some people are like, hey, this guy's making movies. This girl's making movies. How much do you need for your next movie? You go well, I you know, I feel comfortable. Now. I need about six or $7,000 to make the next movie. I want to 10,000 bucks for the next movie. Okay, great. Now mind you, you're working other jobs to make a living and all this stuff, but you're making art and you're making you're building up a business and it takes time to do that. So I want you guys to focus on the long game. And I've said this a million times, focus on the long game and a scriptment can do that for you can help you get that movie made very quickly where you could, in theory, make a movie, two movies in a year once you get the ball rolling. Next year, I'm going to announce a dish. I'm going to announce it that today. I'm already in prep for my next movie. I'll announce it after the New Year sometimes I don't know I'm working on this on the scriptment as we speak and and I already have a second one I'm working on as well. So my goal next year is to shoot one feature and at least begin either shooting or in pre production on the second one and see how see if I can do two in one year. That would be ideal for me next year. without anything happening with this as make you see you notice I'm not even paying attention to this as make, you know, Mrs. Maga is going to do what she does. But I'm not putting any pressure on her. I'm moving, I'm moving along with her without her without anything that she happens to bring, if she gets sold for a million bucks, or for five grand, or, you know, it gets a manager or it gets a producer to come in and give me money for another movie, I'm not counting on any of that. I'm only counting on what I can control. And what I can control is going off and making another movie and, and getting ready to make a third movie and so on. And that's the mentality that I think filmmakers starting out who want to tell their stories who want to make a living doing this have to do and I hope this podcast brought some light into your into your darkness now brought some light to the subject and shows you and kind of informed you that there is another way there is another way to go make a movie, there is another way to get your feature filmmaking career started and going off and by the way, this can work for series too, if you want to make a little pilot and like a bunch of like you know, a webisodes you know, web series. Or you know, you want to create a pilot to pitch to Netflix or to Hulu, or Amazon or crackle or one of these guys, this process works wonderfully. Because if you're able to create and this is what Mark Duplass I'm gonna go back to mark my man Mark, he was able to pitch togetherness, an HBO show and ran two seasons on HBO based on this premise. This is how he worked on that show. I don't know how he did a pilot or anything like that beforehand, but but this is how he did the show. And it was wonderful because it was very low cost. And you know what studios love low cost high quality, they love that. And if you can get something out to a point where you can do that, you're going to work you're always going to work, guys. So just keep that in mind. So it can translate to a lot of things. But we're focusing on feature films right now. But that's I hope this helps you guys. I really do. Because I you know, I think sometimes I've had to go through all this pain in my career, to be able to share this, this information with you guys. And I hope that I can continue not going through pain. Hopefully we don't go through too much more. But you know what, at the end of the day, guys, honestly, your failures and your pain is who makes you what makes you a better person. And what makes you a more informed person to make sure you are who you are. So all these years of struggle and everything that I've gone through, I'm hoping that my journey can be a beacon of light for you guys at least a beacon of information to at least share it with you what I'm doing. And hopefully it can translate and help even one of you guys out there.
It's worth it. I know that sounds really cliche, but but that's, that's I think it makes sense. So thank you for listening to my ramblings this week guys, I hope it was helpful to you and we will continue doing more ask Alex episodes in the future you guys keep sending me tons of questions. So I had no idea that this was going to be such a big deal. So I'm glad I'm helping you guys out I'm glad you like the episodes and and please keep sending your your suggestions for questions at ifH [email protected]. And also guys don't forget the show is also sponsored by masterclass and you gotta head out to indie film hustle.com For slash masterclass to get access to Werner Herzog's master class the Oscar winning a director as well as Aaron Sorkin screenwriting masterclass, which is honestly remarkable I again taking it again since I'm going through my my process right now, it's my scriptment for my next project, as well as now the new Hans Zimmer film score masterclass, is up. And as far as also acting, the Kevin Spacey masterclass, and the Dustin Hoffman, Master Class learn their techniques. They're on my list of things to watch. I've actually purchased them already, because I want to I want to see what Dustin and Kevin have to say about acting. I mean, it's invaluable these courses, so head over to indie film hustle.com forward slash master class. So as always, keep that hustle going, keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.
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- Joe Swanberg: How to Shoot & Sell Six Feature Films in a Year!
- John Cassavetes – The Godfather of Independent Film
- Why You Don’t Need a Screenplay to Make a Great Film
- This is Meg – Feature Film