abbreviations: shortcuts used in scripts such V.O., O.C., O.S.
act/scene heading: Centered, all CAPS heading at the start of an act or scene. Act numbers are written in Roman numerals, scene numbers in ordinals.
ct: A large division of a full-length play, separated from the other act or acts by an intermission.
Acting Edition: A published play script, typically for use in productions in the amateur market or as reading copies. Often has a list of prop list or set design sketches.
action description: the overt, physical actions that happen on screen, such as “He falls down the stairs” or “She pulls a gun, hands shaking.”
action: The moving pictures we see on screen. Also, the direction given by a director indicating that filming begins.
actor: a gifted individual who has studied the craft of acting in order to portray roles in performances of dramatic literaure.
ad lib: Dialogue in which the characters or actors make up what they say in real time on the movie set or on stage. From the Latin ad libitum, “in accordance with desire.”
against: A term describing the ultimate potential payday for a writer in a film deal. $400,000 against $800,000 means that the writer is paid $400,000 when the script is finished (through rewrite and polish); when and if the movie goes into production, the writer gets an additional $400,000.
agent submission: A method of play submission, in which a theater requires that a script be submitted by a recognized literary agent.
Alan Smithee: A fictional name taken by a writer or director who doesn’t want their real name credited on a film.
alter-ego: a substitute “self” for a writer, usually a protagonist in the writer’s story.
ambience: the overall quality of mood, tone, or atmosphere in a film.
angle: A particular camera placement.
antagonist: a character that puts barriers and reversals in the way of a protagonist’s progress or objective.
Approved Writer: A writer whom a television network trusts to deliver a good script once hired.
arbitration: Binding adjudication by members of a Writers Guild of America committee regarding proper onscreen writer credit of a movie; arbitration is available only to WGA members or potential WGA members.
archetype: a universal character modeled upon those that have been appearing in stories since the time of our ancient ancestors.
Artistic Director: A theater company’s chief artistic officer and usually the last stop before a play is selected for production.
Assistant Director: a film crew member whose job it is to manage the set protocols and keep the film shoot on schedule.
Associate Artistic Director: An artistic officer of a theater company, frequently a director and often second to the Artistic Director, integrally involved with its artistic decisions.
at rise description: A stage direction at the beginning of an act or a scene that describes what is on stage literally “at rise” of the curtain, or more commonly in contemporary theater, as the lights come up.
atmosphere: the dominant mood or emotional tone of a film; used on-set to refer to the extra players often seen in the background of the scene.
attached: Agreement by name actors and/or a director to be a part of the making of a movie.
audience expectation: particular elements of a film genre which the audience consciously or unconsciously expects to see.
audio/visual (A.V.) script: A dual column screenplay with video description on the left and audio and dialogue on the right, used in advertising, corporate videos, documentaries and training films.
aural: a film element that can be heard (such as an off screen sound like a dog howling or a gun firing).
b.g.: Abbreviation for “background” (i.e. In the b.g., kids are fighting).
back door pilot: A two-hour TV movie that is a setup for a TV series if ratings warrant further production.
back end: Payment on a movie project when profits are realized.
back story: Experiences of a main character taking place prior to the main action, which contribute to character motivations and reactions.
bankable: A person who can get a project financed solely by having their name is attached.
barrier: a first act obstacle in the way of a protagonist’s objective.
beat sheet: An abbreviated description of the main events in a screenplay or story.
beat: A parenthetically noted pause interrupting dialogue, denoted by (beat), for the purpose of indicating a significant shift in the direction of a scene, much in the way that a hinge connects a series of doors.
bill: The play or plays that together constitute what the audience is seeing at any one sitting. Short for “playbill.”
binding: What literally holds the script together. As a writer submitting your manuscript, you might use either brads with cardstock covers or one of a number of other pre-made folders (all available from The Writers Store).
black box: A flexible theater space named for its appearance.
blackout: A common stage direction at the end of a scene or an act.
book: The story and the non-musical portion (dialogue, stage directions) of a theatrical musical.
book-ending: a framing device within which a main plot line is presented as being told or read to another, often embellished by the use of a voice-over narration throughout the film (as in Raising Arizona, The Princess Bride or Stand By Me)
brads: Brass fasteners used to bind a screenplay printed on three-hole paper, with Acco #5 solid brass brads generally accepted as having the highest quality.
buddy film: a popular movie genre in which two protagonists (often confidantes) are in pursuit of the same objective (willingly or unwillingly) and sometimes trade off as catalysts to one another.
bump: A troublesome element in a script that negatively deflects the reader’s attention away from the story.
button: A TV writing term referring to a witty line that “tops off” a scene.
cable: A cable television network such as HBO, or cable television in general.
camera angle: the angle from which a shot is to be taken (e.g., a close-up angle is a shot that should be made from a close proximity to the subject, either through tighter lens focusing or by the camera being placed physically closer to the action).
camera move: an action description in a screenplay that stipulates a specific move of the camera (such as “CAMERA PANS a crowded supermarket at rush hour.”)
cast page: A page that typically follows the Title Page of a play, listing the characters, with very brief descriptions of each.
cast: The characters who are physically present in the play or film. These are the roles for which actors will be needed. When we talk about a role in a stageplay as being double-cast with another, it means that the same actor is expected to play both roles. This happens in film as well (e.g. Eddie Murphy), but only rarely.
catalyst (catalytic): a character, event, or circumstances which force a protagonist into a quest or achieving of an objective.
catharsis: the emotional effect upon an audience resulting from a re-living or re-experiencing of a remembered emotion.
causal prediction: an audience’s unconscious forecasting of what will happen in a standard plot based on certain known causes and effects (e.g., boy meets girl, boy loses girl, causal prediction=boy gets girl).
cause-and-effect: a linear sequence of events that logically progress from one to the other, with the prior action “causing” the latter to happen. (E.g., a person witnesses a murder, causing the effect of the murderer stalking the witness.)
center (stage): The center of the performance space, used for placement of the actors and the set.
central question: the question that arises in the audience’s mind as they are introduced to a protagonist within a set of given circumstances that propel the character into some kind of action (e.g., “Sill he/she find someone to love?, Will he/she survive the plane crash?” “Will he/she escape from the concentration camp?”)
CGI: Computer Generated Image; a term denoting that computers will be used to generate the full imagery.
change pages: Script revisions of a shooting script printed on colored paper according to an industry-standard color sequence.
character arc: The emotional progress of the characters during the story.
character development: the gradual revelation of information about a character that the audience needs to know in order to understand the character’s motivations and intent.
character diatribe: Screenwriter Steve Tesich’s writing technique for imagining characters and conflicts in the early genesis of a screenplay.
character name: When any character speaks, his or her name appears on the line preceding the dialogue. In screenplays, the name is tabbed to a location that is roughly in the center of the line. In playwriting, typically the name is centered, but with the advent of screenwriting software that automatically positions the character name correctly, it has become acceptable to use a similar format for character names in stageplays.
character: a person, animal, or spiritual entity that figures importantly in the telling of a story.
characterization: an actor’s interpretation of a role in a performance of dramatic literature.
cheat a script: Fudging the margins and spacing of a screenplay on a page (usually with a software program) in an attempt to fool the reader into thinking the script is longer or shorter than it really is.
cinematic language: a “language” of images (visual and aural) that tell story without the use of words.
climax: the point of highest intensity, catharsis, and suspense just before a resolution.
close up (CU): A very close camera angle on a character or object.
commedia del arte: popular comedies performed in the streets of Italy during the 16th-18th centuries, using stock characters or archetypes in universal story lines and structures.
commission: A play for which a theater company gives a playwright money to write, typically with the understanding that the theater will have the right of first refusal to premiere it.
compelling movement: plot action imbued with the kind of forceful energy that pushes the plot forward, forcing the story line to move toward a climax and resolution.
complication: an action point that is introduced early in the film with no obvious effect or importance until later, when it becomes the unexpected source of difficulties or solutions to the protagonist’s objective; often the second act of a three-act dramatic structure, in which “the plot thickens,” peaking at its end.
composite: a character that is based upon more than one person or personality in a writer’s life or imagination.
confidante: a character who shares secrets, personal information, or discussions of intimate or internal conflicts with another.
conflict: opposition, controversy, struggle, contradiction, or antipathy between a character and him/herself, his/her situation, another character, society, or spiritual belief; the heart of drama; someone wants something and people and things keep getting in the way of them achieving the goal. At times, the obstacles can be common to both the hero and villain, and the ultimate goal a laudable one for both parties.
continuing dialogue: Dialogue spoken by the same character that continues uninterrupted onto the next page, marked with a (cont’d) in a script.
continuity script: A legal copy of the script of a released film, usually written for copyright purposes.
continuous action: Included in the scene heading when moving from one scene to the next, as the action continues.
contrast: the emphasized difference between story elements pointed up by a juxtaposition of those elements to one another.
copyright notice: Placing © Your Name on the Title Page of a script.
copyright: Proof of ownership of an artistic property that comes with registering your script through the United States Register of Copyrights.
Courier 12 pitch: The main font in use in the U.S. by both publishers and the Hollywood film industry.
crew: the staff members of a film production
cross-genre: two genres combined to create a more rich and complex movie (e.g., Witness is a cross genre of an “action thriller” and a “tragic love story”)
cut: the transitional movement on screen from once scene or shot to the next.
cutaway: a quick transition to another secondary shot (often of some lesser or ironic element of the setting) and back to the main shot. (E.g., a brief shot of a dog listening to a human conversation that is the subject of the scene).
denouement: the final resolution to an intricate plot.
Designer (film): an artist who designs some element of the look or sound of a film (such as set design, light design, costume design, sound design, etc.)
Designer (stage): Theater professional whose job it is to envision any of the following elements in a play: costumes, sets, lights, sound or properties.
development hell: The dreaded creative death malaise that occurs when the development process lasts too long.
development: The process of preparing a script for production; a) the gradual growth of a screenplay from germinal idea to fleshed out plot to final script; b) the breakdown, budgeting, and capitalization stage of bringing a screenplay into production (re-writes are often involved in the development stage.)
dialogue: The speeches between characters in a film or a play.
dimensionality: richness of atmosphere or texture added to a film by means of smaller elements such as supporting characters, background actions or dialogue, or small details of design.
direct solicitation: When a theater contacts a playwright or his agent about submitting a script. Theaters that use this method typically do not want the playwright to initiate the contact.
director: In a stageplay, the individual responsible for staging (i.e. placing in the space or “blocking”) the actors, sculpting and coordinating their performances, and making sure they fit with the design elements into a coherent vision of the play. In a musical, there will typically be a separate musical director responsible for the musical elements of the show. In a Dramatists Guild contract, the playwright has approval over the choice of director (and the cast and designers). In film, the director carries out the duties of a stage director and then some (e.g. choosing the shot list), with considerably more say-so over the final product. The main orchestrator of the various creative activities that go into film production, the director collaborates with and guides designers, editors, cinematographers, technicians, and actors in their interpretation of the script within a single organic vision.
distributor: the entity or company who distributes a completed film to exhibitors
downstage: The part of the stage closest to the audience, so named because when stages were raked (slanted), an actor walking toward the audience was literally walking down. Called “Down” for short.
draft: A version of a play. Each draft of rewrites/revisions should be numbered differently.
dramatic action: the subtextual undercurrents and reciprocal actions that occur beneath the dialogue and physical actions of a screenplay.
Dramatists Guild of America: The professional organization of playwrights, composers and lyricists, based in New York.
dual dialog: When two characters speak simultaneously
editor: the technician who “cuts” and assembles a movie from raw footage shot during principal photography, cutting it into a completed film with an eye to pacing, rhythm, suspense and cinematic image storytelling.
elements: the smaller parts of a movie that must be written and noted during the breakdown and budgeting process (e.g., cast, set pieces, vehicles, music, etc.).
emphasized dialogue: Dialogue that the playwright wants stressed, usually identified with italics.
environmental facts: the geographical location, time of year, season, day, period of history, and economic, political, social, moral, or religious environment of the special world of the screenplay.
establishing shot: A cinematic shot that establishes a certain location or area.
estimator: an accountant or production manager who estimates the cost of making a movie from a screenplay.
Evening-Length Play: A play that constitutes a full evening of theater on its own (a.k.a. Full-Length Play).
event: What precipitates a play. For example, Big Daddy’s birthday is the event in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
exposition: The first act of a dramatic structure, in which the main conflict and characters are “exposed” or revealed. Also, any information about the characters, conflict or world of the play.
extension: A technical note placed directly to the right of the Character name that denotes HOW the character’s voice is heard. For example, O.S. is an extension that stands for Off-Screen.
f.g.: Abbreviation for “foreground” (i.e. In the f.g., kids are fighting).
feature film: A movie made primarily for distribution in theaters.
filmmaking: the act of recording a performance on film
FLASHBACK: A scene from the past that interrupts the action to explain motivation or reaction of a character to the immediate scene.
font: The look of the printed text on the page. For screenplays, Courier 12 point is the standard (a fixed font which in practical terms means than an l or an m, although the m being wider, occupy the same width of space). For stageplays, while Courier 12 point is often used, Times Roman and other proportional spaced, clearly readable fonts are also acceptable. (Proportional spaced fonts make adjustments for skinnier letters; text usually takes less space.)
foreshadowing: a metaphoric or symbolic indication of something to come.
format: the specific layout, typeface, point size, and punctuation required by the film industry for professional screenplays.
formula: More commonly used in the world of film than for describing the stage, it usually refers to a “sure-fire” method of structuring a script (i.e. it must include certain elements and arrive at a certain ending). For example, there have been a slew of movies where a group of misfits are thrown together and ultimately become the David that slays Goliath on the athletic field (e.g. The Bad News Bears).
FREEZE FRAME: The image on the screen stops, freezes and becomes a still shot.
full-length play: Also known as an Evening Length Play, a play that constitutes a full evening of theater.
genre: a type of film for which audience have a set of particular expectations in regard to plot, style, tone, outcome, and theme. The category a story or script falls into – such as: thriller, romantic comedy, action, screwball comedy
given circumstances: the environmental facts, previous action, and polar attitudes of a dramatic story.
green light: A project OKed for production.
header: An element of a Production Script occupying the same line as the page number, which is on the right and .5″ from the top. Printed on every script page, header information includes the date of a revision and the color of the page.
heat: Positive gossip about a project on the Hollywood grapevine.
high concept: A brief statement of a movie’s basic idea that is felt to have tremendous public appeal.
Hip pocket: A casual relationship with an established agent in lieu of a signed, formal agreement of representation.
hook: A term borrowed from songwriting that describes that thing that catches the public’s attention and keeps them interested in the flow of a story.
in the round: A type of theater space in which the audience is, usually in a circular configuration, on all sides of the playing area.
indie: A production company independent of major film studio financing.
intent: the subtextual objective of a character
INTERCUT: A script instruction denoting that the action moves back and forth between two or more scenes.
intermission: A break between acts or scenes of the play to allow for set changes, and for the audience to go to the bathroom, stretch and buy concessions.
interrupt: When one character cuts off another character’s dialogue, sometimes marked with an … but better marked with an em dash (–).
jeopardy: a condition of possible physical or emotional danger or suffering of a character or characters that raises the stakes of a plot.
left: On stage, the actors’ left, assuming they are facing the audience. Short for Stage Left.
legend: written information superimposed on an image or blank screen (e.g., “Long ago, in a galaxy far away…”
lights fade: A common stage direction to end a scene or an act.
line reading: When a director or playwright gives an actor a specific way to perform a line of dialogue.
linear structure: a plot structure that runs in a chronological or logical cause-and-effect sequence.
Literary Manager: The artistic officer of a theater in charge of at least the first stages of reviewing scripts for possible production. She may have dramaturg responsibilities as well.
Literary Office: Usually headed by the literary manager and often staffed with interns and in-house or freelance readers. Typically the place to direct script submissions and inquiries.
location manager: a film crew worker who scouts, contracts, and manages the location sets (as opposed to studio sets) for film productions. Locations are usually real places used as found sets with a minimum of set dressing or construction.
locked pages: A software term for finalized screenplay pages that are handed out to the department heads and talent in preparation for production.
log line: an extremely short description of the plot, characters, theme, and genre of a screenplay used to pitch or synopsize scripts during the development stage, usually a “25 words or less” description of a screenplay.
lyrics: The words that are sung by characters in a musical.
M.O.S.: Without sound, so described because a German-born director wanting a scene with no sound told the crew to shoot “mit out sound.”
manuscript format: The ideal submission format in the United States and in a number of other countries, with character names centered and CAPS before their dialogue, and indented stage directions.
manuscript: A script before it has been published.
Marketing Director: the project manager in charge of determining how best to promote and distribute a movie to the public.
master scene script: A script formatted without scene numbering (the usual format for a spec screenplay).
MATCH CUT: A transition in which something in the scene that follows in some way directly matches a character or object in the previous scene.
mentor character: a character that helps a protagonist in achieving his or her objective; often, they serve as catalysts and may also articulate the theme of the story.
mid point scene: a plot point that seems to divide the second act of a story in half, usually serving to emphasize or articulate the larger theme or message of the story.
miniseries: A long-form movie of three hours or more shown on successive nights or weeks on U.S. television networks.
MONTAGE: A cinematic device used to show a series of scenes, all related and building to some conclusion.
motif: a recurring image, sound, line, action or other element that makes a symbolic, allegorical, metaphoric or thematic point in a movie.
motivation: a) the situation, reasoning, or driving compulsion behind a character’s intent; b) the character background or situational factors that actors analyze to “motivate” their performance of a role.
Movie of the Week: Also known as an “MOW,” a movie made primarily for broadcast on a television or cable network.
movie: a dramatic performance that is recorded as a moving image, whether on film or videotape.
multimedia: Writing and filmmaking encompassing more than one medium at a time which, script-wise, usually refers to CD-ROM games or Internet-based programming.
multiple casting: When an actor plays more than one character.
musical numbers pPage: A page in a musical script, usually following the Cast Page, that lists the musical numbers, divided by act, and the characters that sing in them.
musical: A play in which songs and music are an integral part of the dramatic structure.
myth: a story that has been told and re-told for centuries and which seems rooted in universal human experiences that people want to re-experience in new forms again and again (your textbook describes myths as stories that are “more than true”).
mythic element: a story element that seems taken from myth (such as the comeuppance of a bad character in a classic cautionary tale or the theme of sacrifice in tragic love stories).
notes: Ideas about a screenplay shared with a screenwriter by someone responsible for moving the script forward into production, which the screenwriter is generally expected to use to revise the screenplay. A similar paradigm exists on stage, with notes coming most often from the dramaturg or director.
numbered scenes: Numbers that appear to the right and left of the scene heading to aid the Assistant Director in breaking down the scenes for scheduling and production.
O.C.: Abbreviation for Off Camera, denoting that the speaker is resident within the scene but not seen by the camera.
O.S.: Abbreviation for Off Screen, denoting that the speaker is not resident within the scene.
objective: the goal or desire of a protagonist(s).
obstacle: a barrier or reversal that presents a challenge to a protagonist’s achievement of an objective.
off: Short for offstage. Typically written as (off) next to a character name when a character speaking dialogue is offstage while she speaks.
omniscient (omniscience): storytelling that is told from an all-knowing, all-seeing point of view.
one-act play: Technically, a play that has only one act, but in more common usage, a play that is not an evening unto itself but instead usually runs no more than an hour. A common arrangement is to produce three half-hour long one-acts on the same bill.
one-hour episodic: A screenplay for a television show whose episodes fill a one-hour time slot, week to week.
one-line description: a very brief one-sentence description of what happens in a scene.
opening credits: Onscreen text describing the most important people involved in the making of a movie.
option: The securing of the rights to a screenplay for a given length of time.
organic structure: a writing structure in which all of story elements relate to one another and to the whole in a complete and unified manner so as to make overall emotional or thematic sense to the reader or audience.
out of continuity: out of chronological or linear order (used to describe the way in which movie scenes are shot during principal photography).
outcome: the resolution of a story in terms of the protagonist’s objective.
pace: the intensity, rhythm or speed (or lack thereof) of a story’s plot action.
package: The assembly of the basic elements necessary to secure financing for a film.
page count: the number of eighths of a page of script content that takes place in one setting, used to calculate the amount of time it will take to shoot a script.
PAN: A camera direction indicating a stationary camera that pivots back and forth or up and down.
parenthetical: Also known as a “wryly” because of the propensity of amateur screenwriters to try to accent a character’s speech — as in BOB (wryly) — an inflection to a speech noted by a writer. Of course, in stageplays, all stage directions (at least in Manuscript Format) are in parentheses, but “directing off the page,” as it’s often called, is equally frowned upon.
pass: A rejection of a property by a potential producer or an agent.
period: an historical time and place that serves as the setting or “special world” of a screenplay story.
pitch: a brief verbal description of a screenplay idea or script (often based on a written logline) usually told by a writer, director, or producer to someone who is interested in buying, financing, or developing a story idea or script.
play: dramatic literature that is performed live as if happening in the present moment, in front of a live audience.
playwright: A person who writes stage plays.
playwriting: The craft or act of writing scripts for the stage (i.e. the live theater).
plot action: the physical actions and story points that propel a story through to a climax and resolution.
plot pay-off: the consequence or outcome of a plot point or story element that is set-up earlier in a screenplay.
plot point (or action point): a significant or overt action or moment within a plot that creates obstacles, raises the stakes, articulates theme, or complicates things for a protagonist trying to reach an objective.
point of view (POV): the position from which an image is supposed to be seen, requiring the placing of the camera in that relationship (e.g., “Benjamin’s POV through the swim goggles as he walks toward the pool” would require the camera operator to shoot through swim goggles as the camera is dollied [pushed on a camera dolly] toward a pool.)
points: Percentage participation in the profits of a film.
polar attitude: a character’s emotional attitude or approach to other characters, to his/her situation, to society, or to him or her self.
polish: In theory, to rewrite a few scenes in a script to improve them. In practice, a screenwriter is often expected to do a complete rewrite of a script for the price of a polish.
post production: the phase of production that follows principal photography, in which raw footage is cut and assembled into a finished movie with added soundtrack and visual effects.
POV: Point of View; a camera angle placed so as to seem the camera is the eyes of a character.
present action: action that takes place in the present moment as opposed to backstory.
previous action (backstory): action that has taken place prior to the opening of the movie, which the audience must know in order to understand the storyline and motivations of the character.
principal photography: the phase of production in which all of the moving images are photographed and recorded according to the instructions of the screenplay in preparation for later editorial cutting and assembly.
Producer: The person or entity financially responsible for a stage or film production.
Production Manager: the main supervisor of the crew in charge of keeping a film project on time and on budget; the PM negotiates all financial and contractual affairs for the project during pre-production, principal photography, and sometimes post production.
production script: A script in which no more major changes or rewrites is anticipated to occur, which is used day by day for filming on a movie set.
professional recommendation: A method of submission in which a writer may submit a full script if it’s accompanied by a theater professional (typically a literary manager or artistic director, though sometimes a director is acceptable as well).
property: Any intellectual property in any form (including a play or screenplay) that might form the basis of a movie. In theater, usually called a “prop,” an item (e.g. a gun, spoon, hairbrush, etc.) that can held by one of the characters.
proscenium: A type of stage in which the actors play opposite the audience, from which they are separated. Most high school auditoriums are prosceniums.
protagonist: the main character whom the audience identifies with or cares about in a story.
published play format: The format typically found in an Acting Edition, meant to save space, in which the character names are on the left and stage directions occur on the same lines as dialogue.
quality: the tone or characteristic nature of a story element
query: A method of submission in which a writer approaches a theater with a brief letter, accompanied by a synopsis and sample pages.
rake: A stage that is slanted so that as an actor moves away from the audience, he gets higher. Few contemporary theaters have raked stages. It’s more likely that the house (i.e. where the audience sits) will be raked.
reader (aka Script Reader): A person who reads screenplays for a production company or stageplays for a theater company and writes a report about them, often being paid per report.
reading: A “performance” of a play in which the actors are script-in-hand. It could either take place around a table (called a “table reading”) or with some blocking or staging (a “staged reading”).
reciprocal action: dramatic action that entails a subtextual struggle for control or mastery between two or more characters in a scene.
red herring: a false lead, assumed outcome or obvious solution that a writer plants in a story to fool the audience from guessing the real outcome.
Register of Copyrights: The US government office that registers intellectual property (e.g. scripts), necessary prior to filing a claim for copyright infringement in court.
relationship web: the complex network of relationships emanating from the protagonist(s) and relating him/her to the significant or supporting characters within a story.
release: A legal document given to unrepresented writers for signing by agents, producers or production companies, absolving said entities of legal liability.
resolution: the outcome of a screenplay in terms of its plot set-up and development. The third act of a dramatic structure, in which the conflict comes to some kind of conclusion: the protagonist either gets it or doesn’t.
reversal: A place in the plot where a character achieves the opposite of his aim, resulting in a change from good fortune to bad fortune. A serious second act obstacle to a protagonist’s objective
revised (change) pages: Changes are made to the script after the initial circulation of the Production Script, which are different in color and incorporated into the script without displacing or rearranging the original, unrevised pages.
rhythm: the quality of the pacing and speed of a script’s plot action and scene sequences.
right: On stage, the actors’ right, assuming they are facing the audience. Short for Stage Right.
romantic comedy: Also known as a “romcom,” a comedic movie in which the main story resolves around a romance.
scene heading (or slugline): basic set description at the top of a script scene, written in all caps, providing information as to whether the scene is interior vs. exterior, day or night, and where it takes place (e.g., INT. THE BADDA BING CLUB – DAY)
scene: Action taking place in one location and in a distinct time that (hopefully) moves the story to the next element of the story.
screening: The showing of a film for test audiences and/or people involved in the making of the movie.
screenplay: a form of dramatic literature used as an instruction manual for the production of a movie.
screenwriter: The most important and most abused person in Hollywood. The screenwriter writes the script that provides the foundation for the film, though it may go through any number of changes, both in the rewriting process before production, during production, and in the editing process afterward. While in the world of theater, there is usually only one playwright on any given play (or one collaborative team), in film there may be many screenwriters throughout the life of a project.
script breakdown: a) an analysis of a screenplay in which all of the production elements are reduced to lists in order to schedule and budget the production; b) a director’s creative analysis of the dramatic action, reciprocal struggle, theme, and design elements of a screenplay.
script cover: What protects the script on its travels between the writer and its many potential readers. The Writers Store carries a number of acceptable covers.
script reader: (See above as Reader.)
script writing software: Computer software designed specifically to format and aide in the writing of screenplays and teleplays.
script: The blueprint or roadmap that outlines a movie story through visual descriptions, actions of characters and their dialogue. The term “script” also applies to stageplays as well.
securely bound script: Typically, a stageplay contest’s request that a script be more firmly bound than brads will do. Either it is literally bound, or it is securely held in a folder.
set: The physical elements that are constructed or arranged to create a sense of place; wherever the camera is in place for a shot that is being set up for shooting (or being shot) at a location or studio.
setting: The time and place of a play or screenplay; the place in which a scene happens (not to be confused with location or set)
set-up: the premise or given circumstances laid out at the beginning of a story, just before the catalyst propels the story into its development and resolution.
SFX: Abbreviation for Sound Effects.
shooting schedule: a principal photography production schedule created by a production manager and assistant director to organize the shooting of scenes out-of-continuity in the most economical and time-saving way possible.
shooting script: A script that has been prepared to be put into production.
shot: What the camera sees. For example, TRACKING SHOT would mean that the camera is following a character or character as he walks in a scene. WIDE SHOT would mean that we see every character that appears in the scene, all at once.
showrunner: A writer/producer ultimately responsible for the production of a TV series, week to week.
simultaneity: the quality of having two or more things happening at once
simultaneous dialogue: When two characters speak at the same time, written in two columns side by side.
situation comedy: Also known as a “sitcom,” a normally 30-minute (in the United States) comedic television show revolving around funny situations the main characters repeatedly fall into.
slug line (or scene heading): basic set description at the top of a script scene, written in all caps, providing information as to whether the scene is interior vs. exterior, day or night, and where it takes place (e.g., EXT. THE SOPRANO DINING ROOM – NIGHT)
SMASH CUT: A quick or sudden cut from one scene to another.
soap opera: Daytime dramas so named because they were originally sponsored by the makers of laundry detergent in the early days of television.
spec script: A script written without being commissioned on the speculative hope that it will be sold.
SPFX: Abbreviation for Special Effects.
split screen: A screen with different scenes taking place in two or more sections; the scenes are usually interactive, as in the depiction of two sides of a phone conversation.
stage center: More commonly known as Center Stage, it is the center of the performance space, used for placement of the actors and the set.
stage directions: In a stageplay, the instructions in the text for the actors (e.g. entrances, exit, significant actions or business) and stage crew (e.g. lights fade). Also, in a musical, the person who directed the non-musical elements of the show may be credited with “Stage Direction” to distinguish him from the Music Director, who will be credited with “Music Direction.”
stage left: On stage, the actors’ left, assuming they are facing the audience. “Left” for short.
stage right: On stage, the actors’ right, assuming they are facing the audience. “Right” for short.
step outline: a plot outline used by writers to help organize and visualize their story before writing it; a step outline consists of scene headings followed by brief one-line descriptions in sequential order.
stock character: an archetypal character that shows up again and again in story throughout the ages, fulfilling a universal purpose (such as a mentor character or comic foil to the protagonist)
stock shot: A sequence of film previously shot and available for purchase and use from a film library.
storytelling: human communication that springs from a fundamental desire in people to tell each other what happened through the most expressive and immediate means possible; in dramatic storytelling, the recreation of events and people are portrayed through present action visual and oral performance.
submission: Name for a script once it is submitted to producers or agents.
subplot: a secondary plot line that enhances a main plot and intersects with it at a crucial point in the climax.
subtext: the undercurrent of emotions and polar attitude shifts that lie beneath physical action and between the lines of dialogue.
subtextual struggle: the reciprocal action of a scene’s dramatic subtext, in which two or more characters struggle for mastery or control of the moment.
suggested setting: A setting on stage in which a few set pieces or lighting or other technical elements take the place of elaborate set construction.
SUPER: Abbreviation for “superimpose” meaning the laying one image on top of another, usually words over a filmed scene (i.e. Berlin, 1945).
supporting character: a subplot character or minor character who helps to raise the stakes for the main protagonist, or who reflects the same problems or issues of the protagonist, while providing texture or dimensionality to the setting.
suspense: a state of excitement or apprehension created by the pacing and sequencing of scenes, through the raising of a protagonist’s emotional or physical stakes, or through the creation of jeopardy situations for a protagonist.
synopsis: A two to three page, double-spaced description of a screenplay.
tag: A short scene at the end of a movie that usually provides some upbeat addition to the climax.
technical Demands: The extent to which a play requires specific lighting, sound, sets, etc. Plays with minimal technical demands are easier and less expensive to produce.
technician: a crew person who performs some kind of technical (as opposed to design) function (such as grips, gaffers, sound mixers, boom operators, script supervisors, etc.)
teleplay: a form of dramatic literature used as an instruction manual for the production of television shows.
ten-minute play: A complete play, with a beginning, middle and end, designed to play in ten minutes.
texture: a characteristic visual or tactile quality produced by certain kinds of images (such as a story that has many scenes that take place in the rain or which incorporates images drenched in rain to produce a cold and “damp” feeling in the viewer).
The Business: Show business in general; more specifically, Hollywood moviemaking and television business.
thematic thread: a metaphoric element, literary or cinematic device used within a film to weave an underlying message or theme throughout the story.
theme: an underlying philosophical, social or spiritual message that gives the plot meaning and elevates the story to its essential, universal human ideas.
three act structure: the beginning, middle, and end of a story, played out in linear sequence.
thriller: A fast-paced, high stakes crime story in which the protagonist is generally in danger at every turn, with the most danger coming in the final confrontation with the antagonist.
thrust: A stage configuration in which the playing area protrudes into the audience; the actors have audience on three sides of them.
ticking clock: A dramatic device in which some event looming in the near future requires that the conflict reach a speedy resolution (hence, the ticking clock).
title page: A page of the script that contains the title and the author’s contact information.
title sequence: a scene or sequence of scenes over which the title roll of the movie credits are superimposed (usually at or near the beginning of the movie).
TITLE: Text that appears onscreen denoting a key element of the movie, a change of location or date, or person involved in the making of the movie.
tone: the attitude toward a subject or story that is being expressed by the writer or director of a screenplay or film (such as cynicism, hope, anger, optimism, sadness, or wonder). The resolution of a story may inform the tone of the piece in the long run, even when a different tone may have been set earlier on.
touring play: A play with minimal technical demands that is meant to be easily packed up and moved from one performance space to another.
transformational arc: the parabolic shift in polar attitudes of a character from a point A to a point B during the course of a story.
transition: A script notation denoting an editing transition within the telling of a story. For example, DISSOLVE TO: means the action seems to blur and refocus into another scene, and is generally used to denote a passage of time.
treatment: A scene by scene description of a screenplay, minus all or most of the dialogue.
turning point: an action point that is a reaction to an obstacle in the way of a protagonist’s objective; turning points raise the stakes, move the action in a different direction or to a different playing area, and force the protagonist to take a new or different tack.
tweak: A minor change made in a scene or portion of a screenplay or a stageplay.
unit: a beat of reciprocal action or a resolved bit of subtextual struggle within a scene.
unity: the way in which the components of a story relate to each other and to the story as a whole so that it makes overall emotional or thematic sense.
universality: a quality that transcends the subjective experience of the individual to find the universal reality of human experience.
unsolicited script: A method of script submission in which the writer sends the script, without prior contact, to the theater or production company. Some theaters allow this, most don’t-and very few film production companies, for liability reasons, can read unsolicited materials.
upstage: The part of the stage farthest from the audience, so named because when stages were raked (slanted), an actor walking away from the audience was literally walking up. Called “Up” for short.
V.O.: Abbreviation for Voice Over, denoting that the speaker is narrating the action onscreen.
videography: the recording of a performance by means of video camera and videotape.
visual effect: a special visual technique used to enhance storytelling (such as computer animation, slow motion, or time-lapse photography).
visual: having to do with that which can be seen (vs. heard)
voiceover narration: a narration heard over the images of a scene.
WGA Signatory: An agent, producer or production company that has signed an agreement to abide by established agreements with the Writers Guild of America.
workshop: A developmental “production” of a play, with a significant amount of rehearsal, but with less fully realized production values (e.g. set) than a full production.
Writers Guild of America: Also known as “the WGA.” The main union for screenwriters in the United States, with chapters in Los Angeles and New York.