Writing a script isn’t the only way (and the tools to use instead)

Oct 02, 2022

A script is a technical document used as a proxy for the eventual film.

Writing a script is not the same as writing a novel, poem or even song lyrics. All of these are intended to be read (or heard) by the audience.

A script isn’t written for an audience to read. It’s written as a blueprint for the film production. The final output intended for the audience is a film.

Traditional filmmaking places a great deal of faith in scripts to fund and produce films.

Filmmakers are encouraged to make big irreversible decisions about the film before validating the many assumptions littered throughout the script.

⚠️Assumptions about who the fans are for the film. 

⚠️Assumptions about how high production values need to be to satisfy these fans. 

⚠️Assumptions about the size of the budget required to execute the story.

⚠️Assumptions about casting, locations, special effects, music and a thousand other moving parts that make up a film.

And if these assumptions are wrong, it costs us dearly.

But it’s difficult to unearth these assumptions when the only tool is a script.

In Lean Filmmaking, we prioritise making full-full draft versions of the entire film (over perfecting scripts) in Make-Show-Adjust Cycles.

By working in an iterative way, the story can be articulated in many forms. Nothing has to be written in entirety from beginning to end. Scenes and sequences are jotted down as required. Dialogue is improvised by actors or quickly scribbled by the writer. 

Of course, it’s still useful to conceptualise the story, keep track of development and provide a visual reference for production. 

But this can be an accumulation of sticky notes, index cards, drawings, photos, diagrams and storyboards, rather than long pages of written description.

Lean Filmmaking uses two tools that work hand-in-hand to replace the traditional script format: the Story Scaffold and fan experience improvements.

⚡A Story Scaffold is an ephemeral physical or digital representation, illustrating the current version of the entire story and assisting the squad in visualising the film’s structure to achieve the desired fan experience.

⚡Fan Experience Improvements are incremental changes, executed in Make-Show-Adjust Cycles, to test if the fan experience can be improved by their inclusion. They are self-contained, verifiable and small enough to be completed in one cycle.

⚡We go into detail about how to use these tools in our book and course, The Art of Lean Filmmaking.

A mastery of writing and understanding of structure and character development are still essential skills and crucial to the success of the film. 

It’s just that a script isn’t the only way to use this expertise.

The faster full-film drafts are made, the sooner complex story challenges (easily overlooked in a script) can be solved and assumptions can be validated.

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