What is it and how can it help you make better movies?
By Keith Kopp
The lined script is hands down the most important tool I have picked up on my directing journey and it marks a point where my films started to become more controlled. It is a clear way for me to note the coverage that I want, establish the shooting style and it helps me create my shot list. It can also help you to visualise the pace and tone of the film you are about to create. If you have ever seen a director toting a script around that has several lines (each represent a shot) with a number next to it, this is it.
When I first started making films I would just create a shot list after completing the script and the downside to this is it can easily turn into a confusing approach. You might forget the coverage you initially wanted, this may shift the tone once you arrive on set and it makes you look underprepared. The lined script is your hack to the next level of directing.
How to create a lined script:
- First read the scene in your script – close your eyes and visualise – how does the scene look in your mind (be specific and try to fill in any gaps)?
- Remember that a basic scene is a master wide shot with two tighter medium shots (a set up you have seen on procedural television many times). There are times where this is economical storytelling, but does this feel too forumlatic for the story you wish to tell? What is your style, will the scene be covered in a oner with developing blocking? Or will it have several shots with a faster pace to create tension?
- Draw a line either down the side or in the middle of the script and stop the line when you think the shot will end. You will then number the lines (these are your shot numbers). Most on the left hand side and go right but I do the opposite.
- Create a shot list that corresponds with your lined script, at a minimum you should have the shot number, scene number, description of the shot size/movement and description of the action you are covering in the scene. This will help you remember what the plan is but also allows your team to better understand your directorial vision.
- One of the signs of a seasoned director is that they are not shooting everything, they shoot what they know they need. There is a fine balance between having the coverage you need for your edit but also not rinsing your actors of their energy when you have their performance already covered from another angle.
There are several ways to do this and some directors have a whole language with scribbles and symbols. I personally use lines with a dash at the bottom to show the end of the shot or an arrow to signify its continuing at another page and a squiggly mark over anything that is off screen.
The lined script can also help you in the edit when it comes to recalling your initial intentions for coverage and shooting style. If you have a script supervisor on set they will make their own version of this which will outline what was actually shot (how takes, condensed shots, and any changes to the plan).
Keith Wilhelm Kopp is a director of several short narrative films, and he is currently in post-production of his debut feature film Translations (which was partially crewed up on Cahootify). He is currently developing a feature film with the support of the BFI Network. You can check out some of his work on his Cahootify profile.