Reading a Screenplay

by Michael Armstrong

To the uninitiated reader:

For those unfamiliar with reading screenplays, I should explain that they are conceived differently from novels where you can read a bit, put it down, leave it and pick it up again.

When you watch a film it is meant to be a continuous viewing experience and structured for that purpose.  For maximum effect, therefore, once a script has been started it should not be put down until the end (unless an interval is specified)

It is also extremely important not to skip or skim-read any part of it.

The reason for this is that the majority of storytelling and character development in a film is told, not in the dialogue as with a stage play, but through visual images and reaction shots.

Therefore, don't just read the dialogue and skim the rest but take your time, allowing your mind to completely visualise the descriptions about who looks at who or at what and at details of the action, before moving on to the next piece of written information.  Reaction shots are used as a major tool for audiences to understand the characters and what they are feeling.

So, by reading and picturing each image in this way, one after the other, your mind will then be imitating the same process that happens when you watch a film.

It will seriously enhance your emotional responses and involvement with the characters and increase the impact of what happens as the story unfolds.

You'll also find that, having read it once, if you mentally cast your favourite actors as the various characters and then read it a second time, you'll not only enjoy it even more but discover all kinds of things you missed the first time around. 

And so, without I hope having appeared to be patronising, I say to both experienced and inexperienced readers of screen plays:

Relax, sit back, lower the lights and watch the movie that the words describe ...