Do you actually have to write an improv or silent scene?
Most of us think of a script as a bunch of words or lines for the actors to memorize. But, what if you are planning on creating a silent scene or even a silent film? I know a silent film is rare nowadays. Or what if you want your actors to use improvisation (improv)? How do you write a script when there are no spoken words? How do you get the actors to do what you want?
I know in my previous article I discussed whether or not the writer should include director notes, actor actions, opening shot description, or camera angles. I still agree with many of the articles saying that if you are not a well-established writer or a famous director, you should leave that part up to those more experienced. But if you are directing the project yourself, you can or even should include camera angles, opening shots, and directing cues.
You must really have a vision, beyond the scope of words to create that silent scene or film. So, without words you have no choice but to tell the actors and director how to bring your characters to life. I just produced a short film with no dialogue, Escape Artists. It was actually derived from a dream I had during the pandemic. When I woke up the next morning I typed the script. I had no intention of writing a short and I was surprised I actually wrote a comedy! (I’m not really a funny person.)
You must really have a vision, beyond the scope of words to create that silent scene or film.
I wrote it as if I was writing another book. For example, I wrote things such as “Officer Rudy gets another call and rushes to the scene to find the graffiti artists are gone. He looks around, shrugs his shoulders and continues on with his day.” I did not include any camera angles, scene shots, or dialogue, but the scene was filmed. The story was told successfully. Even though it was silent, the director and actors were still able to bring the characters to life and interpret my story.
The entire film, Escape Artists, was supposed to be silent, but the camera did catch one word, “Hey!” We decided to leave it because it did add excitement to the story and it was a comedy. In another scene, I had an arguing couple. Ordinarily you would want to give them dialogue so the audience knows what the argument is about or how it fits into the story. Again, the actors made it work with effective body language, pantomime. And the director used a great opening shot, camera angles, and instructions for the actors to make a silent argument tell the story.
Now, what about improv? You must be careful with improv because every person has their own interpretation of a story or even a line. Your story may actually get lost if you allow too much freedom with every actor and line. So, how do you write an improv script? Some people would say, you don’t bother writing a script for that. I would say, write it and be sure to include thoughts, some actions, and maybe even some starting sentences or key words. Give the actors prompts.
You must be careful with improv because every person has their own interpretation of a story or even a line.
If you are not directing the film yourself, to be honest, I would not recommend improv.. Why? Even with a tight script, your actors and director will have their own interpretation of the story. They are all artists with varied life experiences. The story will stray from your written word and vision whether you want that or not. With improv, unless you are there to direct, your story may end up being very different from what you envisioned or wanted to say. So with your improv script, you may want to write it as if it is a silent film or, as I said, give prompts to get the scenes started.
So it still is a bit of a controversial topic on whether or not a screenwriter should include direction in a script. I would say it is up to you. The real question is really how much control do you want over your project?
I wish you the best of luck with your project. I hope this was an enjoyable and worthwhile read. Let me know how I can help. Reach out to me via LinkedIn, email, or phone.
Authors Bio: Karen Goeller was born in Montreal, Canada in 1966 and was raised in Brooklyn, NY. She is the daughter of two hard-working parents and she has one sister. Karen Goeller is a member of NY Women in Film & TV. She has had a variety of scripted and improv roles on film, TV, commercials, and industrial films. Karen is most often cast as a wife, lawyer, detective, FBI Agent, teacher, doctor, or reporter. Since 2018, Karen has been working on the crew side of the camera as a Script Supervisor, She said her "work as a script supervisor has helped her become a better actor." Most recently, Karen completed two short film scripts and one feature-length script. Her feature-length script Missy's Voice, has won awards in film festivals including Best Drama Script in Gothamite and Best Debut Script Writer in Red Dragon as well as a logline contest award. Besides working in the film industry, Karen is the author of 20 books, a CSCS, and a long-time gymnastics coach. She has given presentations to professional groups including the NSCA, USA Gymnastics, and the Chamber of Commerce. Karen also enjoys being cast according to any of her special abilities which include Precision Driving, Ballroom Dance, Swimming, Strength Coach (CSCS), Gymnastics Coach, and Fitness Trainer. According to Karen, "It's always fun to bring your real-life experience to the screen." Karen is very well-spoken and college-educated. In the late 1980's, Karen spent a long time reducing her Brooklyn accent during her time with the NYPD. Karen has studied physical therapy, health sciences, business, and law in college. She has a BA Degree and a year of law school. Karen Goeller has been interviewed on TV and radio countless times and has many short podcasts on the internet. Karen welcomes new ideas for roles and collaboration on projects.
Read Karen's bio and film credits on IMDB at www.imdb.me/karengoeller
Reach out to me via LinkedIn, email, or phone.
Writer, Actor, Script Supervisor