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E.C. Henry

I think you're going get a lot of responces on this AWESOME post, Billy.

Glad to hear you're so willing to put up with an authors use of technical terms. It SEAMS like the rage these is making spec. read more like novels, and I'm wondering if that's because a great deal of readers aren't comfortble or technically proficent to read screenplays, and feel more comfortable if what they're evaluating looks more like a book.

I LOVE Karl Iglesias' "Writing for Emotional Impact," where on pages 153 - 156 he gives illustrations about vertical writing, vertual close-ups, and intra-scene location headings. In the past I have been blasted for having too many intra-scene, secodary shot headings. I LOVE Christopher Riley's "The Hollywood Standard Manual" too. It has really helped me understand calling shots out, BUT then when I submit my work in, the readers always seam to say I've gone too far, stating to "write in master shots only."

But in my heart I want to tell the most interesting story possible, THUS I want to give my take on how that comes to be shot-by-shot, THEN if a director wants to do something else with it, or sees it a different way, so be it -- at least they have a detailed explantion of one way of doing it. By writing in master shots only I fear you can dumb down your story too much and make it cinematically vague.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA


A technical note, just because I've been studying the script... Marley is NOT Wendy's dog at the beginning of the script, she's Larry's dog. Which subtley changes the tone of the scene. She ends up Wendy's dog at the end of the movie. I loved The Savages and am finding the script was expertly written. I can't wait to read Michael Clayton next. It's the only movie I haven't seen in the original category - I will try to read it before seeing the film.


Another great post, Billy. A reminder to all of us how much we can learn from looking closely at the good scripts. No, it's not luck or who you know that leads to an Academy Award nom for "best screenplay" -- it's the writing, of course.

Christian Howell

Cool post. It is similar in scope to one I put up recently about "Non-acting characters" or how to use the frame to establish tone, emotional state, etc.

Exposition is very powerful when used properly. You don't want difficult words, just realistically descriptive ones.


Excellent post. When I saw Michael Clayton in the theater all I kept thinking was how I couldn't wait until the screenplay was available online for download. You can get the PDF of the shooting script from my site here:

Laura Deerfield

I really enjoyed this post, as it clarifies an issue that's been discussed often, but still seems to elude many new writers: you are writing a movie, see the movie and write what you see.

New screenwriters seem to either want to write a shooting script with specific camera instructions (and are usually inconsistent about that) OR don't seem to have clearly pictured many scenes and so only give us something vague OR are so afraid of writing camera directions that they end up only writing dialogue with the sparest of action lines.

See the movie. Describe what's on screen, including the flavor.


So I finally couldn't wait any longer and saw Michael Clayton. I agree - if I were voting, it'd be my pick. I mostly watch comedies, but I love a good thriller and this one hit the spot. I never have paid much attention to George Clooney (I know! I know! I swear I'm female) but now I get why he's a big deal. He's awesome. But even better? Wilkinson!!! That opening, crazy ass monologue was wonderful.


EC: Yup, although one cautionary note -- I'm actually NOT advocating using camera language in a spec script, but finding ways to infer and imply camera choices in ways that get the reader to "see" the shot, undistracted by technical jargon.

Christina: Duly noted and revised (my girlfriend just finally taught me what that "strike through" thingie is for).

Scooter: Of course.

Christian: "Realistically descriptive" -- that's exactly right.

Welcome, William: Thanks for the link!

Laura -- Ummm, yes: the flavor.

Christina: Mr. Clooney's best work to date, I'll wager. And Wilkinson -- always good -- is incredible. How about that "loaves of French bread" scene, huh?

Laura Deerfield

OK, so maybe "flavor" is an odd choice to describe tone in a film, but I'm a former chef, so in my imagination things often have flavors, the way a musician might "see" harmonies in images.

Mystery Man

GREAT article. Really loved this one.



Love this post as you know Billy... Have corrected my wrong notion that you liked ACTUAL angles over at my post btw

Joanna Farnsworth

Cinematic Storytelling? You want to learn to do it right? Billy's class is the way to go. When the Mernitman says he can give you the tools you need to write a movie, that's exactly right. He does. All of them. Story construction right through to final gloss. Put in the time to figure it out, and you'll write a movie. So, thank you, Billy. For getting us there.


Laura: No, really, I think "flavor" is a perfect word in this context.

MM: I thought you might.

Thanks Lucy!

Joanna -- y'know, I'm looking for a good publicist...


Good morning. The DVD of Michael Clayton was released in the UK this week and I took the opportunity to watch again accompanied by the commentary from John and Tony Gilroy.
Well worth the time for cinematographers but little insight into the screenwriting.
I have now downloaded the shooting script - see link from savage art - and am working through it.
Thank you for the comments from Tony Gilroy - there is also a detailed interiew on YouTube.
'On the shoulders of giants.' :-)


You're welcome, Ray-Anne. Mr. G is definitely one of those big boys.


There is one important oversight in the Michael Clayton script that still bugs me: "I am Shiva, the god of death." Shiva is the Hindu god who destroys life so it can be reborn -- and works in tandem with Brahma (the creator) and Vishnu (the preserver). It's actually Yama who is the Hindu god of death, not Vishnu.

Frozen Movie

Wow..Great Blog ! Thank you very much !

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