What is a screenplay and why is it necessary?

What is a screenplay? You probably have heard a cliché saying about scriptwriting: “A good film requires a good screenplay”. However, there are many examples in the history of cinema that falsify this thesis. The Golden Lion winner Swedish director Roy Andersson prepares for his films by drawing simple sketches without writing a screenplay. Legendary French director Godard‘s screenplay for the Breathless (À bout de souffle, 1960) only consists of the following lines:

He leaves Marseille.

He steals a car.

He wants to sleep with the girl again. The girl doesn’t want it.

Eventually he dies or doesn’t die – to be decided.

Most directors working in documentary or docu-fiction genre begin shooting a film without a screenplay. However, they may end up producing masterpieces that we cannot foresee with a pre-written text. The history of cinema has many examples that prove that good directors can make good movies with a bad screenplay, even without a screenplay, through their intuitions and visions. Of course, there are also good films with good screenplays that may be used as counter-opinion evidence. It is even possible to come across screenplays like American director Quentin Tarantino writes, where you can get a taste that is almost equivalent to watching movies when you read them.

what is a screenplay
A still from Breathless (À bout de souffle, 1960)

What is a screenplay: What is the real function of a screenplay?

Whether a screenplay is necessary or not is entirely related to the working style and vision of the director. However, nowadays, it seems quite difficult to find funding for a film and to ensure a regular workflow during production without a screenplay. In our opinion, a screenplay actually has two main functions in filmmaking:

  • The first is to provide a working order and a roadmap to a director and a production crew.
  • The second is to enable a project to be presented to potential sponsors, private or public funds.

What about the content? The story, characters, dramatic structure, conflicts…

Screenplays are often confused with writing a literary work or a theater play, as it involves the act of ‘writing’. In general, story and screenplay are used in the same meaning, but screenplays and film stories are completely separate concepts. The story is only an element of a screenplay, which is not always necessary. Because a screenplay without a story could be written as writing a screenplay is a technique of transferring images and sounds to a text like musical notes. A screenplay is a presentation of a film with visual and auditory descriptions and it is not possible to create a film without images, sounds, and rhythms.

Identifying the scriptwriting with the art of story and drama caused some structures developed for story writing to be used for the scriptwriting, too. However, this structure can only be used for conventional story-oriented films and does not cover cinema as a whole. It is not correct to apply only a certain style and genre of filmmaking to all scriptwriting action. Scriptwriting is not black and white so that it should consist of personal gray areas created by a screenwriter’s intelligence and vision.

Therefore, taking into account the infinity, individuality, and relativity of any creative process, you are the only expert and determinant of this section as a scriptwriter or scriptwriter candidate. Nobody could know what is important, what you want to show and how you can present it. Although there are those who argue the opposite, we think that creating the content of a screenplay doesn’t have a rule. But if you want, you can study the techniques and theories of scriptwriting, follow a variety of rules, listen to script doctors who tell you what to write. Moreover, you can try to develop your story with common prescriptions offered to everyone in script development workshops.

Technical standards

Regardless of how you handle the content if you want your screenplay to provide the two main functions mentioned above, keep in mind that there’s a much more objective, learnable, and improvable aspect. Regardless of your approach to scriptwriting, your screenplay should be readable, understandable, fluent, and written in accordance with technical standards.

If you want to present your screenplay to potential sponsors or your team and want them to understand it more accurately;

  • You should format your screenplay according to technical standards,
  • use an audiovisual language,
  • and prepare supporting documents such as synopsis, treatment, screenwriter/director statement, budget, and financial plan.

In this blog, step by step, we will show you how to format a screenplay, use an audiovisual language, and prepare a project file to present your screenplay.

Next post: Scriptwriting softwares: Screenplay title page


What does a screenplay mean? FAQ

What is a screenplay?

Screenplays are often confused with writing a literary work or a theater play, as it involves the act of ‘writing’. In general, story and screenplay are used in the same meaning, but screenplays and film stories are completely separate concepts. The story is only an element of a screenplay, which is not always necessary. Because a screenplay without a story could be written as writing a screenplay is a technique of transferring images and sounds to a text like musical notes. A screenplay is a presentation of a film with visual and auditory descriptions and it is not possible to create a film without images, sounds, and rhythms.


Is a good screenplay necessary for a good movie?

The significance of a screenplay depends on the creator of the film. Contrary to popular belief, screenplays and stories are not elements that are absolutely necessary for a film. In the history of cinema, there are directors who made great films with bad screenplays or without a screenplay.


Why a screenplay is necessary?

Screenplays are not written to read like novels. They are useless on their own. A screenplay provides a roadmap and working order for making a film. It also makes it possible to present a project to potential sponsors, private or public funds.

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