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How To Describe Action In A Film Script

How To Describe Action In A Film Script

This video provides you with the screenwriting basics to getting action down on paper. VideoJug shows you these tips which will send you on your way to Hollywood, so learn how to describe action in a film script with us.

Step 1: Scene Direction

The 'scene direction' is the text containing all the non-dialogue descriptions of events and characters' actions that drive the story. It is also known as 'business' or 'the black stuff'. For advice on setting it out on the page, watch "How to Format a Scene in a Film Script".

Your role as the writer is to communicate the characters and storyline to a reader, not to dictate the nuts and bolts of production. There are, however, a few useful abbreviations that you often find in scripts:

v.o... - voice-over
o.s... - off-screen
M.O.S. - without sound
P.O.V. - point of view
f.g... - foreground
m.g... - mid-ground
b.g... - background

Step 2: Camera Angles

Be very sparing with your use of camera angles and technical directions. It is up to the director to decide what to use, and getting it wrong or overdoing it can make you look amateurish.

If you do feel the need to include shot descriptions, keep them basic:

LS (LONG SHOT)
MS (MEDIUM SHOT)
CS (CLOSE SHOT)
C/U (CLOSE UP)
Tight C/U
Two-shot
Three-shot

It's often better to find a substitute to camera directions if you can - instead of writing 'LS of industrial machinery in the distance' try writing something like 'In the distance we see industrial machinery'.

Step 3: Montages and action

A montage is when a series of shots are used to build up a collective picture or feel. They can be written like this:

MONTAGE:

A - A Tyrannosaurus Rex ROARS and runs down the hill.

B - The scientists run into the woods. SCREAMS.

C - A helicopter flies overhead.

D - A large EXPLOSION as a bomb is set off.

Double spacing is used between the lines and the shots are designated by ascending alphabetical letters.

Step 4: Pace your action

Remember that one script page should be one minute of action. So if you think the action will last longer than it looks on the page, spread it out:

Instead of writing:

INT. BANK - DAY

Andy runs into the bank. He brandishes his machine gun in the air. Everyone gets down on the floor. He walks over the cashier.

Do it like this:

INT. BANK - DAY

Andy runs into the bank.

He brandishes his machine gun in the air.

Everyone gets down on the floor.

He walks over the cashier.

By formatting the action like this you make the important actions clear and make it easier for somebody to read and visualise.

Step 5: Sound

If there is a sound that is crucial to the action of the script, then it must be included, in capitals, within the scene description. For example:

A CRASH echoes through the house.

Samantha HEARS the sound of a monster.

The SOUND OF the helicopter FADES.

You can also use the term OVER, bracketed after a sound reference, to imply a sound running over the action in a scene.

Don't overdo the use of sound in your script, otherwise every other word in your script will be in capitals!


There you have the basics of creating action on paper. If you're ready for more, get hold of a professional film script to use a reference point while you write your own. You can't beat the real thing!