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Writing a Silent Film

by Erikka Innes

For my next film project, I want to create a silent film. I’ve written the script, but it isn’t the correct screenplay format. I personally prefer any work I do that is going to be filmed to be put into screenplay format. Mostly this is because I am anal retentive, but I also believe putting scripts for film into the correct format just makes it easier for everyone.

One of the challenges I’ve had so far is coming up with a way to correctly represent a silent film on paper. Typically, description in screenplays is tricky. As a writer, you don’t want to get into camera angles and how everything looks because that is the director’s job. If you’re writing a script, your job is to tell your story as clearly and compellingly as possible, with as few references to how to set up shots as possible. Maintaining this rule is easier if you have tons of dialogue, but once you start having long sections of imagery, the line seems to blur on how much information you need to provide.

With that in mind, I started searching for best ways to write out a silent film. Chip Street wrote an interesting blog entry on the topic (How To Write Screenplay Description with Personal Style) which suggests that you write the description the way you would describe the scene to a friend on the phone. In essence, you keep things interesting and conversational.

I thought this was a good idea, but I wanted a written example that showed description used in a compelling fashion in a screenplay for an extended length of time. The script that really helped me, and perhaps will help others interested in creating a silent film, is “There Will Be Blood” which is conveniently posted online. (I love the internet!)

“There Will Be Blood” (nominated for 8 Academy Awards) is one of the best examples of how to write description I’ve ever seen. The first 15 pages or so are a series of compelling images that keep you turning the pages to find out what happens next.

I think one of the coolest things about art is how often you can stop and ask ‘I wonder how other people would accomplish this?’ and then find examples. It’s just one more way you can interact with everything out there.

Well, wish me luck – it’s no easy feat to accomplish description as compelling as the opening sequence of “There Will Be Blood” but I’ll give it a try.

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Doug F. January 8, 2011 - 1:23 am

You are the best person I have ever seen at bragging while complaining.

Kevin M. January 8, 2011 - 1:30 am

Check out the Hollywood Book and Poster Company down in Hollywood. They can get you bound scripts of just about any movie or tv show you please. What I would do is get Joss Whedon’s script for “Hush,” the silent episode of Buffy, and see how he handled the format.

esinnes42 January 8, 2011 - 1:56 am

I haven’t seen anyone suggest “Hush” before. That’s a great idea!

Rob Anderson January 8, 2011 - 10:01 am

Another script to check out that should be easy to find is Mel Brooks’s “Silent Movie.” He actually did film it as a classic silent, complete with dialogue slates.

Dave M. January 8, 2011 - 12:34 pm

It would be interesting to read the script for the original Phantom of the Opera (1925) That’s a classic film!

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s.davis September 8, 2011 - 11:40 pm

@Dave: Doing that very thing. Phantom of the Opera: http://www.oocities.org/emruf1/poto.html


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