Screenwriting terms, logline, spec and more.

Screenwriting Terms

Learn screenwriting terms

Screenwriting Terms Summary

There are screenwriting terms that may be confusing for people that want to become a screenwriter. Phrases such as Draft, Beat Sheet, Treatment and Logline are all used to describe certain aspects of the writing process.

Logline.

A logline is a one or two sentence summary of your script. If you want a book on how to write great loglines you can get a copy of LOGLINE from Amazon. 

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Here is a quick summary of what you need to get started creating a logline. 

You need the protagonist, their goal, what is stopping them and what they are doing to reach their goal.  That is about it. So here is an example:

While setting up an outpost a soldier joins the local Native American tribe, he is forced to fight against the Army that sent him, when they arrive and wage war against the tribe. – Dances with Wolves.

Synopsis.

The best explanation of a synopsis I have ever heard is to think of it as the back of a DVD cover. It is a summary of your script. It will also (in most cases) state the theme. So in the synopsis for Unforgiven you would probably find a sentence like “He had to become the killer he had spent years trying not to be, to get justice for the brutalised prostitute”. 

Beat Sheet/Outline.

A beat sheet is a list of the events, twists and turns in your story. They are a bit like the way a small child tells you about their holiday. This happened, then this happened, then this happened.

Of course you will write this with a bit more skill. That is basically a beat sheet. It is a list of the events that make up your story.  An outline can be a beat sheet, or it can be a beat sheet with more detail.  There is no real standard.  The word outline tends to be used as the act or developing a beat sheet (or other document) that is used to base the script off.

Treatment

A treatment is like a prose version of your script. It will follow the order of the beat sheet in that it will follow the events in the beat sheet.  Treatment is a better tool for getting mood and style across. 

Draft

There are numerous drafts a script may go through.  There are no set steps or drafts. Some people say that their script doesn’t take form until draft three.

Vomit Draft or Draft Zero

This is the very first version when you get everything that is floating in your brain out and into a screenplay.  These can be super long and are always bad.  They are just like dumping all the ingredients on the kitchen bench and then starting the real process of preparing a meal.

First Draft

The first draft tends to be the draft where your script begins to look like a screenplay. You can cut it up, remove stuff and add what you need.  There is an old saying that “writing is actually rewriting”.  You may go through many drafts, there is no set number.

Spec Script

A spec script is a screenplay written on speculation that it may be sold at a later date. You have not been hired to write the script and you have no customer for the script. You are creating a screenplay as a product hoping to sell it in the future.

Shooting Script

A shooting script will have detail specific to the production of the film. They have elements like Scene Numbers so various departments can talk about the script by referring to the scene number.

Now that you know what a Shooting Script is forget about it.  You will not be asked to produce one. These are after a sale has been made and you have possibly done some rewrites as part of the sale agreement.

Non-Standard Terms

Scriptment

This term was created by James Cameron when he was writing Terminator. It is a combination Script and Treatment. It is a treatment with script segments in it.

Polish.

A polish is when you go through your script focusing on just one aspect. Like a Dialogue polish, where you just focus on the dialogue in your script. You may do several polishes focusing on one character at a time.  These are also referred to as passes, a dialogue pass or an action pass.

I hope this article has helped you get an understanding of the screenwriting terms used. Not knowing what a term means can prevent you from learning from some good advice or even engaging in discussion.  Having an understanding of the terms also lets you know where you are in your process and your progress as a writer.