Peggy Bechko: Scripts as Blueprints


by Peggy Bechko

“I don’t think screenplay writing is the same as writing — I mean, I think it’s blueprinting.” -Robert Altman

“A screenplay is really an instruction manual, and it can be interpreted in any number of ways. The casting, the choice of location, the costumes and make-up, the actors’ reading of a line or emphasis of a word, the choice of lens and the pace of the cutting – these are all part of the translation.” -David Nicholls

Great quotes on screenwriting and some agreement. Blueprint, instruction manual, that’s what many view the screenplay as. And it strikes a familiar chord with me. While screenwriting is, indeed, writing, it’s also blueprinting. The story is taking shape in your head, the characters coming alive and at the same time what you put down on paper must be an engaging blueprint that many others will follow. It must be clear and it must be gripping.

The words you choose, the way of putting across love, brutality, anger, excitement or any other action or emotion are the writing. And the writing must be good. You, as the writer, must provide an engaging, colorful and exciting script to have it move on to the next level.

There’s really no magic to it. You must write, rewrite, take notes and rewrite again. Because of the blueprint aspect of script writing you must be prepared tear things apart and put them back together again. You must also be prepared to stand your ground in some battles, but choose those battles very wisely and if you’re a newbie, even more wisely indeed.

Remember the interpretation part. Yes, you had a movie going in your head when you wrote the script. You’re certainly pleased with your writing and yet since screenwriting and movie making are collaborative it will fall on you to understand there are many others in the collaboration. Producers and directors and other writers, and casting directors, and actors and, well, heck you get it; sometimes it seems even the guy who runs the commissary has a say in it all.

But, in truth, the script is your idea. However it may change and evolve it’s yours. And, no matter what the demands, suggestions, expectations for changes and modifications, that remains true, unless you’re somehow removed from the circle involved with production. Maybe you’ve just sold the idea, and run for the hills in which case it really doesn’t matter.

On the other hand if you’re included in remember all the other folks are looking to make a great film too. Your story has gripped them in some way, probably many ways. They generally are not trying to sabotage you or your writing/blueprinting. They want to make it better. You may not agree with their ideas. They may, in fact, be totally wrong. Dig deep, consider all the angles, rethink your story and inject real life into that instruction manual for a story you’ve written.

I’ll end this with another outstanding quote – one we writers can embrace and use to lift our spirits when all seems lost. Sir Richard Attenborough, actor, producer, director, said, “There’s nothing more important in making movies than the screenplay.”

Thank you Sir Richard – your words lift us up.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree with the ‘blueprint’ projection on scripts?

Peggy Bechko is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.