Last week, I needed to read a screenplay written in the early 1970s. I think it’s the earliest-dated script I’ve read that wasn’t reprinted in a book.
It had clearly been typed. As in actually typed on a typewriter. Corrections had been made with a pen. I couldn’t smell cigarette smoke on it — this was a photocopy — but I definitely got the sense that an ashtray had sat beside the typewriter as it was written.
On the page, it looked largely like current screenplays — elements had roughly the same margins — but there were some noticeable differences:
ANGLES (especially POVs) were called out and given their own scene numbers in ways we never would today.
Locations got much less writer attention. In this script, a kitchen is a kitchen. In today’s scripts, every location gets at least a color line (“stainless steel and subway tiles, with an $8000 convection oven that’s never been used.”)
There were a lot of “AD LIBBED goodbyes” and such scattered throughout the script. You don’t see that much today, even in projects that use ad-libbing. If a character has a speaking part, you write the lines.
By “evolution,” I don’t mean that screenwriting has gotten better, by the way. It’s just gotten different, the way fashions change. Modern screenplays work very hard — too hard? — trying to make everything a fun read.
This script, at least, seemed much more interested in just getting it done:
Tom looks Barbara square in the eye. Barbara looks to Norman. After a beat, Norman stands and leaves.
PAN BACK to Barbara. She returns to her knitting.
It’s not thrilling, but you know what you’re going to see. There’s a lot to be said for that.