A collection of scenes forming one of the main sections of a script. In stage plays and teleplays, acts are explicitly indicated in the script (e.g. "End of Act One"); in features, they are not. One-hour TV dramas are usually broken into four acts, plus a teaser, coinciding with commercial breaks. Half-hour sitcoms fall into into two acts, plus a teaser. Made-for-TV movies are divided into seven acts. Stage plays can have any number of acts. One and two-act plays are common, while Shakespearean dramas often have five acts. Since screenplays never show act breaks, an "act" is really a theoretical concept. Screenwriters talk about three acts, meaning "the beginning," "the middle," and "the end."
The end of an act. Generally, it’s a highpoint in the story in which something important occurs that thrusts the audience into the next chapter or stage. In television, an act will end just before a commercial break. In stage musicals, the act break is usually preceded by a big song to keep people humming through intermission.
A major character in a screenplay whose values or behavior conflict with those of the protagonist. Sometimes, the antagonist does not have to be personified, but can be the elements, society, etc.
See the Producer page.
An increase in pay. For a writer, this would come on a new assignment. A writer may deserve a bump for having written a successful movie, gotten a big director attached, or winning a major award.
A character’s action during a scene , which is generally not related to the content of the scene itself. “Can we give Rachel some business over by the copier while Joey and Chandler are talking?"
The Canadian term for "base camp ." (Example: "If you’re going back to the circus, would you get me some coffee?")
A shot in which a character or item takes up a large portion of the frame. Often used for dramatic effect or to highlight something the audience should be paying attention to.
See the Producer page.
See the Producer page.
The legal protection of creative ideas. A writer automatically owns copyright on anything she writes, even without official governmental registration. One exception is works-for-hire, in which the copyright rests with the entity paying for the work. Registering written material with the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) is not the same as copyright, although it does help prove exactly when something was written.
In screenwriting, a quick or marked transition from one scene to another. Moving from one scene to another automatically implies a CUT TO:, so you don’t need to use it unless you’re trying to convey a certain pace .
Using many quick edits between shots in a scene , often making the audience feel dizzy. Michael Bay movies tend to be cutty, even in non-action scenes.
A non-star actor who is paid a flat daily rate, generally speaking only a few lines in a film. Characters who appear in only one scene are generally played by day players. This is sometimes a “bump " for an extra who is asked to read a line on-set.
The lengthy and often painful process in which a screenplay is re-written time and time again to satisfy all those involved with the project, namely studio executives, directors, and cast members. To quote Howard Rodman: “Development is the process of taking the screenplay only you could have written, and turning it into something anyone could have written.
A studio executive who is in charge of shepherding the writer through the “development process," giving them notes and feedback on the script.
The sense that a story moment has come about organically and logically, particularly in terms of character motivation. (“I don’t think you really earned Megan’s decision to give up the baby on page 21.")
A unit of a written page, used for production. Script pages are broken down into “eighths of a page," approximately one vertical inch of text. A scene might be listed as 1 1/8th long, which means one page plus one-eighth of the next.
A character’s entry into a scene. “The scene is really wonky up until Chandler’s entrance."
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A character’s exit from a scene . “Could we have him exit on Monica’s line instead?"
A character’s last line as he or she exits a scene . “I hate Joey’s exit line. Can we do a recall on the hoagie business?"
EXTREME CLOSE UP
A shot in which a character or item takes up the entire frame of film, often used for dramatic effect or to tell the audience that this is important.
Something on-screen that is meant to be looked at and ogled, but rarely has anything to do with the development of the story. Examples include big pyrotechnic explosions, cool CG effects and gorgeous alien vistas.
This is a scene from the future that appears out of the linear telling of the story, usually to highlight a dramatic moment.
A category of films lumped together based on subject matter, theme or tone. Film genres include action, drama, comedy, horror, noir, musical, mystery, western, thriller, documentary, or science fiction. Many genres then have sub-genres, such as dark comedy, teen comedy, romantic drama, historical drama, sci-fi thriller, or sci-fi horror.
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The typed (as opposed to type-set) version of a novel, as originally submitted to the publisher by an author. Much of the editing and revision of a book takes place at the manuscript stage.
Often associated with Hitchcock, PageWise has a good definition: A device or plot element that catches the viewer’s attention or drives the plot. It is generally something that every character is concerned with. The McGuffin is essentially something that the entire story is built around and yet has no real relevance. That is, it’s what the movie says it’s about, even though it really isn’t. In the first Charlie’s Angels, the McGuffin was stolen voice-identification software; in the second, it was Federal Witness Protection List. In both cases, the villain’s real motivation was greed and revenge. In early drafts of Full Throttle, the Angels had to retrieve a glowing vial labelled “McGuffin Industries.”
The inertia within a story as it approaches its climax. "I really feel the five-minute break-dance number is slowing the momentum in the second act ."
A series of short scenes , often used to show the passing of time, or the process by which something is done. In screenplays, the individual scenes within a montage sometimes don’t use scene headers , but rather list each action on a separate line.
The wants, needs and beliefs that drive a character . "I don’t understand the drug lord’s motivation for wanting Salazar dead."
A genre of film with a dark or disturbing tone. Noir films are typically thriller or crime stories.
A style of storytelling in which plot does not unfold chronologically (e.g. Go, Pulp Fiction, Rashomon). One or two flashbacks does not make a film non-linear, but an extended flashback might (e.g. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).
A small rewrite of a screenplay before it enters production, typically with the goal of smoothing out storylines or spicing up dialogue.
The period after principal photography in which a film is edited, visual effects are completed, sound work is done, and a musical score is laid down, all leading up to the theatrical release.
The person who (in theory) brings together all the elements to make a film. A producer shepherds an idea from scripting through the theatrical release, hiring and firing personnel as needed. The “Best Picture" Oscar goes to them. For information on the different types of producers, see the Producer page.
The journey a hero takes to achieve his goal. Sometimes the quest is literal (take this ring to Mordor; win the cheerleading championship). In other stories, the quest is more abstract (improve the relationship with your brother).
Payments made to a film or television writer when his or her work is sold to another venue, such as a feature film sold on DVD, or a network television episode shown in syndication. These fees are negotiated and collected on behalf of the writer by the Writers Guild of America.
The top of scene , which lists the location, time of day, and whether or not a scene is inside or outside. INT. BOB’S DINER – DAY tells the reader the scene takes place inside Bob’s diner during daylight hours.
Scripts in pre-production (and thereafter) have each scene numbered to the left and right of the scene header , in order to facilitate production (e.g. “Today we’re going shoot scene 17.") Before this point, most scripts do not number individual scenes .
The on-set person responsible for keeping track of “continuity of filming," ensuring that everything will cut together logically in the editing room. For every take, they make sure the actors repeat the same actions and dialogue. The script supervisor is also responsible for noting which takes of a scene the director prefers.
A scene or sequence with escalated stakes and production values, as appropriate to the genre. For instance, in an action film, a set-piece might be helicopter chase amid skyscrapers. In a musical, a set-piece might be a roller-blade dance number. In a high-concept comedy, a set piece might find the claustrophobic hero on an increasingly crowded bus, until he can’t take it anymore. Done right, set-pieces are moments you remember weeks after seeing a movie.
A collection of shorter scenes that tell a larger part of the movie (e.g. a car chase, a heist, a prom).
A television show that is shot more like a feature film, using one or two cameras with several setups for each scene , rather than recording all the action from multiple cameras. Most dramas are single-camera; most comedies are three-camera . "Sex and the City" and "Malcolm in the Middle" are examples of comedies that are shot single-camera.
In screenwriting, a piece of description placed on its own line, in uppercase letters, to signify its importance in the scene . Often used to break longer scenes into manageable chunks.
In film, a company that finances, produces, markets and distributes motion pictures. Major American studios include Columbia, Universal, DreamWorks, Paramount, Warner Bros., MGM and Disney. In television, a company that finances and produces television shows. The marketing and distribution is handled by the network, which may or may not be related to the studio.
A major motion picture, generally released in the summer or Christmas season, which is the primary focus of a studio’s marketing attention. The term comes from this analogy: if the tentpole fails, everything will collapse around it.
In television, the format of most situation comedies. Scenes are filmed in their entirety by multiple cameras in front of a live audience.
In regards to feature films, the process of measuring a soon-to-be-released film’s popularity within the general public. Tracking allows a studio to know whether or not a film’s marketing is effectively reaching the target audience. In regards to screenplays, the process of checking the internal logic of the plot. “Something about the HALO rings just isn’t tracking." In regards to development , the sharing of information between development executives about what screenplays are coming onto the market.
The movement from one scene to the next. It can be as simple as a cut, or more dramatic such as a dissolve, fade out, fade in, etc.
On-set, the bank of monitors where a director watches what is being filmed. Generally, the script supervisor , director of photography and producers are also huddled around video village.
The hero’s primary opponent in the movie, who must be defeated in order for the hero to succeed.
The moment, generally at the end of the first act , in which characters recognize their dilemma or setting has suddenly changed (generally for the worse).
The moment in the story, generally at the end of the second act , when things are at their absolute worst for the hero , and all hope seems lost. In an action movie, the hero’s plan to defuse the bomb may have failed. In a buddy comedy, the two friends may have gone their separate ways. In a romantic comedy, the guy and the girl aren’t speaking, and she’s about to marry the rich jerk. Even movies that don’t have a classic three-act structure tend to have a worst-of-the-worst, if only to allow the hero one last obstacle to overcome.