Directing from the Page

But I’m the writer! Only I know what it looks like in my head. That’s why I need to put it all on the page. Every camera angle, every character movement. Right? 



(You can find Part One, Two, Three, and Four of this series right here  here here and here

We’ve all done it – “The camera pulls in tight on Joe’s face.” “Titles begin here.” “Sepia tone for this flashback.” And so on.

Folks, directors hate this.

They see it as crossing the line. At best they’ll ignore it; at worst, they’ll resent it.

Your job is to write the screenplay or pilot. Not to tell the director where to put the camera, what lens we’re using, what song is playing, and so on. Those things are the director’s prerogative, not the writer’s. Nothing drives a director crazier than writers directing from the page.

That said, there are of course ways you can gently guide the director without incurring anyone’s ire. Best of all, doing so may just add a bit of visual pop to your writing. 

The first and most important technique is call the SLUG LINE. Slug lines can either be a location slug, which is at the top of every scene telling us where and when – or you can use them in the scenes themselves. A handy technique for explicitly telling us what we see without saying “we see.” A slug-line in a scene is sometimes called a mini-slug. All caps, no period or punctuation, on its own line.

Like this:


     Everyone on the bus is staring at him. 

     Walter quickly stuffs his mangled paw into his coat.

By putting it in all caps on its own line, this is basically saying “close-up” without ever using the words. Even better, writing in this way breaks up the text and is a more visual way to tell your story.

Here’s another example:


     Almost gracefully… until CRASHING to the desert floor.

You can also use transitions such as MATCH CUT TO and PULL BACK TO REVEAL to add more visual flava to the writing. Always think in terms of reveals. Unpeel the onion in every scene. What we choose to show – and what we reveal along the way – is key to visual storytelling.

Directors love this.

And while directing from the page is a no-no, you can gently guide the performances by including a little bit of character business in the scene description that informs the mindset of the characters. For example:


     Stares Michael in the face. Eye contact.

     Projecting confidence. She bounces on her toes.

     Michael sighs, rubs his eyes. Damn this woman.



     Barbara turns and quietly thrusts a fist. Got him.



     We’re watching Barbara and Michael on closed-circuit TV.

So what can we infer from the performances? Barbara is selling Michael, that’s for sure; and perhaps against his better judgment, Michael agrees to go along with whatever it is. Sucker!

The italics get us into the head of the character, again informing the performance. The Pull Back to Reveal reveals that there’s way more going on here than we thought at first. 

We also used a mini-slug right at the top to tell the reader (and the director) we should probably be close on Barbara here. Again, the director may ignore this, but it’s almost like composing a picture book.

Always think in terms of visuals. 

Getting a director attached is a huge accomplishment. So grease the wheels by trusting that they will be able to figure out how to shoot the movie.

Go get ’em!

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