The bleeding edge of screenwriting and media convergence

June 1997

by Terry Borst & Deborah Todd

filed 14 May 97 Copyright ©1997 alt.screenwriters

Deborah: It depends.

Terry: What depends? I haven’t even asked the question yet.

Deborah: Yeah, but I already know what’s coming, so I just wanted to say right up front that…

Terry: When it comes to figuring out the proper format of an interactive script…

Deborah: It depends.

Terry: People initially figure you have to write it like a software program–

Deborah: –which it often resembles, when written by a software programmer instead of a writer.

Terry: File codes along the right margin, node numbers along the left margin, and frames per second of animation at the end of each line, right?

Deborah: Well, you’ve included several elements that can be found in interactive scripts. Sometimes they do contain file code numbers, or module numbers, or they look like something you’ve never seen before in your life.

Terry: So how do I know when to make it look one way versus another?

Deborah: It depends.

Terry: Back in the good old days (3 years ago), before anyone knew what they were doing, you could make your interactive script look anyway you wanted. Most developers and publishers were new at this, and they didn’t have any better ideas than you did on how to write the thing. After all, you’re the writer…you figure it out.

Deborah: But now that we have some experience under our belts…

Terry: We have a standard interactive script format that is as easy to fill-in-the-blanks as a paint-by-number set.

Deborah: You stop that! We do not have such a thing! Truth be told–

Terry: All right! There is no standard format! In fact, I have yet to see two interactive scripts that look alike.

Deborah: At one of the Guild’s Northern California Interactive Writers Caucus meetings, our members brought in copies of produced scripts for the sole purpose of seeing what everybody was doing in terms of formatting. Here’s what we saw: radio- play-esque scripts done in two columns, three-column scripts with thumbnail storyboards, Excel spreadsheets with filenames and dialog, flowcharts and story on the same page, even timelines and story spreadsheets.

Terry: We’re still making it up, but we do it with a little more confidence. Projects differ because they offer the user different types of interactivity. Storybooks look quite different from adventure games, so it would be foolish to expect them to fit into the same format.

Deborah: Many companies have developed templates that work for them. Sometimes the scripts are written like fill-in-the-blanks using a spreadsheet program. Other times, they are very similar to feature scripts. More often than not, my final interactive scripts end up looking like a combination between a very detailed outline and a feature screenplay.

Terry: Which makes sense. Being writers with a film and television background, you’d expect that we’d bring the best of our format with us. It’s a great starting point, but you need to be flexible beyond it…not insistent that a script is one thing and one thing only.

Deborah: When you begin a project, don’t be afraid to suggest what makes sense from your POV. I once worked with a company that wanted a two-column format, but after I showed them a format I thought would work better, they went with it. Just remember that many different people are going to read it, and they all have to be able to easily find the parts of the script that relate to them…

Terry: Art direction, puzzles, dialog. Always think about who’s using the script. There’s a huge dividing line, I believe, between projects using traditional film and TV elements, and those that are completely digital.

Deborah: If there’s a production crew, a cast, they have to be able to read it in a format they can recognize and interpret.

Terry: However, sometimes narrative elements will involve programming, not production. How do you put that in a script, and differentiate the programming from production?

Deborah: You have to be inventive in your formatting — something you don’t do in film or TV.

Terry: And don’t worry, it’s a collaborative process, so you’re likely to get some input from the producer and programmers on how they want to see the thing written. After all, they’re all part of the team, and they all want to help you succeed and do a great job, right?!

Deborah: It depends.

Written by tborst

May 14, 1997 at 8:30 pm

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