Aren’t We Working in a Visual Medium…?


Just about every script doctor and screenwriting book advises us to use cinematic language in our projects, to employ active verbs and paint a vivid picture of the story for our readers. And yet, we are also told, time and again, by most of these same sources to never, ever include any photographs or imagery within the actual screenplay itself.

It’s as if it’s been chiseled in to the Ten Commandments of Great Screenwriting Thou shalt include only the written word and let those words speak for themselves. This is especially true when dealing with a spec screenplay. The accepted wisdom is that to include anything other than the actual script is amateurish, distracting, and it suggests your need the crutch of a picture to tell your story.

What’s more, this bias has some support within the industry because almost every agent, producer, actor or director has, at some point, been assaulted with that very unprofessional spec script that included shooting boards, wacky cover pages, stills of dream casts and even six-packs beer in order to garner attention.

So I get it. I agree with the concept, for the most part. And realize there’s even an institutional aspect that frowns on this practice.

The screenwriting software of choice, Final Draft, the industry standard, does not actually possess the programmable ability to cut-and-paste, insert, import or otherwise include any type of picture. Think about that. It means that even in our digital culture, where pictures are as ubiquitous as the very air we breathe, the world’s most popular scriptwriting program cannot actually execute an image-driven function. (To accomplish this task, you must save your script to PDF and insert the picture through Adobe or Mac’s Preview Application.)

My point is that this notion – of adding images to screenplays – is simply not tolerated.

Or is it?

Really, since the advent of The Black List, there’s been an ever-increasing trend of interweaving elaborately graphic covers pages and imagery into the actual text of a screenplay, an innovation unthinkable fifteen, ten or even five years ago. And what’s even more interesting, it’s working.

Today, I would say that most of the more highly recommended scripts on The Black List site incorporate some type image on the cover page to attract the eye, and introduce readers to the basic concept of the film. They function like movie posters for your script. But a number of very hot screenplays currently making the rounds in Hollywood go even further.

The recent Linda & Monica script, for example, dramatizing the sordid affair between President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, features two pictures, a personals ad, and a scan of the infamous love letter Monica once wrote our Commander-in-Chief. Chappaquidick, about the death of Mary Jo Kochepe, and the resulting backlash on then-Cenator Ted Kennedy, actually includes pictorial chapter breaks visualizing Camelot, the crime scene and other Kennedy ephemera.

So what’s my point in all this?

If you’re going to use an image(s) in your spec script, use them wisely. Creatively. They must layer the emotional and conceptual underpinnings of the narrative. Like a brilliant epigraph inserted at the beginning of a book or script, your picture(s) must set the perfect tone, provoke a reaction or introduce a feeling that will endure throughout the reading of the text. Your photograph must serve as that visual thing that draws you into a magical world. And it’s not so easily done due all this history and baggage that I’ve listed above.

But Voyage Media has a unique expertise in this type of thinking. We intuitively understand the visual aspects of storytelling and look forward to consulting with you about all the clever ways to execute this tricky, but very powerful idea.



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