Useful Notes: Script Life Cycle

Here are the names and steps of the various stages of script creation. This is taken from TV practices, but has the same general shape for screen and stage.

Each of these steps are a process. They take time. They are named for the end-product.

  • Pitch
    • As short and pithy as possible, this lays out the "feel" of the story. The pitch is usually thrown in a story conference (traditionally called the Bull Pen, in TV). In heavily arced series, these are proposed methods of hitting a particular point on the arc. These points (sometimes called "inflections") are things like "The house burns down. The family has to move", "Family moves into new house", "Jilly is pregnant", big-picture stuff. If it gels, it goes to synopsis.

    • "Gels", in this case, can sometimes mean that it has been accepted by a purse-strings person who gets it. Sometimes, the purse-string-oid can only get it ... at a price. Which puts it into the next step (synopsis), for the purposes of budgetary estimation.
  • Synopsis
    • This is a document that contains a brief description of each scene in a show. It serves to outline the story. Defining a "scene" is actually a little difficult. It is not a shot-list (see below). Generally, it is the interactions of some subset of the cast in a specific setting, for a specific purpose. If the intention is to break off, show something else for a while, then come back to the scene, that is generally indicated by notes, with the entire continuity of the scene described in one synopsis entry. The story conference at this stage is called "act-breaking". If approved, goes to treatment.
  • Treatment
    • Four to seven pages, this document provides pieces of specific dialog and descriptions that capture the intent of the acts. If it still works...
  • Script
    • The full flesh. Minimal stage and camera direction. All the dialog, all the setting description. This step loops on re-write. Too many loops? Get on the phone with your agent, drop it or do it the way the producer(s) wants it. Up to you. The final product can go out to the director/actors at this point. Dialog is locked. Did we mention the part about all the dialog? We did.
  • Storyboard
    • Sometimes, this involves actual picture-drawing. Often, it is just breaking the scenes down to point-of-view changes, called a shot-list. Writer involvement starts to wane here. This is director and "department" work (lighting, sets, props, etc.).
  • Shooting Script
    • This a shot-list, essentially, with massive notes on everything needed. Frequently, the various departments will have their own versions, off the "master". Sound, score and editing, especially, have highly different takes on what is important.