You’ve got an idea, and the studio needs some ink. You don’t have a script, but they need more than a scriptment.
Daniel Manus www.nobullscript.net eloquently defines this beast.
We know about synopses, treatments, loglines, query letters and one-sheets…and just when you thought you were done, a new selling and outlining tool has become popular – the scriptment. As should be obvious, it’s the bastard child combination a script and a treatment and encompasses some of the elements of each.
While there is no set mandatory format for a scriptment, basically it is an elongated and much more detailed treatment that incorporates much more prose than a script, but more dialogue, specific scenes and character information than your average treatment.
They are usually anywhere from 40-80 pages and don’t just get across the concept and main characters like a synopsis, but flesh out some of the bigger moments and scenes of the script to give a writer (or reader) a greater ability to flesh out the story in their mind and really picture it, without having to read (or write) the whole script.
Scriptments on the studio level are often employed by bigger A-List writers who propose huge budget projects and need to give execs more than just a 2-line pitch in order for them to write a check. Examples of name talent that have employed scriptments include Quentin Tarantino, who prefers to write a great deal of prose to set up the world of his story before finalizing and editing his scripts, James Cameron, whose 114 page scriptment for “Avatar,” is longer than most screenplays, and my former boss and mentor J.S. Cardone (“Prom Night”, “The Covenant”), whose scriptments regularly run about 60 pages or so and include key pieces of dialogue, trailer moment visuals and backstory to set the tone and mood of the piece.
Now, can a first time writer create a scriptment and sell it? Absolutely NOT. It’s not going to happen – you still have to write the script on spec. But, scriptments are used by writers (especially book writers) who are better at outlining and writing more prose to create their world than screenplays and would rather flesh out much of their story and scenes before sitting down to write and format the screenplay so that the actual writing process takes less time.
In addition, there are many writers who have a great idea but don’t want to be the one to write the screenplay, so they seek out other writers to do so. If you are one of these people, writing a scriptment will help the new writer see more of the full picture of what’s in your head than just giving someone a one-sheet and telling them to go write it.
Unlike a treatment, which is usually 3-15 pages and outlines more of the act breaks and major moments and main characters, a scriptment usually goes more scene by scene and will also include subplots, minor characters, and backstory of the characters and the world you are creating even if it never winds up in the actual script. It’s almost more like the character/story bibles that TV writers use when doing the research and planning for their series.
Chances are, no one other than you will ever see your scriptment, so feel free to format it and include (or not include) whatever you’d like – whatever helps you flesh out your world. You can incorporate all your outlining exercises – exercises to create fully fleshed out characters, all the backstory and things not included in the script, all the dimensions of your world that inform how you write your story, etc. If you’re writing a sci-fi, fantasy, or period piece, you may want to include the look and rules of your world and new society, more production design (that won’t be in the script), etc. Whatever helps.
You can put your dialogue in correct screenplay dialogue format, or not (I would suggest doing it so you can see how it fits and rolls on the page), but you can also use stock non-dialogue that will describe what the dialogue in that spot needs to convey instead of the actual words you will use in the script.
Basically, it’s just a new, more involved tool that may help you in your writing process. It’s not something a production company will ask to read, so don’t feel like you HAVE to write one. Everyone has their own process and strengths and perhaps writing a scriptment will help you recognize yours.