Peter Langmead's Blog

Film Director, Screenwriter, Composer, Steadicam operator, Social Documentary Photographer. My latest film is The Borderline, released on December 4, 2019.

Writing Film Scripts 10: Pareto Distributions and Action

You have finished your first script? Not a bit of it; you have hardly started. A Pareto distribution suggests the first 80 per cent of writing your script will be easy and take 20 per cent of the time; the last 20 per cent will be difficult and take 80 per cent of your time. If you are not a spring chicken, you will already know this. So welcome to the next 20 per cent.

Jane on the road, Enya and Hama Harry Hama, played by Dixon Mumba, with Enya, played by Mutinta Marie, and Jane, played by Nancy Handibile, lying wounded in the road, from 'The Borderline'.

Eighty per cent of the last 20 per cent is… easy. You will have plenty of logical errors, story errors and typos that just need sorting out. Scene headings, that is locations, need to be consistent and sensible. You could do worse than work with crew and cast on location to see what moving location entails, and that is before you discover you are working with people, not computers – you will lose half your crew and cast just moving between two locations! And the location is not LADIDA BEACH, its BEACH. This is mostly about silly mistakes, that must not be there.

There more important bits that are fundamental to your script. Earlier I mentioned action films. All films are action films. We could call them incidents, events, moments of contrast. Aristotle prefers a series of incidents to make up a story line. It is difficult to argue with that idea. The continuum goes from a car chase to baking a cake. A practitioner’s shooting script is merely a script with vertical lines that specify shot types and their implied durations. What is written in the script itself will be generally ignored because it is already known – establishing shots, two-shots, reverse shots do not need to be specified.

BUT, that foot chase through the forest that is a quarter of a page in your script is not really 15 seconds but two minutes, like the Assembly sequence in Pride and Prejudice. Not only that, it is not a meek bit of continuity but intensified continuity. Two scripted pages of intensified continuity may be 30 shots or more shots in two minutes. Any director/DoP would appreciate guidelines for those shots, which can be describe from watching other foot chases. The better ones are famous. Although also in capitals, SHOTS are not the same as SCENE HEADINGS: they do not need INT. or EXT, nor DAY or NIGHT, and LOCATION is known.

SERIES OF SHOTS and MONTAGE are legitimate film script headings. A SERIES OF SHOTS can imply fast action and is written as action statements:


The headman turns and looks up.

A kongamato SCREAMS and flies through CAMERA.

The headman’s right arm is ripped off.

Blood spurts out of his brachial artery where his arm was.

The headman screams.

The headman grabs the stump of his arm with his other hand.

The blood squirts through his fingers.

The headman staggers and collapses to the ground.

A pool of blood spreads rapidly into the soil from his arm stump.

The headman loses consciousness.

That is about 20 seconds, a third of a page in script form. Rare but explicit sound and camera instructions are in capitals. Each action statement describes a shot. I like to note if it is an incident or event in the shot heading.

This could also be written as explicit shots, but then there is no need for the title unless it is an incident or event: SERIES OF SHOTS – LADY IN BLACK FOREST CHASE. On the other hand, a MONTAGE is a series of different locations and therefore scene headings.

Best regards,

Peter Langmead

P.S. Please have a look at my website here, for all sorts of interesting things about my film productions, operas and books on social photography. Remember, if there is no spit on the lens, you are not close enough - I do not know who said that but it is true. Write to me if you have a question.

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The Next Movie

The script is prepared for my next movie and pre-production is in progress. This is the most time-consuming part of filmmaking and production is expected to begin at the end of the year,