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Spec Script vs Shooting Script: What’s the Difference?

February 23, 2015

Last week I wrote about common formatting mistakes that new screenwriters make. The advice was given based on writing a spec script rather than a shooting script. There are major differences between the two. In an earlier blog I briefly described a spec script. In this blog I’ll explain differences between “spec” and “shooting.”

The first difference is that a spec script is written for a reader, not a director. It’s not like a novel, but it should flow more like prose, where as a shooting script is more of a production document. The action lines in a spec script should be as descriptive as possible, but as concise as possible. You can use flowery prose, but keep it short.

A shooting script is usually what you’ll find copies of on websites. You’ll be hard pressed to find a copy of a spec script. You can identify a shooting script by the use of camera direction. Camera direction should not be used in a spec script. It should flow and be easy to read, void of any technical jargon that slows down the reader.

Shooting scripts will often times include title shots and credits. A spec script should NOT include these. In a shooting script you’ll see scene numbers. Don’t put them in a spec script. These are all things that are added when converting a spec to a shooting script, usually by the director. Often times you’ll also find in a shooting script that certain objects have been put in all caps. This is done by the props department so that they can easily identify props they’ll need in each scene. A spec script shouldn’t have props in all caps.

These changes happen to help those involved in the actual production of the film. Many times the writing will also suffer as a result of these changes. So when you’re reading copies of scripts you find online, keep in mind, they are shooting scripts and you should NOT write your SPEC script the same way. All of the screenwriting information I provide in this blog is specifically geared towards writing spec scripts. If you have any pressing questions you’d like answered that I haven’t already addressed in a previous blog, shoot me an email and I’d be happy to answer it in full detail in a future blog. Until next week, happy writing.

23 Comments
  1. Wow, this was incredibly helpful. I’ve been looking for (what I now understand are) spec scripts of certain movies to read as examples before trying to write a screenplay, and all I’ve found online are shooting scripts. Will keep digging.

    Like

  2. Neil permalink

    Can I use idioms, words like gonna, wanna, hafta, C’mon, ’em, in a spec script dialogue?

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    • Yes, in fact it should be encouraged, but used sparingly for certain characters in order to show personality.

      Like

  3. Dheeraj Sharma permalink

    Can directions like Exterior and interior be used in a spec script?

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    • Exterior and interior are used in the slug lines (headings) such as EXT. JOHN’S APARTMENT – DAY

      The EXT at the beginning of the slug line indicates exterior.

      Like

  4. sajjad haider permalink

    good

    Like

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    Like

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    Like

  8. Hi, thrilled to find this blog! Perhaps you’ve written about this already. In a spec script (so many opinions on this) how do you feel about using “we see” “we heard” “we…” in action lines? Generally speaking, how is that viewed by industry execs and pro readers?

    Like

  9. Eddie James permalink

    Is there specific wording to indicate a several hour time-lapse or do I put it in my slug line? I have three small action blocks showing people coming and going and speaking to each other however no dialogue. How do I properly indicate it’s only visual. We don’t need to hear spoken words. Right now I have my slug line stating “- HOURS LATER” then “DISSOLVE TO:” transitions. My worry is I’m having characters introduce themselves to each other… We don’t need to hear it we just need to see it. Ultimately it will probably be underscored but this is a spec script. In a nutshell, it’s hours of characters coming and going in a waiting room. I hope this makes sense. Thanks.

    Like

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Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Formatting A Spec Script: What Needs to be in ALL CAPS? | The Dialogue Architect
  2. Write Compelling Action Lines: Spec Scripts | The Dialogue Architect
  3. Be Sure Your Spec Script Gets Read: Don’t Make These Mistakes | The Dialogue Architect

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