How to Write a Photoplay

Six complete chapters excerpted from the book How to Write a Photoplay (Chicago, Illinois: Photoplaywrights' Association of America, 1914) by A. W. Thomas (President of the Photoplaywrights' Association of America, Editor of Photoplay Magazine, Editor of Photoplay Scenario, Author of Photoplay Helps and Hints and the Photoplay "Punch;" Member of the Photoplay Authors' League, Screen and Ed-Au Clubs.)




One of the most important things for the photoplay author to learn is the proper applying of technique and knowing where an insert is needed, a leader required, a cut-back necessary and a flash called for and where a bust or break should be placed. All things are not to be learned or acquired in a short time by any writer, and before the photoplaywright can expect to be classed with the professional writer, all the elements, subjects and technical terms of photoplay writing must be mastered. The principles and methods of photoplay writing are much more easily defined and learned than are the principles that apply to the legitimate stage, and yet in the analysis of the ordinary photoplay of the amateur such stories lack the proper placing of technique. It is not a question of the author's acquiring the technique; rather is it the question of the author being able to place it properly.

Technique must be applied in a logical manner and it cannot be used without a thorough examination and analysis of the story of which it must become a part. Exercise by the way of writing and rewriting and revamping and self-criticizing is a very good way to learn just how scenes should be divided, where leaders are necessary and where other parts of technique and principles should be used.

Consider Story First.

A great many writers make the same mistake of concentrating all their effort and power of thought on the development of the plot, thereby forfeiting and sacrificing technique. While the author has said that "plot without technique will sell, and technique without plot will not," yet a better price is commanded if the two are linked together, but the application of the principles of technique must be intelligently acquired by the author in order to do so.

In the applying of studio technique, one must first take into consideration the story itself as to the theme and its material, the division into scenes, the action, unity, sequence, suspense, unexpectedness, crisis and climax. And, after these are conceived in the mind of the author, the next thing that must be taken up is the technique itself in order to put the story together intelligently, to break the scenes, to show exit and entrance and to more plainly convey by action alone, the intent of the story.

The action of a play simply means the gesture of a character or the various actions of different players whereby the plot of the story is told and advanced, while the "business" of the play is the action showing a character or characters doing or registering a certain thing. As the story advances, plot is unraveled, the plot being subject to changes to interest the spectators; it must be presented with a controlling power and interest coupled with the other necessary elements of photodrama production--suspense, crisis, denouement, "punch" and climax.

Titling the Story.

Whether the author considers the title first or plot first matters little as long as he is able to concentrate and work out the theme of the story. However, the giving of the title previous to the writing of the play is preferable, the title being followed by the cast of characters, the cast by synopsis, and this by the scenes of action. The theme of the story, of course, has now been worked throughout the play because the plot was based upon the theme, the subject or idea of the story, and if the proper technical effect has been applied it will speak for itself. But in any event, the subject or idea should come first in the mind of the writer, although this may be modified to some extent as it appears to the particular individual.

The proper place and only place a flash can be used is by referring back or glimpsing a few feet of a scene, insert, part of a letter, telegram or note which should be used to identify one part of a story to another and a leader which should always precede a scene, must only be used where it will convey an explanation impossible to give in action and it should be brief and terse.

A cut-in leader can be inserted into parts of a scene in place of being placed before a scene, but in the applying of the technique it may be so stated on left-hand side of the sheet just what it is, whether it is a leader or cut-in leader.

The cut-back can only be used in repeated returns to a scene or character and if handled properly it can be utilized to create suspense. To show a small section of a scene or to enlarge an object, character or any other part of the story, the word "bust" is applied, which technically means the magnifying of the subject.

What Development Means.

With a proper introduction of the plot and the correct application of the technique to carry the story, the average writer need have no fear of the outcome of the story, provided, of course, that the plot has sufficient merit to balance. In arriving at this part of the technical preparation of the story, the writer must not forget condensation, for one of the principle reasons for the applying of technique is to attain a condensed story.

The development of the story rests entirely with the author, whether technique is applied or not, but a story cannot be well developed without the proper technical effects that will put the story into proper scenario form for studio submission. Any story with a leader misplaced, an insert in an uncalled-for situation, a bust or break used where not needed and a story with too many leaders or unnecessary leaders will immediately stamp the work of the author as an amateur in the studio; it means that such a story must be revamped at the cost of originator of the plot because of the fact that the story will not bring the price when constructed so as not to meet the studio's requirements.

The proper division of scenes is another principle that most amateurs fail to grasp. Each time the camera must be moved, requires another scene. If a scene is located in a large dining-room, the camera may be unable to focus the entire room; part of the action may be taken at one time and part at another, and such being the case, the camera must be moved to take two different pictures. Then such scenes are technically written for two scenes, because the camera being limited in its scope has had to be moved. The same thing applies to a street or perspective, although a camera can follow a character by panorama for some distance, and the proper applying of technique in a situation of this character is important.

The Proper Terms.

There has been probably more abuse of inserts, leaders, cut-backs, flashes, etc., than there has been intelligent application of them, but this has been solely on account of the author's inability to grasp technical meaning and to know exactly where and how certain terms should be applied. The average amateur writer knows such terms exist and thinks that they must be embodied in their story whether the story requires them or not. This, then, is where this treatise should be carefully studied by the amateur writer in order to ascertain when and where these terms should be applied and where they should not.

Every writer, professional or amateur, must condescend to the fact that technical knowledge of photoplay writing is important. Every successful writer was once a beginner and the future successful photoplaywright must now begin, and the closer both of them look into and consider the proper applying of technique to any sort of a story, whether comedy or drama, will find that the same rudiments that obtain in the legitimate [theater] also apply to the screen productions. There can be no mere assumption in photoplay writing any more than there can be in successful short story or legitimate playwriting.

The art of photoplay writing is unquestionably an interesting one and it is all the more interesting when the author learns to apply technique in the proper place.




The object of dissolves and visions, which prove very effective at times in the writing of picture plays, is to have them used for dream purposes, referring back, or to strengthen the intensity of the action. Technically, visions are indicated in two ways. The first is by masking the camera or double printing so that the vision that the character sees fades into one corner of the scene and then fades out. The other is where the entire scene dissolves into the vision and then the vision dissolves back into the scene.

A dissolve generally constitutes a separate scene, which means that the particular scene where the character sees a vision is divided into two scenes, as, for instance:

		Mary registers intent thought and gazes into
		space.  Scene fades into

		Green (Mary's father) leans against barn door. 
		Mary at his side. Fade back to scene 10. 

Scene 12.	SAME AS IN SCENE 10.

Placing Fades Illogically.

Where one scene fades out and not into another--fade out should be written at the end of such a scene.

It is not an altogether wise thing to resort to visions and dissolves. The more common use of the vision is where it is desired to bring out in a part of a story some event in the past life of the character that has a direct bearing on the action in a particular scene. The new writer must be careful in arranging his scenes and scene-plot, for certain uses must be numbered.

Scenes using fade in and fade outs are sometimes used in place of leaders. If a scene shows a character or characters leaving one scene, a home, for instance, en route to a city, unless there has been a note, letter, telegram or some insert or cut-in to denote where that character or the characters are going, a leader would have to be used to explain; but a fade could be used here if the story's action is plain enough to have the audience understand the intent and destination.

Proper Use of Fades.

The use of fades and dissolves is not to be discouraged, but their proper use is urged. Ordinarily, many writers resort to visions to carry the value of the story, because they are unable to create sufficient plot, interest, complication and situation any other way.

It must be understood that if the writer desires to "vision" a scene where it affects a character, as in a dream, for instance, it may be shown by calling for its presentation, through double exposure or dissolve, in either of the upper corners of the picture, or even elsewhere, so long as it is in the scene. Fade ins and fade outs are not the same as applied to visions. Refer back to the fades in the 10th, 11th and 12th scenes, showing "Mary," and compare those with the vision idea as an example with the following:

		After-theater diners enter; jollity everywhere. 
		Lawson, associates and girls enter, seated. Dinner 
		is served.  Bryant enters, looks about, spies
		friends; is seated with Lawson and others. 
		Bryant drinks heavily.  He is seen to steady 
		himself; sees vision (in upper right-hand corner
 		of Molly, his country sweetheart).
		Vision dissolves away. Bryant laughs with  
		Night; lamp burns feebly.  Molly, father and 
		mother enter, take chairs. Molly takes Bryant's 
		photo from mantle, holds it to her; sees vision 
		(upper left-hand corner) of Bryant at his desk, 
		busy.  Vision dissolves away.  Molly kisses the 
		photo, etc., etc.
In the use of the vision, here illustrated but two scenes are listed, while if they had been done as fades it would have required four scenes. The author should be extremely careful not to confound these two technical points of photoplay construction.

The most candid advice with regard to the use of dissolves and visions the author can give is this:

Don't resort to them because you have seen a picture in which they were effectively used, for if they were not put in by the writer, they must have been by the editor and director, and, therefore, properly utilized.

There is no part of the technique which should be used more guardedly than that of visions and dissolves; their use should be tempered with judgment, and their effectiveness only resorted to when plain action fails to convey the intent of the story as forcibly as the use of the fade, vision and dissolve to which the writer has recourse in photoplay construction.

Using the Mask.

The word mask! What a mythical word it is to most amateurs! And yet it is seldom used, hardly ever by new writers; but it is an effective way of photoplay depicting at certain times, and can be used to advantage when properly applied. The mask is written into and used much the same as the simple vision; it does not require a new set or change of scene. It may be used as in a close-up or bust, or may not be, as the author, editor or director may dictate, and, generally, it is placed as a close-up or enlarged view of that particular scene to which it applies. Masks are made to show a character or a part of a scene, an attempted theft, interior of a room, a ship at sea, a race, a hand, a face, or anything that needs the intensity a mask will serve to give--all of which are taken through masks such as a keyhole, binoculars, spy-glass; in the form of a hand, showing a scene between the fingers; it may be made to resemble a scene looking out a window, or perhaps in the form of a leaf, a ring, a profile and various other objects. From "The Deserter" can be seen the use of the mask, written as follows:

		Officers from scenes 11 and 12 discovered. 
		Captain picks up field glasses, looking toward 
		battlefield.  Interest intense.

		Joe (the deserter) discovered setting fire to
		powder wagon. 

Scene 23.	BACK TO SCENE 21.
Scene 22 could have been used and shown as a straight close-up or bust of Joe, but it was much more effective to see it through the glasses as the captain did.




The market for photoplays, novel, swift, logical, full of action and written with technical correctness, is unlimited.

The successful scenario writer of today was the amateur of yesterday, and the amateur of today should be the successful author of tomorrow. Why? Because, since photoplay writing has become an art, treatises have been written, editorial comment made, suggestions given by directors, helps by well-known writers; in short, so many things have been done to enlighten the new writer that the mistakes of the amateurs of last year should be but steps for those climbing now.

Every studio in the country is swamped with scenarios. But of what kind? Not the salable sort. Some, of course, are being purchased, but it is only the story of merit. One studio director told the author that over ninety-five per cent of the scripts received were utterly useless, because they were hackneyed stories, written hurriedly; mostly without thought of dramatic action or strength, many simply sent in because the writer thought it was a good story. No wonder amateurs are dissatisfied! But it is their own fault. They lack the ability to write a good story, or they are careless. Which is it? Someone is selling stories. New writers whose plays are being accepted have found plays--but they are good plays. Nothing further can be said--good plays are the only ones wanted.

Keeping Track of Ideas.

The idea, the essential part of the story, should be jotted down immediately it enters one's mind; then add to and enlarge upon it until the plot is sufficiently fixed in the mind to allow it to be written out. The first thought is the real beginning and ending, but the spreading out and explaining and connecting it with the entire theme of the picture are as necessary to the completion and fitness of the plot as is the idea itself.

Will the price now paid for picture stories ever be raised? That's the question puzzling a number of writers. Yes, the remuneration will be increased, but not until producers have to do so, and that will be when the photoplaywrights themselves produce a higher class of picture stories. A director said recently that his own force were turning out ninety-five per cent of the filmed stories of his company, because the outside scripts were not of sufficient strength to warrant purchase. Though fifteen and twenty-five dollars is not enough for a really good plot, many plots submitted are not worth more than those prices, according to the editors--and they should be capable of judging. There may be a standard of price maintained by some companies above which they refuse to go, but the time is coming when, if these concerns want the best, they will have to pay the top price--will have to compete with the producer who is willing to pay the right price for high-grade stories. But as it is, it is up to the authors to write superior scripts.

Some Causes of Rejection

One plain and particular defect in the manuscripts of many of the inexperienced writers is the "trusting to luck" to sell their work. However good a plot may be, if expense in production, construction, camera limitation and logic are not weighed well from the standpoint of the director, the chances are that the script will be rejected. "It is an easy matter for the editor to pick out the very bad manuscripts," said one New York editor, "but the 'near good' ones require time and study." There is the whole thing in a nutshell. One should take pains to write a play so as to enable the editor to determine in the shortest possible time whether it is available [i.e., acceptable for purchase] or not.

Editors are not infallible, and directors may view a story from an entirely different point than that intended to be conveyed by the author. It is wise to submit a good story to at least a dozen companies. It may be unavailable to one producer and acceptable to another. Keep them going the rounds.

The Studio Editor's Ability

Maybe some aspiring young authors and writers do not think that pictureplay editors are capable of noticing grammatical errors, and that split infinitives, sentences ending with prepositions and the wrong use of verbs, go by without comment. Well, they are mistaken. There is hardly a studio editor holding down his desk today but has held editorial positions on up-to-date newspapers or magazines, or has had sufficient schooling to be capable of holding such a position. And coupled with the necessary ability of the editor is that dramatic talent that makes him all the more capable.

So all such errors of inexperienced writers are noticed. And how much better the impression the manuscript would make upon the editor if it were as nearly grammatical as it were possible to make it.

Plots and Grammar.

One might say: "But it is the play, the plot, that the editor is to consider, not my grammar." True, but apply that same argument to a magazine story, and how long would the author's ambitions last before his name would be recognized on the envelope and his MSS. returned, marked "Not available?" Of course, it is the plot that one is selling to the picture studio. But help the editor to learn that, whether the plot be strong or weak, it is written by one who is intelligent enough to know that good grammar is not to be overlooked. The editor will appreciate it.

What Not To Do.

Don't explain your script to the editor by note or letter; don't use people's actual names if a plot is suggested through some home town incident; don't make the synopsis longer than the scenes following; don't tell the editor how hard you have worked; consider him and his work in your interest; leave your story to his judgment; abide by what his rejection slip says and don't be egotistical, but re-write your story until it sells--until it's good enough to sell.

Some stories never will sell. Some are rejected by one company because the company is not buying that kind at the time. Rejection does not mean that the story has no merit. It may sell to the next producer. Some plays lack sufficient dramatic action, and are returned. A play with a new idea or plot generally sells. Hackneyed themes are quickly noticeable in the studio.

The Copyright Privilege.

Long-hand scripts stand poor chance of consideration, because of the fact that an editor does not have time to decipher the hieroglyphics of the writers. Typewritten stories look much better and are easy to read.

Always keep a carbon copy of your scenario, and if you have received no word from the studio within six weeks, write and inquire about it. Few stories are lost by the producers, but it does occasionally happen; and yet the author knows of no case where they failed to recompense the author.

No one has the right to write a scenario from a copyrighted book or a short story in a magazine. Neither is it fair for a writer to evolve his idea from copyrighted material, regardless of the fact that some screen productions appear to have been thus originated. As to adaptations, all the producers have staff writers to handle this class of work. If one is particularly interested in some magazine story, and desirous of putting it into scenario form, the author's consent should be obtained. There is good material yet to be found--in the street, the home, on the rivers, in the country, at a dance, in the hospitals, beside the sea, in the parks, here and there--everywhere--suggestions come from the most unexpected places and opportunities are at every writer's side, waiting to be picked up.

Keeping Down the Cost.

One of the greatest mistakes made by picture plot writers is that of sending out a manuscript as soon as finished to the first film company whose name and address comes first to the writer's mind, regardless of whether the play is adaptable to the requirements of that particular producer. So much time and postage can be saved by submitting a story to the concern which can produce just that kind of a play, that writers should always consider the play and producer together. Another mistake of which many writers are unconscious is that of creating situations in a play that would cost more to stage than the plot is worth. The relation between the setting and the value of the plot is an important factor.

When a company buys a story it does not agree to produce it. It may be produced at once, perhaps in a year, maybe never. Every company has hundreds of stories, bought and paid for, which will never be produced. But why worry, if one is paid for the play? Of course, there's pride in seeing one's play on the screen, but, commercially, the money counts first.

Cooperate with Others.

Good thoughts, bright ideas and originality come when the mind is in that mood to act the thought, create the idea and foster the originality, and to write well one must think well. Writing is a habit that improves like old wine. To increase one's writing power and the art of story-writing imagination, seek the company of those writers and thinkers who will assist in the development of picturizing and visualizing as they apply to picture play creation. If there are any photoplaywrights in your town or city, try to meet them, get together; one can always learn from another. A writer with unlimited ambition can learn to write well. As to new writers, remember what Emerson said of "that lump of bashfulness and phlegm?" "He developed to a point where he knew how to speak to his contemporaries." So many a writer develops in scenario writing. If you write photoplays, write them well.




The author who writes a story in which crime, the commission of crime, may be an element does not stand the same chance as the writer who can write without calling for censorship. Just as there are magazine and book writers who can turn out clean stories, so there are photoplaywrights who are never bothered by censorship. And the kind of plays demanded by the reliable film companies are those which need no censoring. Most of the sensational, melodramatic, suggestive and plays with criminal or immoral tendencies are filmed by foreign concerns or by companies that come and go within a few weeks in our own country. Very seldom is there an immoral picture put out by a reputable American producer. True, some city censors cut out certain scenes, police eliminate what they think is wrong and the so-called reformers often attempt to dictate what should be and what should not be shown, but, as a rule, American producers and writers turn out stories than can offend none.

Crime for crime's sake is not desired. Where a moral can be pointed out and an effect given by the use of certain ideas, acts not otherwise condoned, it is permissible. The National Board of Censorship, New York City, will furnish writers with a list of tabooed subjects, and other literature, which, if studied, will guide the photoplaywright in just what to write and what not to write.

Covering Crime Situations.

The new writer must learn, as the old one has, how to "cover" an act of crime in a story to "get it over." Cut-backs are effectively brought into use in stories of this character, and the thought or suggestion, without the real act, of crime is made just as strong and powerful, as if the act had been permitted to have been committed.

One must remember that of the people attending the moving picture theater, hundreds of thousands are women and children and nothing should be written into a story that a child or a good woman should not see, and if the author follows this out, he need never fear the censoring of his stories when produced and exhibited before the critical city censors and reformers of today. Crime, debauchery, robbery and the like acts are not in the least elevating. How much better is the sweet love story that tells of devotion, kindness, purity and trial? In the smoothest and sweetest love story ever written, there can be plot without resorting to crime. So the new writer should look ahead and think out clean, interesting subjects for his plays, rather than to grasp the suggestive or criminal idea just because it has the immediate touch of complication, life and action.

The Morals of Stories.

The amateur writer will find fault with "The Blot on the 'Scutcheon," but that is a classic and allowable by the board of censors. "The Merchant of Venice," "Macbeth" and other tragedies of the old masters can be filmed without hesitation, but there is a moral in them all, and the depiction is such that the audience knows they were written by master hands. But one should notice, too, that such stories only suggest or tell of crime and tragedy, they do not exploit it.

Objectionable subjects are not wanted. Questionable ideas are barred. The studio has a standard, and the writer should have one. Plays of an irreligious nature, stories of race prejudice, relating to the deformities of people; drinking, wife-abusing husbands, plain robberies without a moral; shooting and stabbing with but the action of the crime, without bringing about a moral result, are not desired by any first-claas studio. The vivid exploitation of crime is never as heart-interesting, nor has it the suspense that the mere suggestion or telling of it has.

Permissible Stories.

War stories, Indian plays and the like are not classed as questionable subjects because of their calling for shooting and killing, for they are stories of truth, of fact and action, consistent and logical, and behind them there is always some element brought about to show a just cause, which teaches a lesson. In fiction, the author can awaken the interest, arouse the passion and stir the emotion by suggestion and by writing the words of his characters, but in a photoplay action and pictures speak louder than words, for they show and exploit where the book or written story only tell it. The mind and eye work fast when a picture is before them. The eye is quick to perceive and the mind to conceive when a picture of realism is flashed on the screen, while in a book it may take some time to unravel the thought presented.

Write only that which does not need censoring, and there will be no uneasiness felt on the part of the author when his play reaches the studio.




ACTION--Work, gestures and movements of players in the development of the plot.

ADAPTATION--A scenario written about or around a copyrighted story, poem or book.

ATMOSPHERE--The proper environment, etc., for photoplay production.

BUST--Any part of a scene magnified or enlarged.

BY-PLAY--Non-essential action, yet enough to keep the story moving.

BUSINESS--The action or movement of a character in which he does certain things.

BREAK--Used to "cover" crime; prevent long action.

CLIMAX--The end of the play or the last scene, the point at which the strongest part is enacted, the place to which all characters have worked and where the unraveled plot is plainly depicted.

CAST--The list of players or characters necessary in the production.

CLOSE-UP--See bust.

CHARACTER--A player taking part in the production.

COMEDY--A play with a humorous interest; funny, laughable.

CUT-BACK--Referring back to a particular scene to identify and hold the interest and action; to create suspense.

CUT-IN--Generally used to show spoken words of characters.

CUT-IN LEADER--A leader cut into or inserted in a scene to break or explain the action.

CRISIS--A decisive point of action; an important feature of a play.

CUT--To shorten an action, as "John comes down stage, cut."

CUTTING--The dividing of a scene for the insertion of leaders, notes, "cut-in" matter, etc.

CROSSING OVER--When a character goes from one side to another.

COMING DOWN--When a character moves toward the camera or footage line.

CONTINUITY--A continuous, uninterrupted story.

CONVENTIONAL--Dry, commonplace.

DISCOVERED--Applies to a character when on the stage or in the scene when it opens.

DENOUEMENT--The climax or end of the play.

DEVELOPMENT--The building up of the story and dividing the action into scenes.

DISSOLVE--The gradual introduction or fading away of a character or a scene within a scene. Used in dream pictures and to refer to past action.

DRAMA--A word applied to photoplay dramatic action and to the legitimate stage.

DETAIL--Explanatory action.

EXTERIOR--A photoplay scene laid out of doors.

ENTRANCE--Where characters are brought into the scene.

EXIT--Where a character passes out of a scene.

EXUENT--Where more than one character leaves the scene.

EPISODE--An element to be used in a plot.

FLASH--A few feet of film showing a note, letter, or scene.

FARCE--A broad form of comedy.

FARCE COMEDY--More polite than straight farce, yet livelier than straight comedy.

FADE--Dissolving one scene into another; used in explanation, dreams and to refer back.

FORM--Referring to a scenario being in proper form.

HISTORICAL--Referring to historical scenario stories.

HUMAN INTEREST--A heart touch in the story that awakens the emotions.

INSERT--Letters, newspaper clippings, notes, telegrams, etc.

INTERIOR--A scene laid within.

INCIDENT--Referring to a happening or occurrence during the action of a play.

IDEA--The plot or that which forms the nucleus or suggests the story.

LEAD--A prominent character in the play--man or woman.

LEADER--A written explanation or subtitle preceding a scene; used where it is impossible to give the same explanation in action.

LOCALE--The location at which the action takes place.

MYSTERY--A part of a story that hides the climax for a time and leaves the audience wondering what will happen next; used considerably in detective plays.

MANUSCRIPT--A copy of a scenario.

MATERIAL--The parts of the play which are put together in the construction of the scenario.

MULTIPLE REEL--Meaning more than one reel.

MELODRAMATIC--Bordering on sensationalism.

MASTER PLOT--The basis of more than one story.

ORIGINALITY--A plot or idea originating in the mind of the writer.

OBJECTIVITY--The visualization of facts, ideas and plot, expressed or visualized by physical means.

PADDING--Putting in unnecessary action to bring a story up to a full reel length.

PANTOMIME--The art of suggesting and telling with action only--no dialogue.

PANORAM--Moving the camera up and down, from side to side, to follow the action of the scene.

PLOT--The theme or motive of a story.

PUNCH--Any action that will heighten the suspense--the supreme test of a play.

PRODUCTION--A completed play.

PHOTOPLAYWRIGHT--A scenario author.

RECONSTRUCTION--Meaning the revision of a story to satisfy the studio requirements.

REVISION--Same as reconstruction.

REVAMP--Same as revision.

REGISTER--To register an effect of action or to show an expression, hatred, sympathy, love, disgust, etc.

SCENARIO--A skeleton of the play.

SPLIT REEL--More than one subject on 1,000 foot reel.

SUB-TITLE--Same as leader. (Leader preferred.)

SYNPSIS--A brief story of the play--just enough to give the editor a sufficient idea of what the plot consists.

SCENE--The action which takes place in one spot where the camera is not moved.

SCENE PLOT--A list of the various scenes or settings. (Not necessary to accompany scenario.)

SEQUENCE--Means directness or a smoothly-running story, with one line of development.

SUBJECT--A term for the photoplay as a comedy subject, dramatic subject, etc.

SUSPENSE--An action or a part of "business" that arouses the interest of the spectators.

THEME--The trend of the plot; the idea of the plot.

TRAGEDY--A deep drama.

TINT--Used to denote or suggest moonlight, night, firelight, etc., etc.

TIME--The number of minutes it takes to "run off" a play.

TECHNIQUE--The form of construction for a photoplay.

UNEXPECTEDNESS--An unlooked-for turn or surprise in a story.

UNITY--The arrangement of a story and its parts to effect harmony, peace, time and action.

VISION--A small scene shown as a part of a full scene; generally used and introduced in the upper right-hand or left-hand corner.

VISUALIZATION - Seeing or having a "picture eye;" to see the action of the play as it should be written and produced.





Why do companies prefer short synopsis?

Because a story can be told in a short one, 250 to 300 words; less detail to analyze, and because a condensed script-synopsis shows the writer's ability to comply with studio requirements.

Is it all right to submit only the synopsis, or should the full scenario be sent in?

Submit complete story always. There are but few companies asking for synopsis only, and for those concerns a special synopsis can be prepared.

Do studios want both prologue and synopsis, or is there any objection to both being submitted?

A short, self-explanatory synopsis is sufficient for most stories, but a brief prologue to a certain class of plays will not be unappreciated.

Is 400 to 600 words too many for a one-reel story?

Yes, decidedly so. For the company that desires synopsis only, this should be all right, but ordinarily a one-reel story-synopsis can be given in 250 words.

What is meant by explanatory synopsis?

Just what the word implies. Scene-action cannot be given in a synopsis, but the plot of the story can and must be--just enough to explain to the editor what the story is about, the characters involved, etc.

In writing a synopsis for a one-reel scenario, should this be on the first page, with the cast, or on a separate page?

It should be on the first page, withcast preceding and scene-plot following.

Should all the characters of the story be mentioned in the synopsis?

Yes, all the important ones--leads and others having a direct part in the plot.

Should the writer, in his synopsis, always refer to his characters by their first names; is it all right to call Brand by that name one place and James another?

Use characters' last names. Never use first and second, it is confusing; never have two characters with the first names the same if it can be avoided.

Should the synopsis be typed double space or single?

Single space, with several spaces between cast and synopsis and between synopsis and scene-plot, if one be used.


In a scene where a newspaper clipping is used, is the scene made as one scene or two?

If is one scene, but when an insert is used, then the words BACK TO SCENE are written, to show the continuance of the scene.

Where a scene is an exterior and a plainer view of a certain part of it is desired, how should it be written in the scene?

This may be done by calling for a BUST, which means ANOTHER scene, because the camera has been moved UP CLOSE to take it. Then when you refer back to the original distance picture, write SAME AS IN SCENE SO AND SO.

Could a comedy be written in ten or twelve scenes?

No. A drama could be written in a few scenes, but comedy moves faster and requires more scenes. Generally, comedy will run over forty scenes and farce-comedy upwards of seventy-five, although both depend on the character and nature of the story as to the number.

How many scenes would a three-reel story require?

This must be measured the same as a one-reel subject, the number of scenes depending entirely upon the character of the story. Only experience will show, how many scenes are required.

Should LEADERS precede a scene or BREAK into it?

Both. A LEADER precedes the scene and a CUT-IN LEADER is inserted into the scene.

Would it be wise to submit the scenes of action to a studio, with a letter telling of the plot?

No. If the scenes can be properly written, so can the synopsis that should accompany them.

In a scene is it necessary to detail what furniture should be used, and just what the characters are supposed to say?

No. The director will furnish the SETTING and furniture to correspond with the story. Actions take the place of words, so write ACTION ONLY--minute, condensed. Don't give color of portieres, style of furniture, kind of curtains, carpets, etc., etc. Don't say PARLOR, LAVISHLY AND BEAUTIFULLY FURNISHED, RICH RUGS ON FLOOR, etc., etc.

What is a scene perspective?

A scene showing a street in the distance or seen far away.

What is meant by scenes not being properly divided?

Where two scenes are written as one, as some amateurs are apt to do. Each time the camera MOVES, there MUST be a different scene. For instance, an exterior, showing front porch of house. That is one scene. The next may show the rear, which is ANOTHER scene; but some writers fail to see that the camera MUST BE MOVED to take such scenes, and they are written as one. Then, there is the improper division of a scene wherein an insert is used. Inserts should be placed IN the scene where the REGISTRATION is needed.

How do you write a scene where one wants to show what a character is doing, where he had been left in a previous scene--to identify him with the running story?


What is the definition of a scene?

A scene is all of the action of a play that is taken in the same shot at one time without moving the camera.


What is a split-reel comedy?

A story of 500 or 750 feet of film on a 1,000-foot reel, and on which there is another subject, generally an educational or industrial picture, or, at times, another short comedy.

What does the word BUSINESS mean in a scenario?

It refers to the action of the players. For instance, a player or two lowering a boat, climbing a ladder, searching a safe, etc., etc.

How can one scene be MATCHED with another?

This is planning the action at the end of one scene to correspond to that at the opening of another, as the following: Bessie exits to Scene 2 - Interior, parlor. Bessie enters, etc., etc.

Can a quoted Leader or SUB-TITLE precede a scene or should it be used as a CUT-IN?

It may be used both ways, but as a CUT-IN preferred.

What size and grade of paper should be used for scenarios and where should name and address be placed?

Use a good grade of paper, 8 1/2 x 11, and write name and address in the upper left-hand corner on first and second pages and in lower left-hand corner on the last page.

Where one can think of lots of plots, but is unable to put them into proper form, what should be done?

Either learn the technique or give the plots to a capable writer who will collaborate in the work.

How long does a studio keep a scenario?

It all depends to which company it is submitted and the value of the story. The longer a script is held by a reliable company, the more likely it is to be purchased. Never inquire concerning a story until it has been held five or six weeks.

What is the difference between a SUB-TITLE and a LEADER?

No difference, it is a matter of preference.

What should be included in an insert or, rather, what does it cover?

Letters, notes, telegram, newspaper clippings, etc., etc.

What is meant by the word BREAK?

This is used to interrupt a scene where the action is too long or of a forbidden nature. CUT-BACKS are used to BREAK a scene of this sort.

What is meant by the word TINT and how should it be used?

TINT is a term used to denote night, moonlight, etc., etc.

What is a scene plot?

The listing of the various scenes, showing locations, etc.

When one wants to show an enlarged picture of a photograph, held in the hand of a player, how should it be written?


What is the average price of scenarios?

For amateur work, $10 to $25. Any reliable company will pay just according to the value and merit of the story. Some writers never get less than $25 for a story and many no less than $40 and upwards.

Should all the principal characters be introduced in the first scene?

Not necessarily in the first one, but during the first few.

Is there any objection to taking plots from the Bible?

None whatever, provided such theme has not been done before. The Bible is a store-house of thoughts, suggestions and ideas for photoplays.

Is it all right to take a plot from a newspaper item?

Yes, but one should remember that hundreds of others have seen the same item and cross currents of similarity are likely to result. In this, the author should take the IDEA only, then work an entirely different story out of it.

How can one find an appropriate title for a story?

Titles, like newspaper leads, should be written from the MEAT OF THE STORY--to cover the theme in a very brief way.

Will studios read scenarios taken from Shakespeare and other writers' work?

Not generally, as such are classed as adaptations and written by staff writers.

Is BUST or CLOSE-UP a part of a scene or a separate scene?

A separate scene.

How can one COVER crime in a story?

By the use of CUT-BACKS, etc., etc.

When a scenario is written by two persons, may both their names appear on the script and will the producer use both names on the screen in crediting the authorship?

Yes, to both questions. But only ONE address should be written on the manuscript.

Which is the better way to send a story, with self-addressed, stamped envelope or enclose stamps for its return?

Send self-addressed, stamped envelope ALWAYS.

Do the words ON and DISCOVERED mean the same thing?


What does an editor mean when he marks a story TOO CONVENTIONAL?

That the story is too dry and commonplace; lacks life and action.

Will the work of an amateur be considered as seriously in the studio as that of a professional?

Yes. All producers are looking for new material, new writers who can give them what they want. But the amateurs' stories must be original and worthy of consideration.

Must an author get permission from the publisher of an accepted story if he desires to put it into scenario form?

Yes, always.

What is the average number of characters a story should have?

It depends upon the character of the story. Three to five are, as a rule, sufficient. The less number the more easy the story and plot are to follow.

May a story be written and submitted where it is from one's personal experiences?

Yes, provided it contains enough PLOT and merit.

In writing a scenario from a local incident, is it all right to use the people's real names?

No, never use the proper names of characters taken from real life. There are several reasons, the main one being the likelihood of creating enmity.

Is it absolutely necessary that scenarios be typewritten when submitted to the studio?

Yes, absolutely necessary.

May more than one story at a time be submitted to a company?

Yes, but always send separate, self-addressed, stamped envelope for each story.

Should one use his own name or a nom-de-plume?

This rests entirely with the author.

In writing a story to fit some certain player, should it be sent to that player or to the company?

Send to the company, with note reading: WRITTEN ESPECIALLY FOR YOUR MR. JOHNSON.

Can a story end with a LEADER?

Yes, but it is seldom done, and not recommended.

When a story is rejected by five or six companies, does that stamp it as unavailable?

Not necessarily so. A good story should be submitted to at least a dozen companies. One must remember that the particular studio to which a story may be submitted may not be in the market for that particular kind of play at that time.

In selecting a title, is it better to make it brief or to use one of several words?

The briefer the better. "The Last Hope" is more preferable than "The Disappointment of Ralph Dunne."

What sort of themes should be avoided in writing a scenario?

Crime, suggestive, robbery, kidnapping, drinking, debauchery, sensational, white slavery, etc., etc.

What class of stories are the best sellers?

Good, clean American drama and comedy.

Is the climax the strong part of the story?

Yes, very--the point that leaves its impression on the audience, the place to get in the punch, even after there have been punches in the preceding crises.

What is meant by denouement?

See question and answer above.