As a visual thinker, composing compelling spatial and verbal images in screenplays is one of my favorite forms of writing.
I’m an award-winning screenwriter who has successfully pitched an animated TV pilot to production companies in the USA and Australia.
With the rise of vertical video and virtual reality cinema/gaming, the art of screenwriting is set to rapidly evolve.
For over a century, we’ve had a ‘horizontal’ widescreen language for cinema, TV, computers and laptops. But now billions of people around the world hold their phones vertically when capturing content. From Snapchat and Instagram Stories to IGTV, vertical video is here to stay.
Most of my screenwriting and storyboarding experience has been for the traditional widescreen format (TV and YouTube). Writing video scripts for vertical video presents both opportunities and challenges when it comes to brand storytelling.
For example, the vertical format requires refined, closer cropped images. Therefore, significant depth is lost in terms of story context compared to widescreen format. However, the vertical orientation offers immediacy, intimacy and interactivity.
I enjoy figuring out how to adapt my screenwriting to these opportunities and challenges. I have to consider that vertical format is ideal for images which project towards the horizon since fast horizontal movement is difficult to capture on vertical video and can even cause dizziness for the audience.
Importantly, a lot of videos on phones – whether vertical or square (Facebook and Twitter) format/frames – are watched without sound. Many people watch (or start to watch) mobile videos passively in mute mode while in transit or in public spaces.
Screenwriting has to evolve and embrace this fact. A solution is adding text on vertical videos to help the viewer understand the video in its context with the sound off. Graphics and text provide the audience with an extra cue that helps them retain information better.
Mobile devices have flipped the script – marketing campaigns now start with mobile and are adapted later on to other video formats and devices.
To leverage the power of all video content platforms available, screenwriters have to consider framing and create shots/scenes that will look good in all formats/screen sizes.
Adding text on vertical videos overcomes mute mode and highlights key actions
The language of cinema, although confined to the space of a rectangle, has allowed screenwriters, directors and actors to get as close to the human psyche as it’s possible to get.
But now with virtual reality (VR) cinema and gaming entering the mainstream, we are given 360-degree immersive environments to explore rather than perceive through a ‘window’ (360-degree videos or spherical videos can be considered one type of VR – but this is disputed).
Since humans started telling stories around a fire, we’ve been used to a Teller-Listener Storytelling Paradigm where a storyteller projects a story received by a listener. But VR introduces a Builder-Participator Storytelling Paradigm where writers, directors and producers build environments for audiences to participate in.
Screenwriters have to rethink the way they write scripts in order to create truly captivating VR content. Rather than setting a series of events in time, VR script writing is more like world building.
For example, VR has six different planes – front, back, left, right, up and down. One way to experience VR through a script before shooting a frame is to color-code the script (as done by screenwriters Elia Petridis and Gary Tieche).
Below I have written an example color-coded VR screenplay based on Game of Thrones:
6 planes in VR – a multicolored script points you in the right direction
The challenge for VR writers is understanding that not every piece of content makes sense in VR. Screenwriters will have to liberate themselves from the frame – film and TV – to find the rules and poetics of the new VR art form.
If you need a screenwriter for traditional widescreen video, vertical video or VR, contact me for a friendly chat.