The CInematic Power of Visuals

Barbara's question about how to turn her stage play into a screenplay got me thinking about the difference between the two. And for me, the most important thing to focus on is the visuals. This is so neglected in the screenwriting manuals it's flabbergasting! We're cinematic storytellers after all!


I thought I'd post up an edited extract form my book about this - hope it helps you with your screenwriting!


Take the draft of the script you’re writing now. Open it at random and read for a few pages. What are you seeing in your mind’s eye? Is there anything there that’s drawing you into the physical and emotional world of the story? Something that’s making you feel you’re inhabiting that world, feeling it on your pulses?


Are there images suggesting or revealing a character’s emotions or helping to express the deeper meaning of your story?


There should be.


If you’re not thinking in images as you write, you’re losing out on one of the most dynamic ways of creating screenplays of cinematic power. Visual grammar’s possibilities for strengthening every aspect of your script are endless.  Think beyond ‘picture’. Visuals aren’t about backdrop and setting. They play an essential role in the story-telling.


- No Country For Old Men

 - Brokeback Mountain

 - Slumdog Millionaire

2. With each one, you’re going to look out for how many elements are being brought into play by the visuals.

3. What do you see?

4. What do you feel?

5. How is what you see contributing to:

- mood and atmosphere?

- revealing character?

- emotional resonance?

- inner lives of the characters?

- articulating suppressed thoughts?

- forwarding the emotional plot?

- forwarding the surface plot?


Look for how the visuals are drawing the audience into the inner lives of the characters

How are the visuals, sound, dialogue, structuring and anything else being layered into a unified whole?

Add your own suggestions to this list. Jot down some very quick notes. Include the number of elements you have identified.

6. Now write the description lines for the visuals of each clip, incorporating the same elements you’ve noted down.

7.  Read over your description lines.

8. Go back to your lines and see whether there’s anything that would improve them. Rewrite them. Rewrite them. And rewrite them.

9. Read the scripts at the Internet Movie Database:

10. Post up a memo by your computer: VISUALS MAKE MEANING!


Extract taken from Screenwriting They Can't Resist.