Reading Scripts

I not only love to watch movies and TV shows, I love to read their scripts as well. And since there are lots of them available on the Internet, I've read quite a few. I used to read just film scripts but, over the last year or so, I've also started reading TV scripts and transcripts. In fact, I'm going through a TV script-reading phase these days: I finished reading all seven seasons of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' a couple of months ago and now I'm on season three of 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' (ST: TNG, or just TNG).

I really do enjoy reading this stuff. It gives you a whole new perspective on things. For one, you get to tap right into the writers' minds since (ignoring transcripts for the time being) you're reading their actual words. Because of this, you get to skip the layer of interpretation, presentation, and representation added on by the director, cinematographer, and actors respectively. You also don't get the soundtrack so there's no emotional augmentation from the music either.

Less Than a Book, More Than a Play

Reading a script is not like reading a book, by the way. Books are books -- they describe thoughts, feeling, and emotions in the text as well as through dialogue. With scripts, actors get cues from the scriptwriter, direction from the director, and they also bring their own abilities (and interpretation) to the delivery. Still, some pacing and acting cues help describe how things should pan out, like in this snippet from a TNG episode:

Worf, Korris and Konmel walk along.


The opponent that killed Kunivas
should have been an enemy -- then
his death would have been even
more glorious.

(stunned by the revelation)

If the opponent was not an
enemy... who was it?

For a beat, neither Korris nor Konmel answer.


Tell me -- what really happened?

Korris gives Worf a long steady gaze.

That's not like a book and not like a stage play script either. In the latter, a lot more is left open to interpretation -- aside from the fact that that's written for a wholly different medium, of course. The closest that books come to being written like movie scripts are when Michael Crichton writes them. His books come across like screenplays and the action almost plays out as if you're watching it on a screen. Most cool, that.

Scripts are sometimes doubly enjoyable when you've actually seen the episode/movie that you're reading the script of because you can have it playing in the back of your head while you read. This lets you see exactly what the actors, cinematographers, visual effects people, soundtrack people, producer, and director added on to the scene. Since I am a movie/TV buff, this is something that I really enjoy doing/seeing. Much in the same way that I enjoy browsing the web at a deeper level than most users because, since I used make websites for a living, I know how people have made the sites I'm seeing. And while bad sites irritate me more than they would irritate others, visiting good sites actually makes me happy! Yes, I'm a little weird.

Fun With Changes

Anyway, coming back to scripts: they're even more enjoyable when the script actually differs from what was in the filmed version of the movie/episode. I can, at this point, go off on a tangent and start talking about script versions -- i.e. drafts, originals, revisions, shooting scripts, and transcripts -- and how scripts evolve but, don't worry, I'm not going to get into that right now. Maybe in a later post. But still, it's fun when you read unfinished scripts that say things like (from another ST:TNG episode):



Beata, Trent, the away team. Basically, Beata tells
Riker he's pretty smart for a man. She's given his
words a great deal of thought, sees his point, has
(with the help of her parliament) reached a decision.

...(stuff deleted)...

Beata urges them to be on their way. She strikes the
meditation crystal, giving in to its soothing warmth
as Riker belays the previous order to "kidnap" the
Ramsey group, and our away team DEMATERIALIZES.

In the filmed version, they've obviously added dialogue to that scene but it is interesting to note that someone else (the actors or the director, maybe) actually came up with the words that were said at that time.

Different Endings

It's also fun when the ending is different from what was in the movie, something that often happens in earlier drafts. For example, in an early 'Alien: Resurrection' draft, Ripley actually fights (and eventually crushes to death) the new, hybrid alien on the surface of the planet Earth while in the movie he gets killed before they enter Earth's atmosphere (the cool blow-out from the cargo hold, for those that have seen the movie). Sometimes scriptwriters write multiple endings, letting the directors or producers choose the one they like the most. And sometimes it doesn't end there either: the director and producer go ahead and shoot those multiple endings, delaying the final decision till the editing stage. (Some DVD extras show you these alternative endings too).

Tightening The Narrative

What's more subtly cool, though, is when you read a script and realize that the director and/or editor has deviated from the script in order to tighten the narrative up a bit. For example, in another ST:TNG episode, the second-last scene in the filmed version is much more appropriate than the one in the script. In this episode (1-08, 'Justice'), we're on an alien planet in which Wesley has unknowingly committed a 'crime' (tripped and broken some glass in a greenhouse). Unfortunately, all crimes on this planet have the same, single punishment: death. At the same time, the planet is "overseen" by a highly advanced being that can do pretty much anything. The locals call it "God". Anyway, everything boils down to Picard having to choose between saving the life of a crewmember and sticking with a strict interpretation of the Prime Directive (according to which he can't interfere with local laws and so Wes must die).

In the script, the second-last scene ends with Picard saying the line "I realize now that there can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Life itself is an exercise in exceptions." just before they beam back up, taking Wesley with them and leaving the locals pissed off. In the actual episode, however, Picard actually gives the order to beam up before he makes that speech...but nothing happens. "God" is blocking their transporter. It is then that Picard makes the speech, soon after which the transporter kicks in and they start to get beamed up. As they phase out, Riker says something along the lines of "I guess God agrees with you"�. The difference between the two may be subtle -- and I know I haven't explained it all that well (you have to have seen the episode itself to appreciate this properly) -- but, trust me, it makes a big difference to the episode. In the original script, they've technically gone against the Prime Directive and have angered the planet's inhabitants with their flagrant disregard for their local laws. In the filmed version, however, they have successfully appealed to God, something that the inhabitants have seen and have understood. In a show like Star Trek, this makes a huge difference.

Read Scripts and Transcripts!

Anyway, I hope this encourages at least some of you to go out and read some scripts. They really are a lot of fun. Assuming, of course, you like that kind of thing. I haven't talked much about transcripts in this post. Instead of saving them for a later post (because there's not much to say about them), let me just say that I like reading those too. While they don't necessarily give you a deeper understanding of the production process, they do give you a deeper understanding of the story, various story arcs, writing styles, acting styles, and all of that other stuff. Their quality does depend on the person writing the transcript, though. So you do get spelling errors and there are different styles of describing the action seen on the screen in words but, for the most part, the transcripts I've read have been pretty darned good. I guess that's partly because they're written by fans of the show who really do care about the quality of what gets written down.

Damn that was a long posting. I'll stop rather abruptly now.