Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Step Outline

In filmmaking ideas rarely go straight from idea to screen. There is a very precise process that filmmakers and screenwriters go through to make sure the movie they have in mind is the movie they end up shooting. One of these processes is the step outline, which is basically a sort of narrative summation of the script. It's most akin to reading the back of a paperback before you buy it.

There are a lot of advantages to putting in the time and effort of a step outline. Firstly, it's a hell of a lot easier to write your script afterwards. Having everything in order and sketched out makes focusing in on the details of the screenplay that much easier. Secondly, if someone in the business wants a detailed summary and you haven't prepared a treatment- the step outline is the way to go. Lastly, a step outline details the twists and strengths of every scene so you lose unnecessary scenes that aren't moving the story forward.

Here's a scene from my step outline, followed by how it played out in the first draft of my script.

1. Susan’s Frustration

Susan sits on the phone in her posh looking office, speaking loudly about how she doesn’t care if the Chargers are headed to the Superbowl. She reminds the person on the phone that if they care about the brother’s well being he will be there. She hangs up and smiles pleasantly and addresses the camera, saying that organizing an intervention for her two brothers is worse than setting up for a multi-million dollar stock broker convention. She says she is happy that the therapists are filming the intervention and hopes the brothers will use the videotape as a constant reminder—but then she is interrupted as her phone rings. It’s her mother. Susan looks annoyed as once again she is headed for an argument. Her mother doesn’t think her sons have a problem. Exasperated, Susan says that if she won’t attend voluntarily that she will come to the house force her into the car.

Putting the phone down, she again looks at the camera. We see her notepad of names that she glances at. On it are many names each with a line drawn through them, except for Rob and Mike. She picks up the phone and dials. With a bit of a smirk she says hello to her brother Rob and tells him there is a wine tasting being put on by the local Irish pub downtown. Susan says that she has already put their names down and will see the two of them, this Saturday at 11. Angrily she informs him that no, they won’t need to bring any of their own collector’s wine for comparison purposes. She recovers and tells him to be there with Mike at 11 sharp.

Scene’s central conflict: Susan needs to get the intervention organized
Scene’s strong points: Background/set-up/character introduction, humor of tightly wound sister vs. laid back family

Note the conflict and strong points that I mentioned above. In the script version it was constant guide for what I needed to say vs. what I wanted to say. And now the script version (film nerds- not correct margins):

SUSAN, a 40 year old executive, sits at her desk on the phone. Her posh office is sleek, modern and clean. Her dress is reflective of her position, a dark expensive suit. She looks annoyed as she continues her conversation.


I don’t care if the Chargers might go to the Superbowl- you are going to be there... If you care about Rob and Mike you’ll be there and you’ll be there sober and not hung over Billy. I’ll see you Saturday. Leave your cooler-

But Billy has hung up. She looks up and folds her hands.


Planning this has been harder than the CEO convention I worked on last week. I’m glad the two of you are here to document this from beginning to end. Rob and Mike need to understand the sacrifices everyone is making for them.

Her train of thought is interrupted as the phone rings again.


Hello mother... Mother, we’ve been through this the boys DO have a problem. Mom, your car isn’t broken... I swear I will throw you in my car... Fine, I’ll see you Saturday. Good bye.

Susan regains her composure and smiles.


Only two more left.

On Susan’s desk is a notepad with a list of names. All the names have a line through them except for two: Rob and Mike. She picks up her phone and dials.


Hey Mike. Did you get my email about the wine tasting? Good, so you and Mike will be there? Excellent, you have the instructions? Make sure and be there on time. No, don’t bring any wine of your own. I don’t care if you want to compare tastes. Be there on time. I’ll see you Saturday.

She hangs up and sinks into her leather chair.


Well, that’s everyone. This should go perfectly.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greg, I love you, but that was the most uninteresting begining to any sort of production I've read yet. Lots of love, Larkin

10:37 PM  
Blogger greg said...


The beginning to any comedy has to have some sort of semi-serious setup, this page is it.

However, in it's current form the sequence is a lot smoother and sleeker. In the scope of the 20+ pages I've written, it works well.


P.S. How many productions have you read?

4:21 PM  

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