How do we write a movie script with a view towards establishing all of the visual symbolisms and how they should be interpreted?

Often, movie scripts often only have dialogues and some very brief descriptions, but they don't describe how the camera should move nor do they mention the symbolisms used and how these symbolisms should be interpreted. If you want to do so, how would you format the script? How far would you go towards describing the camera work and the symbolisms used and where should the interpretation be written? Should they be written in a footnote? Is there a standard format for scripts written like this?

4 Answers 4


Sorry, you simply do not do this. Your script is a blueprint for the director to build a house; the blueprint doesn't contain instructions on painting and decorating the house.

The director will determine the camera angles, how long an object appears on screen, IF your scene as written appears on screen, everything you want to do.

Famous advice from professionals tell you, don't write anything in the script that cannot be filmed or acted. Period. The story must be accessible to viewers without prompting.

You might get away with a minute of written prologue (Like Star Wars, but that may be a director's choice too, as is how to present it visually on the screen), and somehow fit it in there.

You might fit your symbolism into dialogue (which the director may cut, if it isn't critical to the story). For example:

Bill: Yellow roses. My Mom's favorite, you know. Very depressing.

Or direct the film yourself.

In any case, unless you can tie the symbolism to the story, the script is not the place to put it; if your symbolism isn't apparent from the visuals (and audio) on the screen and reactions of the actors, leave it out. It isn't adding anything to the story.


I have never written a movie script, but that said, I don't see what the point would be of a script specifying how symbols should be interpreted. Suppose you write in your script, say, "When Sally sees that the flowers have died, she realizes that this is a symbol of how all of her relationships have died." That might be a good line in a novel, but how would the director show that on screen? If the meaning of symbols isn't apparent to the audience from the dialog and stage direction, adding this sort of explanation in your script is not going to accomplish anything.

I recall reading a script once where the writer said -- not an exact quote, quoting from memory -- "Camera pans to show John. Close up on John's face. In his eyes we see the hopes and dreams of all humanity, the triumph of the human will over adversity", etc. And I thought, how in the world is the camera going to show that?

Maybe some notes about symbolism would be useful to the director in understanding what you're trying to do, to give him some more to work with.


There is no "standard format" because that version would never be published. Formatted scripts are printed for actors and necessary crew. They include only the information that is necessary to do their job.

Please read the answers here: Shots in a spec script?

Keep your scene notes in a separate document.

There's a "frame challenge" to your question. A scriptwriter is not the filmmaker, and films are collaborative productions that must be created on set due to budget and scheduling constraints and actor performances, and then re-written in the editing room to achieve their published form. The scriptwriter is many times removed from the final version.

Film is primarily visual, and what appears on screen has the power to contradict and supersede the text of the script. The parallel visual production document is called a storyboard (or effects pre-vis when it is a video to communicate complex effect sequences) created by the director and director of photography. See the storyboards created for Hitchcock's films for examples.


I have never written a screenplay, so take this with a grain of salt. But from the few screenplays that I have read, I can tell that they often have quite a lot of detail. So if you want to have symbolism in your screenplay, just add descriptions as necessary. You can also add suggestions for the camera work, but I would not go into too much detail here, since the actual camera work is not your department. But if a scene depends on a visual detail or on a camera movement, just write it into the description.



ALICE wanders through a hallway made of strangely arranged PILLARS. The camera follows her gaze and slowly pans the room. It seems disjointed and confusing. But then, the camera turns around, revealing a perspective in which the pillars form a perfect GIGANTIC TRIANGLE. The triangle symbolizes Christian dogma that has haunted Alice all her life, and is an important reoccurring symbol.

So you establish that the triangle is a symbol you are consciously using, and you describe how this scene depends on a certain camera trick to make it work. This belongs in the screenplay because it is just as necessary as, for example, details about the location a scene is set in.

Here is an example from a real movie screenplay - it's the early version of Dark City by Alex Proyas, the first movie with a lot of symbolism that came to my mind.

 Bumstead shakes his head slowly, turns away from the board.
 Picks up a cup of hot tea, pours milk into it from a small jar.

 TIGHT ON THE TEA CUP  -  Cream SWIRLS into a rapidly dissolving
 spiral.  Bumstead looks up.  Puts down the cup hurriedly, turns
 back to the map.

 With a thick pen he traces a line between each point marking
 the location of the victims.  He steps back to examine his

 A SPIRAL  -  moving outwards.  Beyond the last victim it
 becomes a dotted line, following the same trajectory but with a
 big question mark beside it.

While it is not explicitly stated, you can clearly see that the spiral is an important symbol. The camera work is also described in detail (actually more detailed than I would have thought).

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