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Is there a way to have multiple alternative variants of a scene (alternative dialogue, shorter scene, etc.) in a spec script that, for example let's say the writers room of a tv show, would agree on one of them before turning it into a shooting script? If that's possible, how would one properly format/denote that?

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    Why would you want to submit variants of a script? The likelihood is high that those who receive those variants will think that either (1) you don't know what you want to write or (2) you don't know how to achieve the effect that you aim for or (3) you don't know what the market requires. In any case, it would very likely seem unprofessional. You need to write the best script you can and sumit that.
    – user55858
    May 16, 2023 at 11:19
  • This has been explained clearly in South Park. youtube.com/watch?v=SYWZ_90BZ2Y
    – Boba Fit
    May 16, 2023 at 13:43
  • Let's say, the original scene is quite expensive. The director would like to include it when possible but that might depend on other episodes of the show. So they write an cheaper scene variant just in case until a decision is made on this because they don't have time to wait and then rewrite the scene, since, clearly, time is money.
    – shaedrich
    May 16, 2023 at 15:53

2 Answers 2

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Is there a way to have multiple alternative variants of a scene (alternative dialogue, shorter scene, etc.) in a spec script

Formally

Variations are formatted in separate scripts with cover letters describing the edits.
(Unless instructed otherwise)


frame challenge

The structure of a writer's room suggests an external 'spec script' would be very unlikely.
https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/what-is-a-writers-room/

Lowest rank is a Staff Writer who is a jr member of the writing room hired to pitch ideas and help create the foundations of the script (treatments, outlines, dialog), but generally not the script itself.

A scene would normally be written by a Story Editor who is coordinating with a Producer for continuity across the show.

Approval of these alternative scenes is probably the Supervising Producer (if not the Showrunner) who is shepherding the individual episode through production.

After approval, the script would be re-worked by the Story Editor for general continuity and pre-production.

The script may be re-written again during production by the Showrunner or Executive Producers.

Scripts are dynamic production documents that are often updated. Writer's Assistants would handle proofreading and formatting, so they adhere to the production's standards.

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  • Thanks for the insight into how a writer's room works--I appreciate that :) Maybe, it was just a bad example. I'm fairly new to whole filmmaking industry and perhaps, it's my perspective as a software developer, which sometimes makes it hard to either communicate what exactly my question is about or how a problem might be resolved (or if it even exists in the first place--sorry if that's the case)
    – shaedrich
    May 17, 2023 at 13:58
  • Let's say, the original scene is quite expensive. The director would like to include it when possible but that might depend on other episodes of the show. So they write an cheaper scene variant just in case until a decision is made on this because they don't have time to wait and then rewrite the scene, since, clearly, time is money. So, as you say, "Variations are formatted in separate scripts with cover letters describing the edits", which would result in two concurrently valid script versions until one of them is rejected and therefore, invalid. Is that right?
    – shaedrich
    May 17, 2023 at 14:01
  • @shaedrich, It's a matter of direction how closely the original script is followed (script is not the bible)... Probably the only version of a screenplay that exists in that tidy form would be an early 'reading draft' circulated to actors/casting/costumers.... No contingency 'Plan B' script would ever be acknowledged as it would undermine how the expensive spectacle scene is 100% necessary for the budget. They wouldn't 'fallback' to a cheaper 2nd script, they would try for 70% of the spectacle budget and tweak the current script to fit. (As others are saying, it's very unlikely/unbelievable.)
    – wetcircuit
    May 17, 2023 at 15:32
  • @shaedrich, try to remember the bigger production picture: paying a few writers to edit dialog overnight is do-able.... It is NOT possible to secure alternate locations, costumes, actors, set-builders overnight.... There's no reason to ever think in terms of 2 scripts. They would decide on 1 plan before entering production, rent the studios, etc.... Movies that are 'spectacle-first' such as you are suggesting, the script is adapted to fit the spectacle they can afford.... No 'script in a drawer' is better than adjusting for production circumstances on-set.
    – wetcircuit
    May 17, 2023 at 15:53
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I don't believe so, I have books on the accepted format for spec scripts and they don't include any such thing.

The spec script will almost certainly be read by a professional reader, or an agent, that reads scripts most of the day.

The supply of spec scripts far, far exceed the demand for them, so these people can be tough judges, and have to reject over 95% of what they read to get to something worth reading; which may be rejected for story problems anyway.

With that rejecting rate and fresh new pile of scripts to read every day, they will reject on the slightest provocation. Bad margins or spacing, scene descriptions too long (should be rarely more than 3 lines), the script too long or too short, overly verbose or flat dialogue, etc.

From a reader, I know many scripts are tossed before getting to the third page. They will page through it first, looking for problems, and a reason to reject, just driven by efficiency.

They will check the final page count; if it is too much out of line with the industry standards for that type of script, they will reject it. If they see typos on every page, they will reject it.

Your "choose your own adventure" proposal is going to inflate your page count, it will be jarring to the reader (if they get that far), and they will reject it.

Form and format are critical, a very low bar to pass that half the submitted scripts fail within five or ten minutes.

Scripts from well-known scriptwriters get more deference, but unknown writers do not get any courtesy; and probably no explanation. This is a mining operation, looking through the mud for gems.

The studios release only hundreds of movies a year, but receive tens of thousands of spec scripts. We are fighting 99:1 odds.

Including "alternative scenes" would not help. Take the scene with the most emotional impact and go with it. Stay within your page limit, give or take 5 pages. You cannot be indecisive.

Your judges are professionals, they know very well if they can shorten scenes, or lengthen them to fit, and it is typically easier to lengthen a scene than to shorten it.

So short and efficient is better, but do not sacrifice the emotion and timing that will capture the audience's imagination and immersion. It is a tricky balance, but lean toward shorter scenes and getting rid of unnecessary embellishment or micro-management.

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  • Let's say, the original scene is quite expensive. The director would like to include it when possible but that might depend on other episodes of the show. So they write an cheaper scene variant just in case until a decision is made on this because they don't have time to wait and then rewrite the scene, since, clearly, time is money.
    – shaedrich
    May 17, 2023 at 12:45
  • @shaedrich If they like your story, they may contact you and ask if you can do a different opening. If you are worried about the expense, don't write the expensive opening, but that might make your film less desirable. You have to choose! You need to do enough to make the story compelling. I'd opt for the minimum that does no damage to the story. Special effects and site location are not your job. Let the director worry about how much to spend on each scene. If the only thing selling your script is expensive scenes, locations and special effects, you just don't have a very good story.
    – Amadeus
    May 17, 2023 at 18:26

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