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Scriptwriting for VR (How To Make A Virtual Reality Film)

Updated: Mar 4

Welcome back to the Alex Makes VR podcast. Today is episode number four of my new series where I'm taking you step by step through the process of how to create a virtual reality film. Today, we're going to talk about script writing, a really key piece of the puzzle when bringing your project to life. Before I dive into that, though, I would love if you would take a second, if you've been enjoying the podcast, I would love it if you would screenshot right now the podcast on the platform that you're listening on and go ahead and post on social media and tag me, this is the best way to support the podcast, it gets the word out. Obviously, you can wait to the end and include a quote from, a tip that you've learned from the podcast but it would mean the world if you take a second to share so the other creators can find the podcast and learn how to create a VR film. With that being said, let's dive into the episode.


This is a full transcript of the podcast episode. Instead you can listen to the podcast here:

Unlike the traditional film, screenwriting process, VR doesn't have a standard for how you should be writing your scripts. So right off the top, this is personally how I write my scripts. But if you have a better way of communicating your idea, through writing, you should do that. Because all a script is is essentially a way for someone to imagine what the piece looks like, before it's even been made. Everything from the kind of feeling of tension, the ambience, the emotions, a sense of the characters, personalities, everything has to be conveyed through your writing. And this is what makes it kind of interesting, because whereas in traditional film, you can almost direct on the page in your VR script, you do have to direct on the page, but you also have to account for the fact that people will be able to look around. So you need to include enough detail about the space, about the feeling about what you're anticipating your audience will be doing and that, you know, when you do get into the production process, all the key crew members or even just for yourself, if you're creating it independently, you have a really good idea of what that space needs before you start production.


Okay. Now the way that I write a VR script, and I talked about this a little bit in the last episode, which is I go into a script after I've already blocked out what I want to happen in all of the scenes. So I've, I know what the interaction is going to be between the characters in that scene, I know where they are, I know what kind of day I know what the outcome of those scenes are, I already have a flow for the piece, I already have a story outline, I already know what it's almost like you imagine, like, you know, like, trying to think like, think of like, I don't know what it's called, kind of like a branching tree. If it starts with one thing at the top, and then it splits off into two. And then those two split off into, you know, each of them split off into three, and then each of them split off into four. And you know, you start to see that kind of spiralling thing. If you think about like the basic idea is the top of the branch. By the time you get down to the next branch, it's kind of like, okay, so you've got the basic idea.

The next step down, you've got an understanding of the story structure. The next step down, you've got a detailed breakdown of all the scenes and then the next step down is you're starting to put colour and detail on all of those scenes. So that when you go into the script writing process, you already know all those things. So when I go into a script writing process, I already have all the details. Okay, so I know that in this scene, Tessa and Cassie are talking about how the bad news app got started, the outcome is that we as the audience understand where this text started and what it's become. We've got background information, we've also established the relationship that Cassie and Tessa have, we understand Kathy's kind of background we get a sense of what kind of character she is who she represents, you know, the environment is like this, the location will be like this, the lighting might be like this. I've already got that kind of granular detail outlines. So then when I sit down to write the script, I'm basically just pulling all that information in, and then I'm adding flair to it. I'm writing in my style, which I tend to write in quiet It's a conversational, witty, and pacey, quite hyperbolic way I like to paint vivid pictures with metaphors or kind of analogies, that kind of thing. That's my kind of style. But ultimately you will find your own style. But the key thing is that you're basically painting a picture so that if I was an outside producer, looking to come on board, I could read your script. And I could automatically see in my head, what this piece will look like, as a finished project. So that is kind of why you do a script. And that is the importance of the script. It doesn't matter whether it's in Korea font 12 point, like, you know, in traditional film scripts, you hear these things of like, agents won't even touch a script, if it's not properly formatted in an industry standards. Screw that we don't have any of that the point of a script is to convey your idea. So you've got your idea, you've got your scene breakdown, you've got all the granular detail, or maybe not, maybe you've just jumped straight into the script writing process.


How do you write a VR script? So the way I do it is quite similar to the filmmaking process. In the sense of I open, your top line of the script needs to kind of tell you instantly the key information about what scene it is where you are, like, what's the location? Are you interior or exterior is usually included? And then what time of day it is. So the key information goes first bolded top of the scene, so it might be seen one Tess's garden, exterior, evening, okay, so automatically I've got all of the key location information. And then my first opening paragraph, and the opening paragraph is kind of the most important one because you want to hook if other people are going to be reading this, you want to hook them in, you want to get them invested in the world. He wants to establish very quickly, what kind of feeling you want your audience to be having at this point. So for example, my opening paragraph of bad news is quite tense. It's quite mysterious. Okay, it's quite alluring. You meet Tessa, who is the main character who is you essentially. But I'm building a real picture about what the atmosphere is, like I'm describing that we can hear screaming and crying. We can hear our own heart thumping. We are like disorientated, we don't really know where we are. If we look around, we can see x, y, and Zed. If we you know, if we look down, we can see this. And that's really important detail, especially for a VR script. Chances are if your audience especially if they're new to VR, chances are that first scene of your film will be the scene where your audience looks around the most. Because most audiences spend the first 30 seconds kind of a climatized thing to their virtual environment. So they might explore a little bit more than what they will do going forward. So what I've noticed through years of showcasing VR is that people generally will look around, you know, they'll like, Oh, where are we this is a new place interesting. So you want to give them a little bit of time to acclimatise and then bam, you draw them into the action. And generally speaking, they will follow your direction from there as to where they should be looking. And that's through action choreography, and sound design. So your opening scene, notice when I'm talking about I mean, this isn't how this isn't the exact wording of the bad news script. But you know, I'm talking about if we look this way, if we look that way, I'm talking about it from the point of view of the audience in the headset.


Now, this is my personal choice, because again, I want to get the person reading this in the frame of mind that they are there. And they can imagine what this would be like in a VR headset. So we can see this. If we look left over our shoulder, we see this above as we see this. The music is building our heart is racing, we're moving towards x y Zed. You know like all of these kind of details. I'm talking about it from the point of view of the person who is experiencing the VR film, again, personal choice. But I found that that works really well with getting people in the mindset of that 360 space because A lot of people have asked me, Oh, do you do like columns of like, you know, left, right, forward and back? And then like, do you write in those columns? Like what people can see from all directions? No, no, I don't, some people might. I think personally, that's too disorientating. That's too, that is literally creating the equivalent of like a FOMO situation with an audience where they're not sure which way they should be looking. My intention with the script is to give you a good sense of the location, the environment, but also direct your attention, just like I would in the actual film. So using language like we, or you, you can see this or we can see this, describing what's around you. And then obviously, you go into the detail. When I talk about a character when you establish a character, you want to bold that character's name when they first appear in the script so that producers and casting directors etc. and actors they can see right away, they can see the key information jumping out at them. So TESSA 23, newly employed and cynical, blah, blah, blah, wearing blah, blah, blah, if that detail is important. So this is where you would go into detail about what that character's ethnicity is their age, what they look at what they kind of look like, what are they wearing? What's their expression on their face, all of this kind of key detail is what you would go into in this space. And also key action. Is there any key props? Are there any key choreography that happens in this scene, and then obviously, you can dive into dialogue. So the way you do that is you kind of you end your paragraph and then you start and you start a new line, and then a new line after that and centralise the characters name. So for mine, it would be Tessa, and then on a new line centralised after that it would be her dialogue. And for me, if I writing from the point of view of a character, I will include the breath brackets. VO next to my character voice over because mainly so that my production team understands that that main character's audio will be recorded as a voiceover. To understand that we can only hear Tess's voice not see her. In my particular case, in bad news. At the moment, the way that it's written is that actually you start off from a third person perspective, and you kind of like, slam into Tessa and you become Tessa. So that's obviously a slightly different way. So I would start with Tessa, disembodied, and I would start with her not in voiceover because I can actually see her, and she's talking in front of us. But then when we become Tessa, that then is in voiceover, because it's her talking out loud, it's her, we are in her shoes. She's talking, but the actor is not actually on camera. So that's some key detail. And then you just repeat, rinse and repeat the process.


If you haven't studied script writing before, I'd highly recommend you just go and find just a like a YouTube video even that just gives you the basic idea of how to write a film script. And then all you want to do is you want to add in this little bit of extra detail, like I've suggested that makes it specific to VR, which is writing from the point of view of your audience. And including detail about what this what this audience could see if they looked around, including kind of key key details in the location. Other than that, the script writing process is very, very, very, very similar to that of a traditional film. But like I said, right up top, don't stress about making sure the formatting is right, making sure that it's, you know, in a particular font or thing, just make sure it's easy to read. And it really clearly outlines on paper, what this idea would look like if it was funded if it was brought to life.


Most of us most of you listening and myself included, won't have an external producer that comes on board after the screen script, right? Okay. Most of us will kind of be creating our own pieces. My producer, like they are with me from the beginning. And it's kind of I'm not pitching them with the script. If you're pitching someone with the script, then yes, your idea needs to be so crystal clear. And that they can imagine the piece come to live and that's why they would invest their time or invest their money into it. But for most of us, that's not the case. We're writing a script for the sake of our actors, for the sake of our crew members to know what they're doing, and to give the reader a really good sense of the story. So that's it, those are my key tips. I know it's super short and sweet. My biggest piece of advice would be, do not overthink it, okay?


Don't overthink it, get a first draft, don't leave it for a week, get some feedback, if you want send out get some people to kind of give you their thoughts on it. And then rewrite your first draft will never be your final draft. The first draft is just getting splatting those ideas on paper. Okay. Some other things to think about. Maybe, especially if you're going to go on to DirectX and create this project yourself. Try not to have loads of characters in a scene for long periods of time. And the main reason I would say that is because the the the choreography and the talent that your actors would have to have to be able to pull off a really long scene with lots of intricate dialogue where loads of people are talking at different times and people have got different actions is going to be really, really difficult in 360 or VR unless you are creating it in animation or computer generated graphics. And mainly that's because you don't tend to cut with a 360 camera. So if your scene on paper is one or two minutes, that scene is consisted of it consists of one shot usually, so whereas in traditional film, you might have like a five minute long scene, but that consists of about 20 different shots all edited together beautifully. in VR, that's not the case. So make sure that you're really intentional with who you're putting in your scenes. And if you are going to have long scenes try and keep the action and the amount of characters to a minimum, I'll just very quickly tell you a story of when I didn't think that through. And I wrote a really complex scene where there was like about 10 characters in the same shot. And they all had intricate, overlapping dialogue. And the scene was about five minutes long. It took us 23 takes to get that scene, we ended up going over time, we ended up having to pay the actors over time because we had gone over. And it ended up being very, very tense because the actors were getting super on edge about the fact that they we couldn't get through the scene without someone messing up. And it would be a case of one character would mess up. And then that would make everyone else nervous. So then the next take they got it right. But another actor would then mess up their lines, it was an absolute nightmare. And what I learned from that was either unless you're going to have like loads of budget and loads of times, pull that scene off, you really need to make sure that if you're going to have scenes with lots of characters talking make it short and sweet. Okay, make sure there's a reason for it. Especially if you're an indie producer, especially if you're independently creating the simpler, the smaller amount of characters, the better. Okay, it will keep your audience engaged, and it'll be easier to produce. So those would be my only real kind of tips, just making sure that if you, you know, if you're going to have really long, long run on scenes, not loads of major characters, not massively complicated choreography. But other than that, go wild. Just bring your idea to life with your writing. And if you're not a particularly strong writer, okay, just think about what how you would describe this story to someone to a friend, maybe even voice record yourself talking through the scene, talking through some of the dialogue, maybe get if you've got some friends that are good at improv, and like, you're not very good at writing dialogue, like, I don't think I'm particularly strong at writing dialogue. So I love to kind of like improv back and forth with friends or like to like, hear it aloud. And if you've got the budget, you could obviously get some kind of actors to, like read through the script. And you could be like adjusting on the go. But really, I would say, don't overthink it, get your first draft on paper on page, and then get feedback and then come back to it and rewrite and rewrite a bit.


Another big tip about writing dialogue and something that I've been really trying to do recently, is every time I'm around people, or anytime I'm on a phone call, anytime I'm listening in on people having a natural conversation, I'm picking up on the rhythm of their dialogue. I'm picking up on the natural way that people speak because sometimes I've worked with clients and they think that they can write the scripts but Dialogue is so wooden, and it's so clunky and it's so like...this is exactly what the scene is all about and I'm going to say it really cleanly and just overtly and I'm not even going to try and hide it with some natural dialogue. Dialogue can be so over the top and really cringe like, if your dialogue is, isn't natural sounding, your audience will check out or they will, it will stick out like a sore thumb. So make sure that if you are one of these people, you're not great at dialogue like myself, then listen in on conversations, listen to podcasts. Listen, when you have like conversations with people, even this podcast itself, listen to how I'm talking. I'm not talking like a robot. I'm not rehearsed. I'm not scripted. And you can really tell because, naturally, I interject words like like or you know, and ohms. And the flow of the conversation, the flow of the dialogue is different to how it would be if I was reading off a script. So that's another key tip and I think that's it. I think I've emptied my brain on you of my kind of key takeaways for script writing for VR.


If you've got any other questions, anything else you want me to cover? In terms of script writing? Then please reach out to me because I would love to answer any questions. It's @alexmakesvr on Instagram and Twitter. Like I said at the beginning, if you wouldn't mind sharing the podcast if you got value from this, that would mean the world and really helped me out to get the word out about this podcast. And that's it for this week. I'll speech in the next one.

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