Scene description is the second most important part of a script. While the dialogue is where the writer opens up and can explode with creativity, the scene description is where economy of language is most important. This can be almost as difficult as dialogue.
Scene Description sets up what the characters are doing physically, and how they interact with each other and their physical surroundings. Because the reader is trying to imagine the film the writer is telling, scene description should be lucid in description without being too detailed. Details tend to slow the reader, breaking the fluidity of the imagination.
SPACING: The Scene Description should scan easily. This is accomplished by cutting the longer passages of description into blocks of not more than four to six lines. Action sequences which often last a page or more should never fill the page. The break of a blank white line every four to six lines makes it easier for the reader to keep their place while scanning a line. Again, your concern is to keep them in the vision of the scene.
DETAIL: If it is not absolutely essential, don't put it in. The color of the walls in the lobby of a hospital is not important. It may be important if there is a Diego Rivera mural of oppressed people being pulled from war rubble.
CAPITALS: Each time a new character comes into the screenplay, give their name in full capitals. Do this only once per character in the screenplay. Capitals in Scene Description should be minimal. When the production manager and the assistant director prepare the screenplay for budgeting and breakdown they will go through the script and CAPITALIZE the more important elements of the Scene Description such as sounds, props, sets, etc. You need not worry about this. Again, capitalization takes away from the readers fluid enjoyment. The rare case where you might want to capitalize a word is when you need impact. You might want accent the SLAM of the door which makes the character leap for fear. You also might like to capitalize the first time the FOGHORN blares and the shipwrecked lifeboat sailors know the are near another ship. But don't overuse this.
BREVITY: The biggest problem with writing Scene Description is to keep it simple, to use a style which creates a visual image in your reader's mind. The convention of a novel allows the writer to spend a great deal of time describing the emotional life of characters. This is not accepted in the screenplay. The emotional life of the characters is implied in their dialogue and in the conceptual structure of the story. What is important is how the story and the characters interact.
And avoid long pages of description that are not action sequences. Nothing bores a reader more than a beautiful montage which has been rendered and detailed with grueling and meaningfully symbolic and poetic descriptions of images which should provoke enormous and significant philosophical and emotional transformations in the audience. There is nothing wrong with a meaningful and symbolic montage sequence. In fact, there is not enough of them in film. Just don't make them boring to read.
CAMERA DIRECTION: Some readers take offense at having to read the words "WE SEE" or "THE CAMERA DOLLIES IN ON." When reading a script, the reader wants to be there in the story. They want to see what the audience would see at the theater, not what the crew and the extras see making a movie.
Here is a Scene Description:
That does describe the scene and makes certain that the filmmakers know what they should do with it. But then you might have written:The CAMERA is CLOSE UP on the back of a door with the name "Spam Sade, Private Investigator" backwards on the glass. The CAMERA CUTS TO the hand of the detective pulling a bottle of Gorgon's Gin from the top right drawer of the desk. The CAMERA PULLS BACK to reveal SPAM SADE, a gritty faced private detective in his late forties, as he pours himself a glass of gin. He sits back, stretching his pained back, and slugs down a shot of the gin. He looks up and around. The CAMERA PANS across the sordid office, coming to rest on a MEDIUM SHOT of the door. There is the CLICK, CLICK of high heels in the hall as a shadow rises on it, the silhouette of tall, slim woman in a broad veiled hat. The shadow seems reluctant to enter then forces the door open. The door opens revealing the sultry, thirtyish SHARY MAUNESSEY. We don't see her face until the door opens enough to let the desk lamp light it.
They both say the same thing. One is a dictatorial explanation of how to shoot a scene. The other is a seductive image which will end up being shot exactly the way it's written and probably with the exact camera movement and cutting as the first passage. Which would you rather read? Which would provoke you to say, "Damn, that would make a great scene." Which makes you imagine it?The light in the hall backlights the reversed name on the door glass: "Spam Sade, Private Investigator."
A man's hand pulls open the desk drawer and removes a half empty bottle of gin.
SPAM SADE, gritty, late forties, pours himself a glass, leans back trying to ease the pain out of his back, and slugs down the gin. He surveys his sordid office, stopping his gaze on the door at the sound of high heels approaching.
The silhouette of a slim woman in a veiled hat rises on the glass as she approaches. After a hesitation, SHARY MAUNESSEY opens to door, her face slowly revealed to the light of the desk lamp.
A trick is to cut the paragraph when you want the camera to cut. This can be a problem if you want a long sequence in one shot but you can work out your own language for it. Some scripts have camera direction when it would take too much time to say it economically. Action scripts often use Scene Slugs to cut an action sequence into shots which means the directions are less obtrusive since they are not actually part of the Scene Description. There are many creative ways to get around being boringly technical.