View Full Version : First attempt at a screenplay.

Dave Watson
April 11th, 2015, 05:11 PM
So this was originally meant to be a novella, but the feedback I got from it wasn't that great, so thought I'd try it in another format. Just want to see what any cats experienced in the ways of screenplays make of my form here. Any critiques or help much appreciated. Sorry if some of the stuff is out of place.

Tales of a Scorched Earth :
The Shift



AERIAL SHOT of Cairngorms Mountain Range. CAMERA flies slowly through a blizzard above a harsh, desolate landscape of snow covered hills that stretch to the horizon under a leaden sky. Strange cloud formations, streaked with ribbons of sick crimson. Wind howls.

I read once that history books are written by the victors. Think it was Winston Churchill that said it.
I'm not trying to write a history book, and I'm sure as shit not a victor.

The CAMERA flies on, swooping low to just above ground
level. Close enough to see bare gorse branches clawing up like skeletal hands through the snow covering, which we can now see is a dirty grey colour, more like ash. CAMERA now heading toward a cluster of buildings nestled in a valley, revealed as a farmhouse with a few outbuildings as we get closer. There are no lights on in the windows. Not a sign of life.

RONNIE (V.O.) (cont’d)
I'm putting this down because writing about bad times is a way of dealing with them. The only way now. This is my attempt to make some sort of sense in my own head. But when the brightest minds in the world couldn't do it, how can I hope to explain what happened?

The CAMERA speeds up to a rush as the howling of the wind increases in pitch and ferocity, becoming the sound of a multitude of screaming people. Camera quickly zooms in on a darkened window frame.


RONNIE (V.O) (cont’d)
How do you rationalise nightmares made real?

SUPER : The Shift



The room in the derelict farmhouse is lit by flickering candlelight, the flames guttering in drafts of cold wind that find gaps in the boarded up windows. Bare floorboards. Peeling wallpaper. We hear a soft, rapid scratching sound.

1. Along one wall are stacks of tinned food and plastic bottles of water.
2. In one corner, a small camping stove, a thin, tattered mattress and a worn sleeping bag.
3. CLOSE ON: Pinned to the wall is a faded photograph of a man, a woman and two children, their faces pressed close together, smiling and laughing.
4. Propped against the wall is a double-barrelled shotgun.
5. CLOSE ON: A hand holding a pencil, rapidly writing on a sheet of paper; the source of the scratching sound.


RONNIE SIMMONS sits hunched over a writing desk, pencil in hand. Long greasy hair, heavily bearded, dressed in a tattered North Face jacket and fingerless gloves. His face is pale, thin and haggard. Dark circles around his eyes. Chapped, peeling lips.

My name’s Ronnie Simmons. I’m thirty-seven years old. Before everything changed, before what people began calling The Shift, I used to be a sports columnist for the Daily Record…

CLOSE ON: RONNIE’S staring, sunken eyes. The sound of the pencil on the paper swells in volume and changes pitch, becoming the rapid clack-clack-clack of fingers typing on a computer keyboard. He blinks, and…



CLOSE ON: RONNIE’s eyes. They are now clear and bright. The eyes of a much younger, far less troubled man. The CAMERA PULLS BACK to reveal RONNIE sitting typing at a desk in front of a computer monitor, dressed in a shirt and tie. He is clean shaven, his hair neatly trimmed. CAMERA continues to PULL BACK to reveal we are in a busy newspaper office.


RONNIE leans back in his office chair, rubbing his eyes. A hand comes down on his shoulder.

Working hard or hardly working there, Ronnie?

RONNIE looks round to see his friend and fellow sports reporter BEN DICKSON.

Alright, Ben. Heading to the pub for lunch?

Aye. You coming?

Two minutes, mate. Just finishing this bit on Craig Whyte. Shady lookin bastard if you ask me. I’ll meet you downstairs.

No bother.

BEN walks off. RONNIE turns back to the computer monitor. He is just about to start typing again when he looks up at the sound of raised voices at the far end of the room.


RONNIE’S POV: At the other end of the office, he sees a group of people crowded round a desk. Amid the raised voices, he hears a woman sobbing. Then there are more shouts, gasps of fright and curses. As RONNIE looks around the office he begins to see looks of horror on peoples’ faces. There are suddenly a lot more phones ringing in the office, the babble of alarmed voices grows louder. Then someone screams, and all at once there are people running from their desks, knocking over chairs and scattering sheaves of paper. RONNIE sees BEN running by and grabs his arm. BEN’S face is terrified.

What the hell’s going on?

Gatwick! They’ve bombed Gatwick Airport, Ronnie! They’ve fucking nuked it!

RONNIE looks at BEN, trying to process what he’s just heard. The CAMERA PULLS BACK and UP to an AERIAL SHOT showing the entire newsroom now in complete chaos.


The same newsroom, from the same angle, now eerily still as everyone stands silently, crowded around the large screens on the walls, faces drawn in blank looks of shock. On the screens, a troubled NEWSREADER speaks.

… the following video was uploaded onto Youtube immediately after the horrific attack on Gatwick Airport.

On the screen, we see a video clip showing a BALD MAN, Caucasian, heavily built and bearded, sitting in front of a plain white background. He speaks with a cold, emotionless voice.

At twelve fifteen pm today, at Gatwick Airport, England, The Order of the Scorched Earth made its presence known to the world. Humanity, in all its bastardised guises, has become a cancer on this planet, which we will cleanse with fire. We make no demands, nor distinction between Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Jew. The plague is man. And man will burn.

The clip ends, and the NEWSREADER reappears on screen. His voice is less than steady.

This video was captured by a hiker in the West Sussex countryside. We must warn that the following footage is… distressing.

On the screen, we see a shaky video clip. Gently rolling green hills, fields and patches of woodland. On the far horizon, a giant mushroom cloud rises to the heavens.


Around RONNIE, people stand with their hands fisted in their hair, covering their mouths. Some cry out. Some weep.


ON THE SCREEN A traumatised female reporter stands in a street bustling with frantic activity. Emergency and military vehicles clog the road behind her. There is a discordant chorus of sirens, voices barking orders through megaphones and distant screams. The blackened sky behind the reporter is streaked with burnt orange and filled with what looks like grey snow. The screen says she is reporting live from Reigate.

Widespread panic has gripped the nation this afternoon after a horrific terrorist attack. At twelve fifteen pm, a massive explosion, believed to be nuclear, obliterated Gatwick Airport and much of the surrounding area. Early estimates suggest perhaps as many as twenty thousand lives may have been lost, but the scale of the devastation… it’s impossible to imagine…

The reporter’s words failed her, and she breaks down, weeping bitterly. The screen returns to the newsreader. He’s talking about mass evacuations, the mobilisation of the military, widespread panic.


The newsroom staff stand watching, numbed into silence by the enormity of what’s happened. Next to a shell-shocked RONNIE, BEN is shaking his head.

Fuckin hell, Ronnie…

I don’t… what…

I mean… fuck!

It can’t be. Nah, man. Fuck that. No way. Nukes?


ON THE TV SCREEN: Another angle of the mushroom cloud. Footage from London. A city in panic.


Christ on a bike. I… I need to… need
to call my mum…

He turns, but finds RONNIE is already running from the room, mobile phone pressed to his ear.



LONG SHOT along corridor. RONNIE runs toward camera. He’s on the phone to GWEN, his wife.

GWEN (on phone)
Ronnie, we just heard. The kids…

It’s alright, babe. Go and get them from school. Meet me at the flat. Don’t stop for anything. I’m on my way. Just pack as much as you can till I get there. We need to get out of the city.

CAMERA FOLLOWS RONNIE as he runs through the building toward the exit. He is not the only one making for the door.

GWEN (on phone)
My dad called. He says we’ve to go to the farm.

Right. Brilliant. I’m on my way. I love you.

Love you too. See you at home.


RONNIE runs through the doors, down a flight of stairs and across the car park. He gets into his car.



We hear a few bars of Three Little Birds as the car stereo powers on and RONNIE speeds out of the car park into the streets of Glasgow city centre.

BOB MARLEY (on stereo)
Every little thing, is gonna be alright…

Unconvinced, RONNIE puts the radio on instead.

NEWSREADER (on radio)
… a nationwide state of emergency has been declared with immediate effect, and people are being advised to return to their homes, to remain calm, and to await further instructions…


We continue to hear the radio as From RONNIES POV, we see the busy city centre. Everything looks normal at first, most people still don’t know what’s happened. RONNIE looks at the time display on the dashboard. It happened less than half an hour ago. But as he drives, he begins to see that the news is starting to filter through.

QUICK CUTS (still in RONNIE’s POV as he drives past.)

1. A WOMAN standing looking at her mobile, hand over her mouth, crying.
2. A small crowd of people gathered round a Curry’s shop window, watching the news on the TV screen in the window. More people join them.
3. People running through the streets, colliding with other pedestrians.
4. A MAN sitting on the pavement, head in his hands.

A horn blares, and RONNIE slams on the brakes, narrowly avoiding hitting a taxi.



The TAXI DRIVER is enraged, gesticulating angrily at RONNIE.

Want to watch where the fuck you’re goin ya dick?!

From inside the taxi, we see RONNIE’s car race away.
The TAXI DRIVER is about to move off when his phone rings. The display shows a smiling young woman, the name HEATHER, his daughter. We hear one side of the conversation.

Alright, sweetheart….woah woah woah calm down, what’s wrong… aye your mum phoned me from the airport this morning… aye she was flying out from Gatwick, why… what?

He listens to his daughter for a few seconds, then turns the radio on. He hears the news. We see his face crumple.


Looking now from the street into the taxi. We hear the normal bustling noise of the city, but see the TAXI DRIVER through his windscreen, screaming and punching the steering wheel.

MUSIC CUE : When the Music’s Over by The Doors

The CAMERA BACKS OFF from the TAXI DRIVER and PANS AROUND the city street, where there are now more people running, and growing signs of disturbance. CAMERA SLOWLY RISES to give us an AERIAL shot of George Square and the city centre, then continues up, faster and faster through the clouds and the atmosphere until we see the curve of the Earth, beautifully backlit by the sun and stars. The CAMERA then drops swiftly back down again until…

(SYNCH first big scream in When the Music’s Over to…)

BIG AERIAL VIEW of the huge swathe of radioactive wasteland where Gatwick Airport used to be.

1. Wreckage of the airport
2. Blackened forests
3. Destroyed towns and villages
4. Panic in the streets



RONNIE’s car screeches to a halt in front of his house, a red sandstone semi-detached in the west end. He lives on a pleasant tree-lined avenue next to a park. It’s quiet, but as RONNIE gets out of the car and runs to his door, we hear and see small signs of disorder. A single red high-heeled shoe lying on the pavement. A badly parked car with its driver door lying open, no one in it. Down the street he sees a family hurriedly loading up their car with suitcases. From an open window he hears someone sobbing. In the distance, a siren. RONNIE enters his front door.


GWEN runs to meet him, quickly followed by his thirteen year old daughter HOLLY and his five year old son FRASER. Their three legged mongrel LEGOLAS joins them. RONNIE embraces them.

I’ll get the bags.

She hurries off into an adjacent room.

(pulling RONNIE’s sleeve)
Daddy! We’re going to grandad’s farm! We’re going to see Master Chief!


I know, wee man. Have you got your bags packed?


Got your zombie gun?


Your Golden Underpants book?

Yes. Legolas says he’s happy he’ll get to see Skye again. Skye’s his best friend.

(Getting choked up)
I’m sure she is. Border Collies are nuts. Come on, wee man. Get your coat on and grab your bag. You too, Holly.

FRASER runs off to his room. HOLLY, tearful and afraid, nods and turns away. RONNIE pulls her back and hugs her.

Hey, you okay?

(muffled against his chest)

No, me either. We’ve got to be cool, though, right?

HOLLY wipes her eyes and looks up at her dad.

Right. Like the cucumbers.


He crouches down a little so he’s on her level.

Listen, Holly, you’re old enough to know what’s happening. I know this is shit that you shouldn’t be going through. No one should. I’m not going to tell you to be brave, because you are, and I don’t need to tell you to be a big girl for me. You’re more mature than I am. You’ve got my back, right?


There’s my little shield maiden. Go on. Get your stuff.

HOLLY runs off to her room. GWEN comes back, tense, but composed, now carrying a large rucksack on her back, a suitcase in each hand.

I called Dad and told him we were on our way. Took me a while to get through. The mobile network’s getting jammed up.

How did you manage to pack so fast? It took you a whole afternoon to pack two bags when we went to Malta last year.

Amazing how the threat of being blown up speeds up the process.

I’ll remember that when we’re packing for the Dominican next summer. Lob some grenades at you or something.

GWEN laughs at the desperate humour, and they embrace as HOLLY and FRASER reappear, packed and ready. RONNIE turns to them.

Right, troops. Let’s move out.


RONNIE locks the door to the house and they walk along the pavement to GWEN’s beloved car, a large and sturdy 4x4 Range Rover.

Can we stop at McDonalds, Daddy?
Legolas says he wants chippies.

Is that right? Does Legolas want a milkshake as well by any chance?

FRASER looks at him scornfully.

Don’t be daft, Daddy. Dogs don’t like milkshakes. He wants a Fanta. And some chicken nuggets.

As they load up the car, a MAN runs past them, terror etched on his features, tears streaking his face. RONNIE and GWEN share a look. HOLLY watches the man run away up the street for a moment. FRASER is oblivious as he climbs into the back seat and begins bouncing impatiently.

Come on! Let’s go!

They get into the car and drive off. The CAMERA stays behind, watching them drive away up the street.


A BLACK SCREEN, with occasional flickers of white light. He hear the crackle of static and electronic whining, someone slowly scanning across radio frequencies. We hear snatches of different stations, newsreaders and DJs.

-static- …the Prime Minister, speaking from a secure location has urged people to remain calm and stay in their homes…
…widespread condemnation from world leaders, and no one has ever heard of the Order of the Scorched Earth…
…seeing mass evacuations all across the south east of England…
(a burst of happy, cheesy pop music)
…nuclear arsenal at the Trident naval base in Faslane…
…massive traffic congestion all up and down the UK following the attack on Gatwick. Fearing further strikes on cities, people are leaving in droves and there ten mile tailbacks outside London, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow…

The flickering luminescence in the dark grows more rapid until it becomes a dazzling explosion of white light and…



CLOSE ON: HOLLY’s intense, beautiful green eyes as they snap open from a troubled sleep.


LEGOLAS sits in the backseat between HOLLY and FRASER, who is engrossed in making a Spongebob Squarepants figure batter a plastic dinosaur. They are stuck in a traffic jam on the A82, just outside Old Kilpatrick where thousands of vehicles crossing The Erskine Bridge merge with the road they’re on. It’s gridlocked.

Looks like we’re not the only ones heading for the hills.

Dad, do you think they’ll go for the Trident base? That’s just up the road from here.

Mummy, what’s a holly cost? The man on the radio keeps talking about a new clear holly cost.

It’s when the shops have a sale on Christmas decorations, sweetie. A new clear holly cost. See?



(growing visibly more anxious)
Shit, shit, shit…


RONNIE POV. He looks to his right, and on the other side of the dual carriageway sees a slip road leading into a housing estate built against the hillside.

Hold on, guys.


He guns the engine and pushing the wheel hard right, crosses the central reservation into the quieter eastbound lane, then takes the left onto the slip road. The 4X4 makes its way through the small housing estate, going steadily uphill until it comes to a dead end. Before them is a simple barbed wire fence separating them from the fields and hills beyond. RONNIE glances over at GWEN, who nods. RONNIE puts the car into four wheel drive.

Hold on again back there. There’s going to be a bump.

The 4x4 ploughs through the fence into the field, heading up the hill and scattering a herd of sheep. In the back seat, FRASER is laughing and clapping his hands in delight.

Yeeeaaaaah! Go, Daddy! Out the way, pesky sheep!

They get to the top of the field and find a gate in the fence. GWEN gets out and opens it while RONNIE drives through onto a narrow country road in the wooded hills behind Dumbarton. GWEN closes the gate again and pauses, looking back down the hill.


From GWEN’s POV, we can see all along the River Clyde. The A82 at the bottom of the hill is still gridlocked, as is the M8 on the other side of the river and the Erskine Bridge. Even the Clyde itself is crowded with boats, all heading downriver, away from the land.

So many…

(from the car)
Come on, babe. We need to go.

GWEN returns to the 4x4 and gets in. The car moves off and disappears around a bend in the narrow country road.


Kyle R
April 11th, 2015, 05:57 PM
Hey Dave!

I haven't had a chance to read this in full yet—though it looks pretty engaging so far!

Just a few pointers on screenwriting format:

- A character's name only needs to be capitalized (in narration) the first time they are mentioned. After that the name is no longer capitalized (except when used as the heading above their dialogue). (See the CAPITALIZATION explanation here: http://www.sellascript.com/Source/column.cfm?mode=display&columnid=12)

- Camera directions like "CUT TO", "CLOSE UP ON", "SMASH CUT TO", "QUICK CUTS:", et cetera, are generally frowned upon, as they distract the reader, and could be considered an annoyance to a director, who would want their own creative freedom to decide how to film the narrative.

You might see James Cameron use directions like these in screenplays he writes, but that's because he's also planning to be the director, so he's essentially making notes to himself on how he's going to film it.

When writing a screenplay for another director to use, it's considered bad form to give camera directions.

A useful link to check out! http://www.whatascript.com/screenplay-format-05.html

(I'll be back later to comment on the actual story, too. Like I said, it looks good so far.) :encouragement:

Dave Watson
April 12th, 2015, 12:33 PM
Thanks very much, Kyle. The use of the cuts and camera stuff was the main thing I wondered about as they seem to show up in some screenplays but not others.

April 17th, 2015, 08:10 PM
I'm inexperienced with screenplay formatting, so this thread was a learning experience for me! Your dialogue is very well-written, and it's definitely something that needs to be strong for this medium... Which you did nicely. :) Good job! I'd love to read some more, if you have any!

May 8th, 2015, 09:14 AM
Kyle took the words right out of my fingers, the story seems like something that could go someplace and easily hook an audience. The few issues as mention just make the script somewhat difficult to read, you want to really use that first ten pages or so, to get the reader engaged and wanting to know more of the story. Try to keep your action lines as tight and straight forward as you can. Like when you describe the scene with the traffic and military vehicles, where the woman breaks down. If I remember correctly if not I apologize, but as an example. The action line could go like this

a chaotic scene unfolds behind the young reporter as she prepares he live shot, SIRENS echo off the surrounding buildings and the community is in a panic.

that gives the director a chance to flex his creative muscles when in reality you just set the scene and hes just decorating it, but they feel good about themselves! and then rather than using a second action like to show her breaking down you can use a parenthetical which looks like this

(chocking back tears) <----parenthetical, under char name
The bus full of nuns, crashed directly into the
kitten sanctuary resulting in horror today. were
not sure of the death toll at this time Mike,
but its believed to be in the hundreds of billions.
Also in the news today
(excited)<------------------other use of parenthetical, I think some people use (beat) as well to signify change in emotional inflection (I'm not pro so I make mistakes sometimes on this stuff)
somebody's getting married!

The reporter holds up her hand to the camera revealing a massive diamond.

Anyways, like I said not a pro so dont put too much stock in what I'm saying but though I might be able to help out!

Robert Gary
October 15th, 2015, 02:34 PM
I am a bit late in a reply but I love it. I certainly would love to read more. I have a couple of stories floating in my head that I have been trying to decide if I should write them as a book or as a screen play. Many years ago I used to direct local civic theater and feel I have a much better understanding of the direction of something rather than just the creation. I really think I am more of a screenwriter. I know I am not perfect in either and will definitely need an editor!

Dave Watson
October 15th, 2015, 10:18 PM
I'd completely forgotten about posting this!

Thanks for the thoughts and advice folks. Haven't written any more of this as I'm trying to get my current novel finished, but it's definitely something I'll come back to. I really enjoy working with the form of a screenplay.

March 20th, 2016, 06:39 PM
Engaging story so far, Id just agree with what the others have said. The only real issue was ease of reading it and another issue with the camera directions is the actual director. I have a friend who currently works on a lot of indie projects and in my own research on the topic, all have told me the less camera and scene direction the better! Directors don't like being told what to do, so the basic and most important elements should be in the script, not every detail. The rest should be left to the imagination of whomever is directing the project.

April 5th, 2016, 09:02 PM
I was in the same boat as you. I had an idea for a novel and loved it, but it just wasn't working. Well in one of my college courses we cover screen writing and had to do a short work for it. I decided to re-format my novel into a film. Since then I've not been able to stop working on it (save a few months of writers block). Reading your screenplay was such motivation for me to continue mine. This actually brought me to tears. As someone who plans to co-direct their own film I loved that you put in the detail of the cut scenes, it brought the imagery to life even more. I think you made a good move transferring this over to this format, you should keep going.

There were a few points where I felt slightly lost, but that was do to trying to read an accent and visualize a place I've never been.

Keep up the good work!

July 19th, 2018, 02:41 AM
Pretty good start, but I noticed a few things that maybe someone else didn't catch:

1. When Ronnie's friend asked him if he was working hard or hardly working, and he answered 'alright'. I felt that that was a little confusing. Perhaps he could've said something like, "Well, somebody's gotta earn a paycheck around here." Something that would be a natural response.

2. When dealing with phone calls, always put CHARACTER (INTO PHONE) for the character on the screen and CHARACTER (OVER PHONE) for the one off the screen.

Otherwise, I think others hit on the points I was going to say. I hope your screenplay takes off, brother.

November 21st, 2019, 06:21 AM
Ohmygosh the villains are Zyklon B if Zkylon B had actual nukes and not just guitars.


Anyways ... I really liked it. Drawn in right away, the characters are likeable, the premise interesting.

Fraser seems a bit over-oblivious, even for a 5-year-old (kids aren't that stupid--they can usually tell if everyone around them is upset even if they don't understand the danger in the same way). A couple of the shots seem a bit melodramatic, like when the camera dollies all the way back to show the entire earth, but that may be intentional. Kind of the same thing with the opening voice-over: it's a bit cheesy, but in an acceptably earnest way (take into account I love some grade-A cheese; other viewers may not have the same taste).

November 29th, 2019, 06:02 PM
Don't know much about screenplays, but if this were a movie, I'd definitely watch it. Looks awesome.