What is the Difference Between “Script” and “Screenplay”?
Since the English language is such a dynamic language the usage and interchanging of words and synonyms can seem apparent to those using them. However, it can be simply a very liberal use of words and what they mean. It can also be the slight nuances of words that make the difference.
When discussing the difference between “script” and “screenplay”, it is best to start with the dictionary meaning of each word, and then see how they are used in everyday language. In addition, when words become the language of an industry then understanding how they are used within that discipline is important as well.
Starting with the word “screenplay”, Meriam-Webster dictionary has a simple and full definition.[i] It is “the written form of a movie that also includes instructions on how it is to be acted and filmed: the script of a movie”. This dictionary also has a definition as “the script and often shooting directions of a story prepared for motion picture production”.
Just from this, we will conclude that a screenplay is a term used explicitly in the motion picture industry for movies. Of course, the question arises if this can include TV acting as well. However, before going any deeper, let’s take a look at the word “script”.
According to the same Meriam-Webster dictionary[ii], the script has a much broader meaning. It can mean any of the following: “something is written, an original or principal instrument or document, the written text of a stage play, screenplay, or broadcast; specifically the one used in production or performance”. We will not include in this discussion the addition meanings of “printed letters that resemble handwriting, written characters or a plan of action”. It is only mentioned here.
We purposely quoted the dictionary definitions to get a clearer meaning that is not hearsay. So just from the above analysis, one can conclude that a screenplay is always a script, but a script is not always a screenplay. So does that hold up on the usage of these words in the industry? Let’s find out.
For the most part, a screenplay is for movies and television. It would be the script of the film or TV production, plus the director’s notes, the instructions to the actors in addition to the story line. So think of a screenplay as a script with additions to it.
A script can have a variety of formatting methodologies. However, a screenplay shares a standard format.[iii] In addition, a script is a term that is used before producing the movie or film while a screenplay technically is used for after production as it contains that addition information such as the director’s notes, actors notes and so forth.[iv]
Since human beings tend to want to shorten things up a bit, in reality, before, during and after production, it is the term “script” that is referred to more often. This results in the interchanging use of the terms “scripts” and “screenplay”.
Another way to look at this is that a “screenplay” is always something that is written for the express purpose of being on a screen. This could be a movie or made for TV or even for a computer program to be displayed.
However, a script outside of this medium could also be for a stage production, maybe a radio show, or something similar not meant for a screen. It is in these instances, using the term “screenplay” would be incorrect, as there is no screen.
So, in summary, a screenplay is a script that is narrower in its usage and definition. A script is broader in its definition and usage. Maybe a good analogy would be that a vehicle is a car or a truck. But a car is never a truck. So a script is like a vehicle, can be either a car or a truck. Whereas a car is like a screenplay, but can never be a truck.
We hope this helps. So have fun writing your scripts. We hope they might become specialized into a great screenplay.
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