What’s the difference between a shooting script and a regular spec / sample script? – Script Consultant UK explains

As the leading UK script consultant and  BAFTA shortlisted script writer for hire I spend a fair amount of time reading and assessing scripts for writers who contact me to use my script reading and script coverage service.

Now, one of my major bugbears and a very common error by scriptwriters learning their craft is not understanding the difference between a shooting script and a regular sample (or spec) script.

This can be confusing for some new writers.   So, I’ll try here to explain it in the most simple terms possible.

The difference between a normal script and a shooting script

A shooting script, is not written by the screenwriter – it’s a detailed technical document put together by the director, DOP and producer (as well as other department heads). 

A shooting script contains tons of info – on the shots, camera set-ups, lighting, costume and even sometimes blocking, as well as the actual scenes in question (and dialogue)   I’ll say this again – this is not a document that the scriptwriter works on.

Its a detailed document to assist in shooting.

Confused about script formatting and shooting scripts

But, newbie scriptwriters still get confused.  So, these two examples below should help you understand more…

I’ve taken a short snippet of a scene from UK soap Emmerdale in this instance (a show I worked on many moons ago).  The first snippet is a normal script (as written by the scriptwriter):

Sample/Spec/Regular format – the document that the scriptwriter delivers:


Zak is eating breakfast at the table.  The front door opens and MANDY barges in.


Bloody hell, the Tate’s have burned the Woolpack down!

That’s it:

Okay, here’s the same quick scene IN SHOOTING SCRIPT FORMAT:


Zak sits at the table. The table cloth is on and Zak has a large full English breakfast in front of him, with HP sauce close by.

Zak is dressed in his jeans and Leeds top.  The radio plays ‘Who let the dogs out’ in the background.

The sun shines across the table and as Zak eats and we hear birds singing in a gentle wind outside.

ANGLE: on Zak as he hears the door suddenly open.   ZAK SPINS to face the door – he’s SHOCKED!

The camera dollies into: Mandy stands in the doorway, a gentle breeze and the morning sunlight behind her.   She’s wearing her black silk dress.

Angle on Mandy as she speaks (her make-up is done in a rush this morning).


Bloody hell, the Tate’s have burned the Woolpack down!


The exact same scene.

The first version is what the scriptwriter delivers (and what the producer, director and actors read).

The second version – with all the extra detail for the crew IS A SHOOTING SCRIPT – Nothing to do with the scriptwriter – far too much unnecessary detail (but needed by the crew and director).


The regular SCRIPT is by the SCRIPTWRITER and doesn’t contain INFO that only the crew needs to know.

Scriptwriters deliver scenes, dialogue, action – we don’t describe lighting cues, or camera angles (or ever in fact mention the camera angles). 

We don’t need to go into details about costume or set design.  THAT’S NOT OUR JOB. So…

Make sure you KNOW which type of script you are supposed to be writing.   SPEC/Sample SCRIPTS DON’T NEED TECH DETAIL – they only contain stuff relevant to the drama. No lighting /editing / blocking / mention of tech terms like ‘split screen’ – no mention of the camera – no mention of music, no mention of lighting, not titles for the show – STOP IT ALREADY.

You’re here to tell the story – not direct the script or light it, or describe in details what the set / costumes look like.

A professional screenplay has A LOT OF BLANK SPACE – the MORE BLANK SPACE the better the script.

Scripts written by screenwriters are sparse documents.  You deliver the drama or comedy – the dialog and the scenes – the characters – NOTHING ELSE.  

There’s more info here from other sites:

Spec Script vs. Shooting Script: Every Single Difference (freshmenscreenplay.com)

What’s a Shooting Script and How Do You Create One? (nofilmschool.com)

5 Key Differences Between Spec and Shooting Scripts | Scriptwrecke

If you’re writing in too much detail – you’re barking up the wrong tree and wasting your time – and the time of the people who will read the script.

A good screenplay is a LOT OF BLANK SPACE.

Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire and UK script consultant for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award-winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer.

His directorial debut, the rubber reality horror thriller ‘Markham was released in 2020, his second feature film as director ‘At The Mountains Of Madness’ hit the screen in 2021. You can find out more about Matthew’s work as a director here.

You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. Matthew is also a  judge in the Page Turner Awards 2022.