my 2nd year directing class under the instruction of Janos Kovacsi was a life-changing experience. Janos gave a lot of wonderful instruction, a lot of which i have shared with my students over the years, and now hope to share here with my readers.
one of the best tools i learned from my time at NCSA was the director’s worksheet. in this post, i’ll explain the worksheet, give you an example, and links to some downloads.
much of what i learned about directing i attribute to Janos, but don’t hold that against him. because these are not my ideas, these tools are being offered freely to you for your personal use.
the director’s worksheet
the director’s worksheet is a tool for interpreting a written work, and i’ve found it invaluable as a director and as a writer. as a director, it has helped me understand the inner workings of a scene to communicate these motivations to my cast. as a writer, it has helped me get at the core of scene and characters, often to problem-solve why a scene or sequence isn’t working, often to figure out where to go next.
here’s the basic worksheet:
relationships with other characters:
conflict with other characters:
verbs within the scene:
script title, written by, directed by are all self-explanatory.
page # should be the current script page number. be sure to update this if the script is not locked when initially filling out the director’s worksheet.
you will have a unique worksheet for every scene in your film. yet, scene # should only be filled in when there are locked production scene numbers, so as to correspond with other production documents. if there are no locked scene numbers yet, it’s best to leave this blank for now and rely on the scene slug below.
replace SCENE SLUG with the scene slug line from script, “INT. HOUSE – DAY”, e.g. this is particularly necessary if there are no production scene numbers yet; you can use slug + page number to associate this sheet with the correct scene in the case of duplicate slugs.
replace scene description with a brief description of the scene for reference. it’s always a good idea to read the scene two or three times before filling out the worksheet. you should be familiar enough with the scene to come up with this description without having to look at the script.
the items in the story section will be the same for the entire screenplay, so just copy & paste with each new worksheet.
the theme will usually be one word — greed, love, revenge, addiction, etc. it is the vehicle by which the moral message below is delivered throughout the entire story. in some way, nearly every major aspect of the story will relate to this theme.
the moral message is simply the moral of the story. usually it will be a sentence — a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, don’t bite the hand that feeds you, etc. this is what you want the audience to leave the theater with above all else.
before beginning to fill out this part of the worksheet, copy & paste the whole section for each character in the scene, replacing “character name” with the name of the character. i would recommend doing this for even minor characters, as complex motivations make those featured extras and day-player roles really fill out your world and feel less like a script device.
the super-objective is the central, deepest, core objective of the character. if you imagine the entire real-world lifespan of your character, this will be formed in them sometime during their early childhood development. it will remain in them unchanged for the rest of their life and drives every other more specific objective they may have.
common super-objectives would be “to be loved”, “to be respected”, “to live life on one’s own terms”. some would say that, with rare exception, it’s only those three. others have a looser interpretation of super-objective. the main principle is that it is the deep core of all the character’s motivations, even outside the current story. in very rare instances, a major tragedy or change may come to a character’s life and change his/her super-objective, but this is extremely rare.
i’ve been asked before if the super-objective must always be such a self-serviing central goal. i’d have to say yes to this, because even in the case of truly noble characters, their inner struggle often comes in overcoming personal struggles with selfish desires over what is right or true or truly good.
consider Jesus of Nazareth as a character, for example — Someone often seen as having the purest and most selfless of motives throughout His entire story. even He was tempted in the desert at the beginning of his hero’s journey, with Satan appealing to His desires to be filled, to be Lord, to be Savior. during this time of temptation, Jesus fought against temptation to achieve these goals in righteous ways — being filled with the Spirit, being Lord by being a servant, and being a Savior through ultimate sacrifice.
these goals are not selfish, in the connotation of the term. but they are HIS goals, and His actions and Words are motivated from His desires. it’s not that the super-objective is necessarily selfish (though i contend in 98%+ of the cases, it will be, especially for main characters), but that a self can only see the world through his own eyes and experiences. therefore all motivations, selfish or otherwise, are manifested in the self (though they may come from God or human nature or what have you).
the story objective is the main goal of this character confined only to the pages of this story (novel, film, stageplay). story and super-objectives will be the same throughout the screenplay, so you can just copy & paste from sheet to sheet.
the scene objective is the character’s goal in this particular scene. it motivates all actions and dialogue in the current scene, and is informed by the story and super-objectives.
relationships with other characters gets into bio and backstory of the characters — family relationships, romantic relationships, have they met, under what circumstances, nature of friendship, etc. these will not be used on every sheet, but will be reused often — every time the same two characters are in a scene together — so copy & paste as needed. these should be brief reminders; you should have more extensive character notes elsewhere.
conflict with other characters should include both story-wide conflicts with characters as well as conflicts specific to the counteracting goals within this particular scene. both spans of conflict affect and change motivations in the current scene.
like conflict with characters, personal, psychological inner conflicts will range from story-wide or super-objective-type conflicts as well as specific conflicts within a scene. interpersonal conflict and inner conflict will be your biggest motivators when you come to line-by-line, action-by-action direction of actors on set. as a writer, this is where your subtext lies.
verbs within the scene is simply what it says. it should be all action verbs, primarily from the actual screenplay, and should be in the order in which they occur — open, punch, sit, run, scrub, fold, etc. this will help you take the deep subtext of the rest of this sheet and connect it to the active business of your characters. it is here that the subtext and motivations break out into visual patterns. it is mostly by what the audience can SEE that they will understand the truth.)
here’s a scene from a short script i wrote called Sunrise.
story and script © parabolos 2012
these are offered for you own personal use and personal education only. please do not copy, distribute, or produce derivative works without express written permission.
EXT. CAMP SITE – NIGHT
DAVID ZACHARY (24) throws a rope over a tree branch. He misses. Again. Miss. Again. Made it. He grabs the swinging free end of the rope and pulls it as a garbage bag slowly lifts into the air. Halfway up, the bottom bursts, and water and garbage fall to the ground making a mess and splattering mud everywhere.
David dismisses the whole scene with a wave of his hand as he walks towards a small pup tent.
INT. PUP TENT – NIGHT
David enters the tent, soaking wet. His wife, MICHELLE (22), sits up in her sleeping bag.
Hey, cowboy. Could you drip the other way please?
Hey, I’m not the one who wanted to put up the garbage.
I was just joking with you. What is your problem?
My problem? My problem is I’m soaking wet.
David starts to get undressed.
I just want to get out of these clothes.
For your information, if you don’t put the garbage up like that, it will attract bears.
There’s no bears around here.
Yes, there are. Becky and Barry said that–
You know, since when Becky and Barry become the outdoors experts. I thought they lived in Cordova.
Well, they do a lot of outdoorsy stuff.
Oh yeah? Like what? Like riding the trolley? Their idea of roughing it is going to Millington.
Michelle folds her arms. David continues to undress. Then he notices.
What? Oh, come on.
David sits beside her.
Look, I’m sorry. I’m just really irritated right now. I’m soaking wet, the trash bag broke,…
Yeah, it filled up with water and wouldn’t hold the weight. I’ll take care of it in the morning.
But the bears will–
Enough about the bears. Trust me, there’s only one animal dumb enough to fool with garbage out in the rain.
Michelle stares at him. He runs his hand through her hair.
I’ll pick it up in the morning, okay? It’ll be fine.
David kisses her on the neck. She smiles a little. He kisses her again. He turn her face toward his. He’s about to kiss her lips when:
You’re getting my sleeping bag wet.
David sighs and gets over to his sleeping bag where he continues to change clothes. Michelle rolls over away from him to go back to sleep.
here is my particular interpretation of this scene. yours may differ. this worksheet is offered as a resource for seeing how the worksheet is used practically. the sheet will regard scene 2 in the above excerpt.
INT. PUP TENT – NIGHT
theme: seeing. (it’s hard to know this from this point in the story, but the rest of the story, in a very literal way, uses what is seen as a metaphor for what is unseen. like these two characters cannot see eye to eye, one cannot see the other’s feelings, etc.)
moral message: warmth comes from within. (again, without knowing the ending of this story, it would be impossible to know this. but the idea of the short is that the couple’s surface goals for going on a camping trip masked what should have been the true goal, which is to spend time in personal intimacy with each other, to know each other. this is a lesson they learn by the end — that the whole purpose of a trip like this is to cast off all of those outer things that are seen, and gather around the warmth of deeper, unseen things. thus the use of seeing as a theme.)
super-objective: to be respected
story objective: to be seen as a man
scene objective: David wants to be the decision-maker.
relationships with other characters: David is Michelle’s husband of three years.
conflict with other characters: David & Michelle’s relationship has been strained lately. This attempt to reconnect was initiated and planned by Michelle, and David is determined to take some control of the weekend in order to be the pants-wearer.
inner conflict: David doesn’t want to hurt Michelle’s feelings, but this is split between his true desire to not hurt her and his personal desire for getting to the more physical part of the evening. David wants to fulfill his wife’s expectations regarding the chores and schedule, including in the tent, but constantly being told what to do has been getting on his nerves for weeks.
super-objective: to be loved
story objective: to improve her marriage
scene objective: Michelle wants everything to go right tonight to ensure a perfectly romantic evening together.
relationships with other characters: Michelle is David’s wife of three years.
conflict with other characters: David & Michelle’s relationship has been strained lately. Michelle has initiated and planned this trip as a way of spending time alone and away from their busy suburban schedules, specifically David’s work, to which Michelle feels David devotes too much time at the expense of their life at home. David believe it’s how he provides for and supports his wife.
inner conflict: Michelle loves her husband but doesn’t feel that he loves her in return, at least not in the same ways. she doesn’t want to be seen as a nag or uncharming, but she does want to see certain things happen this weekend and has taken steps to ensure intimacy.
verbs within the scene: enters, sits up, undresses, folds her arms, notices, sits, stares, runs his hand through her hair, kisses, smiles, sighs, moves over, rolls away, sleeps
these rich-text formatted files (inside the .zips) import great into Scrivener (my screenwriter of choice), but can be used in pretty much any other word processor.
i’ve also provided PDFs of the scene and sample worksheets included here as resources for you. as with all of my resources provided on this blog, they are subject to copyright protection. please do not copy, distribute, or produce derivative works without written permission. they are for your personal use and education only.
if you would like to use any of these materials in an education or production setting, please use the contact box on the right sidebar to get in touch with me, and i’d be glad to assist you.
and here’s all four in one .zip file:
i hope you have found this look at the director’s worksheet useful. if so, please share this link with others you think can benefit. while content must be sacred and protected, we should all share our processes when we can. it helps us all make better films.