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Visualizing Action Description (with Arielle Rosenstein and Trey Buongiorno)

If you came from my last post, you now know some of the basics of how to write with the screen in mind.

But as a director or artist, how do you take a screenplay and turn it into a movie?

I asked two incredible storyboard artists on Bad Guys 2 for their insight!

Let's get into it!

Trey Buongiorno and Arielle Rosenstein are super talented storyboard artists with years of experience in both television and features.

Whenever I see what they do with the scenes they're given for our movie, I'm always blown away by the creativity and humor they use to portray the story!

So I asked them, what do you do first when you're assigned a scene to board?


"I read through the script once for enjoyment/tone.

Try to ascertain the writer's intention for the type of scene it is. If there's no intention, you have to find the flavor of the scene yourself. If there is an intention, you'll feel it as you read. 

Then, I usually read through the second time with execution in mind, and start visualizing shots according to the scene's intention."


"The most important thing is knowing where a character is at in their emotional arc at that point in the film.

Once I know that, I try to identify the point of the scene. What's driving it forward? Where is it going?"

Notice how neither of them is too concerned with the specific details of the action description, even though they will be drawing the scene?

Because the artist's job is to bring the story to life, not to execute exact directions in the screenplay.

So for an artist, how do you add that flavor to a scene without specific instructions in a script?


"I think about what I know about the characters and how they would act in any given moment.

The scene could be about someone ordering a coffee. But the way Wolf would order coffee is different from how Piranha would.

Piranha would get into a fight with another customer.

Wolf would steal the barista's heart."

"I use those key traits about the characters to figure out what sort of business they can do in the scene. This is what adds humor or drama to any moment, beyond just what the characters say.

It's not so much about the details on the page, but the ones I create from the information provided.

As artists, we are a vessel to channel the spirit of the characters."

That's exactly right.

Although a writer may have a very clear idea for the exact delivery of a line of dialogue or the little mannerisms a character would do in any moment, it's best to leave the specifics to the person whose job it is to capture the essence of the character.

They can give you something magical you never could've imagined yourself.

My next question to the artists was: "Can you tell just by looking at the script that a scene will run long or otherwise not work very well? What are the warning signs?"


"Most of the time it's clear, and it usually falls on too much action description (or too little).

Sometimes a scene won't work because the writer is just moving the plot along instead of thinking about entertainment value.

But as a story artist, that's something I see as my job to bring to the script's execution.

Some common warning signs of a scene that doesn't work are:

  • The scene's point of view is lacking

  • The scene features too much talking or relies on heavy dialogue to be funny

  • The scene has an unclear tone 

And these are all more common than you might think."

I completely agree with Trey -- even in great movies, you're likely to see scenes that suffer from these exact issues.

i went over how to identify weak scenes like Trey mentioned in my last post on how to make smart revisions to your script!

Arielle had a similar answer:

"When I see overwriting, I know there's a problem. This could be either really long lines of dialogue, or too much back and forth in conversation.

As far as action description, if there are too many parameters I would need to adhere to, I know the writer is likely compensating for lack of a clear drive or purpose in the scene."

Arielle also gave me an amazing quote that expresses so simply everything I've written in my last few blog posts:

"If the scene is difficult to follow on the page, it will be difficult to follow on screen."

I could stop now with that killer quote and end this post with a bang...

But because I thoroughly enjoy talking to people about things that annoy them, I asked Trey and Arielle what some of their pet peeves in action description are.


"Oh god. Overwritten dialogue, jokes on top of jokes, too rigid/detailed action, too many pages, too vague / no vision. Need more?"


"Description that's much longer or shorter than the action would last.

'and then THEY FIGHT!' is not helpful or descriptive enough.

But also being overly specific in choreography (character A punches character B twice before kicking him into the wall) is equally unhelpful.

What does work is describing the audience experience as it pertains to the story. (character A seems to have the upper hand for a while, but character B keeps getting back up!)"

Okay, now that we've had our fun, i WILL end this post with a bang.

Arielle said something profound that I think will resonate with all you creative people out there:

"Don't be too precious with your material. Once your work leaves your mind, it's no longer part of you."

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1 Comment

Apr 21

So cool! I didn’t know anything about animation but now I do.

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