Retro Scripting – What It Is And How It Works

Ever heard of retro script? It is a screenplay writing technique based on a plot outline and heavy improvisation. 

Even though it is not something that the world has ever seen, the concept is unknown to many.

If you’re new to the term and eager to know more about it, you’re in the right place. Let’s find out more about retro scripting!

What Is Retro Script?

Retro Scripting

Retro script is a screenplay writing technique. It is a concept where there’s a plot outline but no fixed dialogues. This means the storyline is fixed, as well the characters. 

Also, the background sceneries, backstory details, and props, these things are pre-determined. 

Learn About: Top 12 Funny Short Film Ideas

But the actors are only bound to a storyline and not an entire dialogue setting. They are supposed to improvise their dialogues as the shoot goes on. 

The Plot Outline

Box plot outline and colors and retro symbols 2524831 Vector Art at Vecteezy

A retro script gives the basic sequence of events but not the complete dialogue setup. It gives a basic overview of what should be put out. There will be a script. 

But rather than having a line-by-line dialogue, it often comes with just the plot outline, and the rest is up to the actors. 


Improvisation and organisational change: How to lead with flexibility and possibility in response to rapid change - 4D Human Being

Improvisation is directly connected to retro script. A retro script does not have actual dialogues put in. Instead, everything is improvised at the time of the shooting.

There’s a plot given, the actor knows the story, but there’s no fixed (in some cases a few fixed) lines or dialogues. So the actor comes up with dialogues on the spot as the shoot or Play proceeds.


List of common resolutions - Wikipedia

As the actors interpret the visions of the script and play their characters by improvising, it can lead to a completely different outcome than what the writer had planned initially.

So for retro script, a writer has to figure out the resolution of the scenes in advance and plan a document with all the details accordingly.

Know More: Anime Female Superhero

How Retro Scripting Works?

How to change text on a hint using scripts! (RETROSTUDIO) - YouTube

Retro script requires improvisation, and improvisation requires faith and trust. And this should come from the actors for the director/scriptwriter and vice versa. 

Being a scriptwriter, if you create a simple outline and hand it over to the director, who is then expected to make it work with the actors, there is a high possibility of this project failing.

For the actors to interpret the characters, they need to know and understand them first. An actor can’t improvise unless she feels what the character wants and how she sees and deals with things. 

To truly work, you’ll need a document, and it has to be detailed in terms of structure, theme, and characters. 

It should contain a backstory for each character so the actors can read and relate to them. Thus they can soulfully portray the characters by interpreting their needs. 

So first, they need to get where the characters are now to feel the same emotions. Then, by knowing where they need to go next, they can start improvising to make it work. 

This is not the case for the story alone, but every scene of the play or drama needs to go through this process. A retro script also needs some conflict between characters. 

Say you have two characters arguing in a scene. If they argue and quickly agree in just a couple of lines, it will look boring.

So there needs to be some agreeing and disagreeing between the characters to make it interesting. The goal can be the same, but achieving it may need some details and supervision.

The writer also needs to identify the resolution of the scenes and plan the structural outcome. When the actors are improvising, one scene can lead to a different scene than what the writer had anticipated. 

He can use dialogue points to direct the actors from one scene to another. This comes incredibly useful if the crew is shooting out of order. 

Another way of making it easier is for the writer to include some starting lines, some middle lines, and a few final lines. The improvisation of the actors can do the rest. 

Key Points Of Retro Script

30+ Brilliant Vintage / Retro Script Fonts for Designers | Decolore.Net

  • Coming up with the plot outline of the story
  • A detailed document containing the character’s backstory
  • Creating a balance of conflict and agreement between characters
  • Determining the resolution of the scenes
  • Determining the structural outcome for each scene
  • Dialogue points for each scene (if needed)
  • Including a few starting lines, middle lines, and ending lines for each scene (if needed)
  • Improvisation of the actors

Highlights Of Retro Script

40+ Bold & Free Script Fonts 2021 | Design Shack

Gives The Actors Freedom

Bhansali gives actors freedom: Gulshan Devaiah | Bollywood News – India TV

Since there’s only a plot and structure outline in it and no specific dialogues, the actors get the freedom to improvise dialogues guided by instinct. 

Scopes For Imagination

Scope for Imagination – Adventures in Reading

In retro script, there’s a lot of scopes for imagination. The actors and the writer too can imagine a scene and not write about it and leave it to the actors to improvise instead. 

The actors can use their freedom and bring the best out of their potentials by using guesswork and imagination.

Gives Realism To The Dialogues

Dialogue Examples: 15 Great Passages of Dialogue, Analyzed

Even if the plot outline and structural outcome are determined beforehand, since most dialogues are being created or invented during the shoot, a retro scripted play had this raw and genuine feel. 

Since the actors themselves create the dialogues, they seem more real and believable.

Promotes Humor

Humor in Psychology: Coping and Laughing Your Woes Away

It is an idea that can create unexpected laugh scenes that make a show more lively and natural. Humor is undoubtedly one of the best ways to engage a large group audience the best way. 

It seems to have many loose ends that the actors can tie up with fresh humoristic dialogues. It has had a huge impact on the comedy genre.

Some Risk Factors

Awareness of Risk Factors May Be the Best Way to Prevent Heart Disease

Low Budget

Scratched Textured LOW BUDGET Stamp Seal Stock Vector - Illustration of distress, blue: 136245211

Often, the budget for a retro scripted film or show is quite low. It’s not that the plan fails because of this, but many find it harder to make everything work. Some films or shorts made it big even on a very low budget. 

An example would be the airtight retro script in Nelson and his crew’s A Maine Movie. It is an incredible $1M worth of movie done for only $75K. 

As unbelievable as it may seem, it is true, and a lot of its credits go to the outstanding retro script that the movie portrays. The shooting of the movie took only a week. 

The Success Rate Is Low

Drive-By Football: Pass Success Rate: Why So Low?

The success rate for retro scripted low-budgeted movies or shorts to make it big in the industry is quite low. 

This is exactly why it is not that frequently seen. Still, many films and dramas included it and drew a lot of audiences. 

For example, Drinking Buddies has a lot of blanks where the improvisation kicked in. 

Joe Swanberg applied the loose scripting structure and heavy improvisation that worked and made the film. The decent performances of the actors are pretty impressive as well.

Requires Really Good Actors

The 50 Best Acting Performances in Movies of the 2010s | IndieWire

From all these analyses, one thing is certain that a film depending on the improvisation of its actors, needs really good actors for the characters to come out perfectly. Heavy improvisation requires skills, and only good and experienced actors can pull this off.

Lower Audience

Screenshot of video audience and the timer (lower right corner). | Download Scientific Diagram

Retro script is not that popular, and so it has a lower audience. This can be a bigger risk for a film that is drawing a big budget. 

Also, since the film is less likely to double the profit, a production house rarely makes enough to spend comparatively more for their upcoming project, so the qualities hardly improve.

Some Final Thoughts On Retro Script

Initially, it may seem like retro scripting is an easy form of the screenplay, but it’s not. So many things can go wrong if the writer doesn’t think things through while creating the script. 

Creating the outline of the story to building characters, and hiring actors require a lot of work.

It may seem easy for the actors as there are no fixed dialogues, but coming up with ideas and making things up in life is not easy. You have to be a professional artist to pull it off. 

This is how mumblecore and many other independent films are done. We tried to cover all there is to know about it and its works in this article. Hope this helps to cater to your interest regarding retro script.

Leave a Comment