What Is a Movie Transcript?

by Christopher John

Movies are a visual medium that communicates with action, scenery, words and sounds. A movie transcript contains only one element from a movie -- the dialogue. It is not the same thing as a movie screenplay, which is used to make a movie. A transcript is constructed after the movie itself is already completed.

What's In a Transcript?

A movie dialogue transcript is basically the same as a transcript for a television show, such as a news program or interview. It only lists the words that are spoken by the different characters within the movie, in the order in which they are spoken. In a dialogue transcript, there is no listing of where the characters are, or the context of their words. Other movie transcripts go one step further and include a brief description of the setting, or mention what the characters are doing.

Transcripts Versus Screenplays

A screenplay is a blueprint for a movie, compared to a transcript, which is a retelling of what happened or was spoken. Also, a professional screenplay follows a specific format, with established positions on the page for the scene headings, character names, dialogue, action and descriptions. The most noticeable difference between a screenplay and a transcript is that the transcript lacks any scene headings, which tell the reader where and when the scene takes place, or any descriptions of the characters, and everything is left-justified. Setting and time in a screenplay is given in a slugline, followed by the screenplay narrative, which vividly describes the characters, action and scene details - all items that are usually left out of transcripts.

Making a Transcript

Transcripts are normally written by someone who watches the finished movie, and transcribes, sometimes painstakingly, exactly what each character speaks. If you compare a movie's screenplay to its transcript, you often find many differences, especially in what is spoken. Dialogue is frequently altered as the story transforms from a screenplay to an actual movie, with actors, directors or even others making tweaks and updates to what is spoken.

Who Uses a Transcript?

Because a transcript is not used in the making of a movie, it's value is often as a tool for screenwriters, aspiring or professional, to study dialogue from other movies. Unless you have watched a movie beforehand, you have no idea who each character is, or why they say what they do. Therefore, movie buffs who want to relive a movie in literary form, or who appreciate the strong, witty or unusual dialogue of certain movies, may enjoy reading the transcript.

About the Author

Totally immersed in the pursuit of writing, I am currently writing a screenplay. My unyielding curiosity keeps me reading about a varied landscape of topics to grow more informed.