Lights, Camera, Slugline? Encoding Screenplays in TEI

Authors: Takeda, Joey / Lines, Sydney / Chapman, Mary

Date: Friday, 8 September 2023, 11:15am to 12:45pm

Location: Main Campus, L 1.202 <campus:note>


The Winnifred Eaton Archive is an accessible, fully searchable, digital scholarly edition of the collected works of Winnifred Eaton Babcock Reeve, an early Chinese Canadian author now best known for the popular Japanese romances she signed “Onoto Watanna” in the early twentieth century. She is less frequently recognized, however, as an important contributor to Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” during which she served as a scenarist and editor for Universal and MGM Studios (Chapman and Lines, 2023). Though Eaton’s involvement with the film industry has received some acknowledgment (such as her role in Universal’s Undertow (1930) and Young Desire (1930), both starring Mary Nolan), the WEA has recently recovered numerous screenplays, scenarios, adaptations, and other cinematic texts written by Eaton in the 1920s and 1930s, which the project has been working to encode, alongside the rest of Eaton’s corpus, in TEI P5 (4.6.0).

Screenplays are complex literary, textual, and bibliographic artifacts that follow strict structural rules and formatting conventions, which began to emerge in Eaton’s era and became formalized by the 1950s through the Writers Guild of America (Price 2013; Johnson 2019). However, while the TEI’s “drama” module (and described in “Performance Texts”) offer a handful of elements for encoding “Other Types of Performance Text” (7.3), there is little sustained attention to the forms and features unique to screenplays and their antecedents (such as scenarios and treatments), and, as such, the project has struggled to capture not only the esoteric textual features of Eaton’s early film manuscripts, but also many of the features now standard to the genre of the screenplay.

This paper will outline some of the standard language and bibliographic features that define the screenplay, its prototypes (such as the photoplay, the continuity, and the scenario), and the various proprietary standards now employed by the screenwriting industry (such as Final Draft XML, Celtx, Adobe Story XML, Fountain, and FadeIn). As we will suggest, Eaton’s various texts—such as continuity scripts, scenarios, and screenplays—serve as a rich example of the complex textual history of the screenplay as a distinct genre that require more nuanced encoding mechanisms than the format-centric proprietary ones listed above can offer, but which the TEI, in its current state, cannot accommodate. Drawing on our work in encoding Eaton’s film texts, we will describe the project’s customizations for encoding screenplays and outline possibilities for refining the TEI’s Performance module to better capture the nature of screenplays as a complex genre of dramatic text in its own right.


Chapman, Mary, and Sydney Lines (2023). “The first Asian screenwriter in Hollywood’s 1920s ‘dream factory,’ Winnifred Eaton, challenged its racism.” The Conversation, 10 April.

Johnson, Kevin R. (2019) The Celluloid Paper Trail: Identification and Description of Twentieth Century Film Scripts. Oak Knoll Press.

Price, Steven (2013). A History of the Screenplay. Palgrave Macmillan.

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