A retroscripted script contains a plot outline and leaves dialogue deliberately vague for interpretation by the actors through improvisation. It gives realism and characterization to dialogue, and is regularly employed in the improvised situation comedy genre. In this respect it is very similar to the historical medium of Commedia dell'arte.
Contemporary examples of television shows using this technique are Home Movies, The League, 10 Items or Less, Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Trailer Park Boys, Reno 911!, Summer Heights High, Outsider's Inn, as well as films by Christopher Guest.
Some other films that have contained retroscripted segments are Friday Night Lights, The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, District 9 and some of the films of Robert Altman, who was known as an actor's director and referred to a screenplay as merely a "blueprint" for the action. The director John Cassavetes, sometimes known as the "father" of independent film, used retroscripting most notably for his films Husbands (1970) and Faces (1968), although he employed the technique to some degree in most of his films. British director Mike Leigh is known for his method of extensive improvisation with his actors to develop characters and dialogue around a premise. Stanley Kubrick employed retroscripting in his film Dr. Strangelove, incorporating Peter Sellers' ad-libbed lines into the script.
- To capitalize on a late-breaking news story or scandal and make the episode current,
- To censor potentially troublesome or possibly insensitive dialogue. An episode of Desperate Housewives suffered this fate following the passing of the Pope. A line was redubbed from, "You have to hand it to the Catholics. They know how to do grief better than anyone," to, "You have to hand it to Gabby and Carlos. They know how to do grief better than anyone."
- If an actor has repeated trouble with a line or word. In an episode of Star Trek, according to William Shatner, his fellow actor DeForest Kelley had trouble pronouncing an alien creature's name. The creature's name was "Gumato", but Kelley kept saying "Mugato". The monster eventually became officially known as the Mugato.
- To make late changes to the script. In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, LeVar Burton and Brent Spiner originally said the USS Stargazer was a "Constitution-class" starship, but in post-production, it was decided to show a previously unseen class of starship. The dialogue was re-dubbed with the words "Constellation-class," partly due to the similarity of the words constitution and constellation.
- Adult Swim series Rick and Morty, uses retroscripting but mostly for Rick's dialogue, which mostly consists of nonsense and blabbering due to the character's drunken behavior.
Retroscripting is similar to the "Marvel method" of script writing developed by Stan Lee, wherein a rough plot outline is given to the artist to draw, and dialog is added after the artwork is completed. The technique was developed by Lee because the high number of titles he was writing concurrently prevented him from being able to write full scripts for each one.
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