Other people’s characters

The last three screenplays I’ve written have been specifically written for people/production companies.

Yay me! What a great position to be in, I don’t have to worry about trying to sell the scripts afterwards, they’ve already got a home.

One of those scripts was for a group of guys I spent five days with in Cannes this year. We’ve already made one film together (THE EVOLVED) and we all get along; I was getting very rough notes and had a relatively free hand to do what I wanted within the framework we’d discussed.


The other two were a little more complex. For one I received very detailed notes, a full back story of the main characters. For the other, there was already a script and I was told they had the cast and the locations ready to go. In other words, in both these cases, the producers/directors had a far better idea of what the characters looked and sounded like than me.

The first hurdle is introducing the character. I don’t know what they look like, how do I include a character description? Okay, so for CHAMELEON, I know what the main star (Zara Phythian) looks like; but no one else.

What’s the problem, I hear you ask? Just leave out the descriptions.

Yeah, I could do that; but what if this script then has to go to a financier? Or another producer gets involved? Or anybody who isn’t involved in the script at this point in the development? It’s horrible reading scripts when the main characters aren’t described in any way. I just read a script where I thought a character was a guy for two pages before he was referred to as a she.

Plus, it just feels weird. It looks like something’s missing on the page, I don’t like it and I feel like I’m not doing my job properly.

The second hurdle is the locations, same problem. I can describe something as a mansion, or a Turkish cafe, but I like to include a little more than that. Not a lot more, I know I’m not writing a novel, but it’s nice to give a little flavour of the scene you see in your mind’s eye.

So what’s the solution? I could contact whoever the scripts are for and get them to describe the characters to me; but that is an awkward conversation which is likely to be met with a confused brush off – ‘What difference does it make? We know what they look like.”

So I didn’t really bother. I tried to add in vague descriptive words which don’t really mean anything, or are so ambiguous they could mean anything.

It rankles though, not a lot, but a little bit; there are now scripts of mine out there somewhere, which aren’t written ‘properly’. People are reading these scripts, actors, crew and anyone else connected with the movie whose jobs I can’t even begin to comprehend.

What if these films suddenly and inexplicably become popular? What if the script is posted on the net? Who knows who will end up reading them? Is there a possibility, however minute, that people could use them as examples in the endless format discussions on writing forums? – “Phill Barron doesn’t describe characters, why do I have to?” 

Okay, so I’m delving into fantasy here, sorry.

The truth is, most of the small number of people who read these scripts probably won’t notice, or care; but I do. They’re reading a sample of my work which isn’t up to scratch and it just feels… jinky.

I don’t think that’s even a real word, but it’s exactly how I feel.

Categories: Industry Musings | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Other people’s characters

  1. Happy xmas, fella.

    Good luck in the Gumball. But slightly less than me.


  2. Cheers, Piers. Same to you.

    My plan is to write a treatment good enough that, even if I don’t get anywhere with Gumball, I can sell the script afterwards.

    Then I’m going to cure cancer, unless there’s something good on the TV.

  3. Damn it, I had curing cancer pencilled in for 7pm tomorrow.

    Ah well, there’s always next year.

    No, hold on, I was going to do World Peace next year.

    I’m sure it’ll all work out.

    So, Doctor Who production team: no pressure, then.

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