Monthly Archives: August 2014

Hi-tech vs. State of the Art

There is no point to this picture

Which is better?

Do they mean the same thing?

Can I arbitrarily choose one over the other?

Does it actually matter?

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Well … yes, it does. The knock on effect of one over the other is an entire page of script and several hours more work.

By the way, this post is really fucking whiny. If you’re having a good day, don’t bother reading this – it’s all a bit pointless.

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There’s that odd point in a script’s life where everyone loves it. It’s done. We’ve spent months heading down numerous blind alleys and years tweaking it as new people come and go from the project and opportunities rise and fall.

Yes, if it goes into production then there’ll be continuous fire-fighting as we try to match the budget or cope with the usual strops, disasters, incompetence, death and just general misfortune … but for now, the script is as good as it’s going to get.

Except for that one lone voice, somewhere in the production tangle, who decides the script is too long. It needs to be under so many pages. Needs to be.

Personally, I’ve never met the people who say this because it always come to me through a third party – the pronouncement comes down from on high and suddenly the script needs to be trimmed.

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My first drafts are always under 110 pages (well, nearly always … except when they’re not) because I control exactly what I’m putting in there. Second drafts are usually shorter because I hate everything I put in the first draft. Third draft onwards stuff keeps getting added – we need this scene and we want this actor who wants to do this and we’ve got this location which we MUST use and someone’s lent us a Ferrari so we need that in there somewhere. Oh and we need a sex scene. Preferably in the Ferrari … but with a towel down.

And so on.

The script gets longer for a bit, then it gets shorter for a bit and finally it balances out somewhere in the mid hundred-and-teens.

Then the “under x number of pages” bomb gets dropped. As it always does, even when the script is already lean and everyone agrees that everything in the script is absolutely essential to the story.

Obviously half of the absolutely essential stuff won’t get filmed because the actors on the day will have a ‘better’ idea, but at the moment it all seems essential.

There’s just too much essential stuff, can I fix it?

I hate this point in the script, it’s a fucking moronic request because I’m not going to make it shorter by cutting anything expensive or time-consuming … I’m going to make it shorter by cheating.

This script will magically lose five to ten pages without actually losing anything worthwhile. It won’t be cheaper to make or quicker to film, it will be exactly the same film … just have less pages.

That’s why it’s fucking moronic.

I don’t blame anyone, I’m not calling anyone a fucking moron … I’m just pointing out the accepted wisdom on what page count actually means in terms of screentime/budget really just means a day or two of pointless fiddling for me.

This always felt impossible when I first started – how can you trim five to ten pages from a script without changing it?

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Well, now I can. I’m sure everyone has their own tricks, but basically I just try to kill all the widows and orphans.

Get rid of them. Every single fucking one. No block of dialogue nor piece of action can have even one word slipping onto the next line. I hate doing this with dialogue, so I’ll do it with action first – if that’s not enough, then I go back through with a dialogue pass.

Frequently I can get away with just tweaking the right-hand margin by one character. Weirdly, if I do this to the whole script, say move the global dialogue margin one space to the right … then it’s immediately noticeable. It all just looks wrong and people can tell I’ve cheated.

One of the first things I do when I get a Final Draft script from someone else is put the margins back to where they should be so I can see how long the script actually is. But one space here and there, now and then … it’s less noticeable. Practically undetectable in fact. Two spaces stand out a mile, one space … yeah, fine.

If I’ve used an ellipsis to end dialogue or action then I’m not so bothered – that can run three or four spaces out and it’s not really a problem. To me. Other opinions are available.

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If that’s not enough (and it’s surprising how much space I can reclaim) then I might have to delete a word or two or comb through the thesaurus for a similar word which is one or two characters shorter.

I try to get the first line (of whatever, dialogue, action … sometimes even scene headings) of page 2 onto page 1. There’s always a way, somehow. Then I do the same for the first line of page 3 (onto page 2, not page 1 – that would be fucking weird) and so on. Every page HAS to have the first line on the preceding page.

Except when it’s impossible. Then I don’t bother.

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Sadly, among the first casualties are the bits which make reading the script easier. Passages like:

He shoots …

 

Misses.

 

She shoots …

 

Misses.

 

Reload! Reload! Hurry the fuck up! Reload!

 

She drops her powder – oh shit.

 

Triumphant, he snaps his pistol closed, takes careful aim …

 

… sneers …

 

… and …

 

… the escaped Bolivian rhino smashes through the wall, charges straight over him and tramples him into strawberry jam.

Become:

He shoots … Misses.

 

She shoots … Misses.

 

Reload! Reload! Hurry the fuck up! Reload!

 

She drops her powder – oh shit!

 

Triumphant, he snaps his pistol closed, takes careful aim … sneers … and … the escaped Bolivian rhino smashes through the wall, charges straight over him and tramples him into strawberry jam.

Or maybe:

He shoots … Misses. She shoots … Misses.

 

Reload! Reload! Hurry the fuck up! Reload!

 

She drops her powder. He snaps his pistol closed, takes careful aim … sneers … and … the escaped Bolivian rhino smashes through the wall, charges straight over him and tramples him into a gooey mess.

Or in extreme cases.

They shoot, miss and scramble to reload. She drops her powder. He snaps his pistol closed, aims … and is flattened by a charging rhino.

Now the last sentence is probably better being shorter. The spacing of the first bits just makes it all a bit worse. And that’s my problem with this process – I’m not making it cheaper or more tightly written, I’m just making it a little bit worse for no real reason.

Michelle

Because of the way Final Draft (and probably other programs) clumps action or dialogue together, a small change on page 1 can make a HUGE change at the end of the script. In my last script, saving one line on page 1 dragged an action block up from page 2 which knocked on all the way through the script until it moved ALL of page 106 onto page 105. All of it. An entire page of action and dialogue moved to the requisite 105 pages by changing four words:

State of the Art into Hi-Tech.

Saving those nine characters cuts off an entire page of script. Not just one line which had spilled onto page 106, but an entire pageful of text.

And everyone’s happy.

Lipton

Everyone except me.

and

Because I like the phrase STATE OF THE ART more than I like the phrase HI-TECH. Same all the way through – I originally chose all those words and pacing for a reason. The script is now shorter, but it reads worse as a result.

Does it matter?

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Maybe. Maybe the short, truncated rhythm will put readers off. Maybe it won’t. In the end, if the film gets made, no one will ever know … but, damn it, the script is my art form. It’s what I produce. The film is my work filtered through the minds of a small army of creatives. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. But the script … that’s mine and I’m forced to make it (slightly) worse to please people who think the page count is somehow important. Which it isn’t.

Not really.

Piers

But the myth persists and as long as people believe it, I’ll continue to spend hours staring at every page in the vague hope I can delete a preposition or remove a punctuation mark without removing all meaning.

Writing – occasionally it’s hard work.

Beckley

 

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings, Sad Bastard, Someone Else's Way | 2 Comments

Stupid script readers

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All script writers instinctively know that all script readers are failed writers.

It’s just a fact.

Not a true fact, but a fact all the same.

We also know that all script readers are fucking imbeciles who wouldn’t understand how a story works if we explained it with graphs and slides and diagrams and possibly even a cute, animated cartoon character.

This too is a fact. Despite being completely wrong.

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How can it be a fact and be wrong at the same time?

It can’t, you fucking idiot … and it’s not. Those statements are true/wrong at different times.

Script readers are imbecilic, know-nothing wannabe-writers … immediately after reading their notes and for about an hour or so afterwards. Possibly more, depending on how right their notes actually are. After that, there’s a gradual dissolve from being wrong/stupid to being right/annoying.

Sometimes they’re even embarrassingly right.

Even when they are genuinely wrong about something, the fact they’re wrong about it is important.

Let’s say a moronic script reader (for I have just read his/her notes and am near blind with rage) has completely and utterly missed the point of something I’ve written. Ten pages of their twelve page report is going on and fucking on about how the script fails to properly address something I haven’t even fucking mentioned and didn’t intend to.

7TKxd

They’ve read the script, wrongly assumed two guys are having an affair with each other and then further assumed that it’s woefully unclear that they are having an affair when they’re fucking not.

Fucking.

Each other.

“The writer needs to bring the affair more to the front,” they witter “if the audience are to understand the emotional implications for all concerned.”

“Perhaps there’s more to be mined from exploring how the men feel about their affair given the prevailing homophobic sentiments of that organisation at that point in history?” they’ll chunter on and fucking on.

“Maybe,” they’ll ramble, in an endless fucking stream of pointless fucking wrongness “the dual protagonists should get caught? Since the main strand of the movie is the consequences of their actions, this might help lift the dramatic question out of the murk and … ”

Blah, blah, fucking blah.

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There aren’t even any fucking men in this script! They’re all women! And none of them are having an affair! Not with each other or anyone else! The reason the consequences of their actions are not mined more is because there are no fucking consequences of their fucking actions because they’re not fucking fucking! Why the fuckity fuck can you not see that?

Ah, finally, a sensible question.

Why can’t they see it? Why do they think there are men in this script who are having an affair?

Instead of assuming stupidity, let’s assume this is a well-educated, well-read, intelligent individual who, for some reason, has misunderstood the point I’m trying to get across.

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Why?

That’s what’s important here.

I could rail against them and their inability to comprehend simple fucking English. I could decide they’re just too fucking stupid to read my script … but the fact remains, whether they’re smart or dumb … they misunderstood my script.

That means my script can be misunderstood.

downloadBy anyone.

Possibly by everyone.

This will never do.

If this script reader, no matter their qualifications, experience or ability, has made this mistake then maybe everyone else will?

Maybe calling one woman Ashley and the other Sam was a mistake? Maybe there’s some line somewhere which is ambiguously worded which will confuse the fuck out of everyone who reads the script? Maybe there’s nothing wrong with the script, but some of the people who read it are bringing their own opinions/baggage and assuming things to be true which weren’t intended?

Whatever the reason, something probably needs to be fixed.

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Even, and this is probably rare, even if the script reader is a fucking moron … the script still needs to be fixed so that no one else will ever make the same mistake.

Maybe that means underlining the introduction of the two women, ASHLEY and SAM? Maybe it means picking more feminine names? Maybe it means combing through for words like affair or longing or desire and deleting/changing them?

The problem as I see it is less one of misunderstanding and more one of miscommunication – I haven’t communicated the idea properly and if one person has gotten the wrong interpretation then so might the next. And the next. And the next … because, at the end of the day, I have no control over the IQ of the people reading my script and even the smartest people make mistakes … especially when it’s not crystal clear to begin with.

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I can’t choose whose desk this does or doesn’t land on – all I can do is try to make sure it’s clear, simple and moron proof.

Which is tricky when (possibly) the stupidest person reading it is the moron who wrote it in the first place.

Chimpanzee_seated_at_typewriter

Categories: Industry Musings, Random Witterings | 2 Comments

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