My blog has moved!

You will be automatically redirected to the new address. If that does not occur, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


What is “business” on your script page? Well, that’s short for “stage business” and that’s an old-fashioned term which means folding laundry, opening a coke, answering the phone, stacking the mail, hanging up the dishtowel – all those little actions. Because movies are not real life – they are real life condensed, compressed and put under an entertaining spotlight, we don’t show a fraction of the “business” that goes on in real life when we write our scripts. Add up everything you did in the past 30 minutes. You made coffee or tea, you had your morning ritual, you chose your clothing, you made your bed (or not) you got into the car to go to work, you greeted the guy in the parking lot….a lot of business. And let’s be honest – it ain’t that fascinating, is it? So in movies – we skip over most of that stuff so we can get to the good part.

The word “business” is by definition negative, in fact. If someone comments on the “business” in your scene – they are not complimenting you, they are saying, in essence, that your action lines are cluttered, with too much going on. If what’s going is distracting and doesn’t add depth or meaning from a thematic or character standpoint – your action lines will be labeled “business”. If what’s going on adds a layer of depth and flows seamlessly, it won’t be mentioned at all. But it will be appreciated.

In other words, one writer throws in that the character brushes his teeth, then flosses then uses mouthwash. Somehow, it’s not working, it doesn’t feel organic, it feels like it was bedtime and the writer figured they better show bedtime ritual. Another writer chose consciously to show this character get ready for bed because it illuminates him in an amusing or otherwise elucidatory way. It’s not well, it’s bedtime, I have to fill page space by showing him get ready for bed. It’s – check out the way this guy gets ready for bed. And watch that tooth floss. It's going to come back later in the story...

Every single word you write in your script is scrutinized for meaning. If you have two characters discussing something in a scene and one character gets up in the midst of that scene, answers the phone and tells the dry cleaner that if they can’t get the stain out of the dress they should just toss it – I am going to wonder why that just happened and I am going to try to assign some meaning to it. Because nothing in a script is accidental. Yes, in real life, quite often our conversations are punctuated with the UPS man’s arrival or opening bills or kicking the fridge door shut. Because real life continues to go on around us and we just swim in it as we try to achieve our larger goals. But in movies, everything flows into the story.

If you have a character kick the fridge door shut we then would ask of that scene: did they just get a beer out? Or a chocolate pie? Is there a magnet on the fridge that falls off after the kick-shut and the magnet says: Eat to live? In other words choose actions very consciously. Choose your actions to make a point. Yes, I know that in real life people scratch and move a dishtowel and doodle. But in movies, I don’t care. Unless it matters. So if you show your character doodle, I am going to watch that carefully for some kind of meaning. And if it ain’t there – now I wonder why you wasted the gesture.

New writers tend to write a scene and think well, I’ve got to make this more life-like and add a phone call, a dog bark or some laundry folding and mail sorting because my two characters can’t just sit there and statically talk. True enough, they can’t just sit there and statically talk. Unless you’ve written MY DINNER WITH ANDRE and what they are saying is so brilliant that you can get away with the minimalist action of ordering more wine or espresso.

What are you characters doing in each scene? What is going on around them? Look for a balance of adding that layer of the reality of their world versus simply giving your character something to do so they don’t sit still. If you’re just not sure – write the dialogue in the scene, move on and come back to it. Don’t add actions simply so they are there. It’s okay to come back and then add a layer that you couldn’t think of in the moment.

Make every scene count, make every word count, make every action count. Otherwise – it’s just business.

If you enjoyed this post, follow me on Twitter or subscribe via RSS.

No comments: