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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What Does Your Script Want to Be When it Grows Up?

Sometimes I read a script and I just can't draw a bead on what kind of story it is at all. It has funny, violent, profane and poignant elements. I'm not talking about a sophisticated script like AMERICAN BEAUTY which had all of those elements, I'm talking about - oh, what's the metaphor? - lumpy cake batter. Where these disparate elements aren't working because it doesn't feel like the writer him or herself really knew exactly what this story wants to be.

If you're writing a script to produce yourself or to get indy funding for, then I encourage you, by all means, to write a complex, nuanced story with lots of interesting elements. Those are some of my favorite movies. But if you're writing your script to break in to the Hollywood mainstream - whether that means a competition or querying representation - your script does need to have a unity and connectedness on the pages. In other words, if you've got a PG-13 comedy, you really might rethink the beating the woman gets in the third act - with a pipe wrench. Rouge Wavers - am I kidding? Do I make this stuff up? No. I do not. That is a real example.

It's a good idea, as you're formulating your premise to be able to definitely articulate answer to these questions:

What genre is this script?
What rating would it get?
Who is the audience for this script?
Is this a Friday night opener or a Sunday matinee?
How would this story do with foreign audiences?
How does this story speak to the zeitgeist?

There are so many skills to learn when writing scripts. And you never stop learning. And so many elements to do and do well. Just don't forget one of the most elemental things - no, no, not just effing entertain me - which is okay probably THE most elemental thing - but don't forget to be clear with yourself: what, exactly, is this script? A comedy? Horror? Drama? R-rated? PG-13? What is the story you're telling? Be clear to yourself and it will be clear on the pages.

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2 comments:

Lucy said...

SO TRUE!!! I read so many scripts where the story is not clear. Luckily for me, my clients are for the most part cool about this when I write their coverage, pointing it out... But every now and again some scribe will query your ability as a reader to understand their story which really irritates me. It would seem there are many writers out there who will not always take responsibility for their own communication and when it goes awry.

Geena said...

Contest success requires drawing a straight flush of 5 people in a row who
understand the story. An stellar achievement to be admired. I don't think slicing off
a cops ear, a deaf girl wandering Tokyo, or even the sequences in the Departed would be
able to draw that straight flush. Little Miss is fairly straightforward, most action scripts
are clear from the start on who's the hero. Cut me and throw me in the shark tank if
I'm wrong, but you break in with vanilla, then they'll eat your Skittles.