OBSERVATIONS OF A SCRIPT READER (2012)


By now, I had meant to do more entries in my series about issues I’ve been running across while reading screenplays for coverage and script consultation, but I got behind and am only now doing my second one. So, so sorry to be so sluggish. This particular column might seem a tad trivial, but it will focus on the use of two words I’ve seen crop up over and over again over the past couple of years, the use of which strike me as rather odd (if not maddening). The first one is “ironic” or “ironically” and the second is “smirk”.

I am constantly running across dialog in which the actor is instructed to say something “ironically’. I have to be honest. I have absolutely no idea what that means or how you say something ironically. I suspect that they mean “sarcastically”, “tongue in cheek”, “dryly” or something akin to that. This may be a generational thing and perhaps those younger than me have an idiomatic or slang use of the word that I’m unfamiliar with.

However, that is not the only use of the word that puzzles me. More and more, I’m running across narrative in which someone is described as “wearing a shirt ironically” or “has an ironic hair style”. I really, truly have no idea what this means. But even more importantly perhaps when it comes to writing a screenplay, that is not an action. From an audience stand point (and certainly from a reader’s standpoint), a character can’t do something or wear something or have a style of dress that is ironic (in the opening scene of The Social Network, when Zuckerberg is accused of wearing sandals and socks ironically, no one in the audience would have come to that conclusion without the line of dialog).

The second word is “smirk”. I have seen this crop up for a number of years as a synonym for smile. At least I think that’s how it’s being used. But “smirk” is a smile that is derisive or superior in some way. All smirks are smiles, but not all smiles are smirks. But when I see it used, it is used by a character in which the attitude isn’t remotely derisive. At first I thought “smirk” was being used in this way because English was a second language for the author of the screenplay since the stories took place in another country or were about characters who were immigrants. But more and more, it’s being used anywhere and everywhere.

It is possible that it is being used because of the recent advice that is constantly cropping up about not employing “neutral” or “bland” words in the narrative (i.e., not “run”, but “dashes” or “zooms”—I will have a column about this in the future). Maybe some writers feel “smile” is too bland and want to spice up their narrative. But whatever the reason, it really causes a disconnect when I read since it is constantly being used incorrectly.

So in conclusion, don’t use “ironic” or “ironically”, ever. If you mean to use it in place of “sarcastically” or a word like that, don’t; use “sarcastically”. In the same way, don’t use “smirk” unless the person is giving a smug, derisive smile. Otherwise just use “smile”.

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: a discussion on facebook


Before you start writing a story you should already have a cast of characters, some of which you had to completely fabricate. I have specific criteria that these characters must meet before I put them in a script. Do you? What’s in your list of qualities and faults they must possess?
    • I’m not sure what you mean. I don’t think I have any criteria before I come up with a character or put them in a script. I don’t even have the complete cast before I start writing. but I may not understand what you are saying.


    • Motives, flaws, wants, needs, etc. You don’t develop your characters, Howard? Developing them makes it a lot easier for me to make them real.


    • I don’t stringently outline my characters either. But the main character will have a defined dissatisfaction of some sort. Other than that, I depend on the enneagram system to help me structure qualities and faults within a character. I like the enneagram theory as a character tool. It outlines 9 basic personalities that change according to whether a person is in a state of stress or comfort. The whole system just seems to work well in terms of character and conflict.

    • I have tried developing my characters indepth before hand but it always changes as I write. Not a bad thing necessarily. I have had more success in just having a fragment of a character idea in mind and then as he / she meets each conflict, ask what would my character do. Not what I would do but what would my character do. That question gets me thinking about my character. The decisions that my character makes under stress is what actually builds my character for me. But just as everything else, something may work for me but it may not work for you.

    • Marty, I develop my characters, but not that much before I start writing. For the central ones, I have a general idea as to their personality and what they want, but I discover things about them as I go along. And I have to make up characters as I go along in order to fill out the plot. It’s like doing an outline or treatment, etc., if I did that I would never get to writing the screenplay. For characters, if I worked too much on them before I started writing, I would never write the screenplay. I don’t have a specific criteria before I put them in a script. But characters and dialog seem to be the easiest thing for me to write, it’s structure I have issues with.
    • Characters and dialogue come easily for me,too. Structure jyst comes naturally to me at this point. It’s a coming up with a good story that’s worth writing that I find the most challanging. When I do find one I beat out the whole story so I know where it’s going, and having developed characters with depth helps along the way with intertwining with the plot. I think we all have our favorite parts of writing, and our less than faves. I don’t particularly like all the preperation, but when I sit down to write, it’s fast and I’m at my best.

    • I know I’ll need characters who demonstrate some sort of extremes of the same flaws the leads (protag, antag, love interest) possess, as well as attacking Theme from different angles and extremes…

      I don’t always have a list of those flaws or angles on theme, but, upon completing a first draft, I use those two things as markers when I go back to flesh out the conflicts that occur between my characters.

      I beat the story out ‘for story’ first, then go back and detail thematic elements and flaws/character growth elements, and incorporate those into each interaction between all my various characters.


    • I start with backgrounds for the protagonist and antagonist and build supporting characters around them. The history, mannerisms, quirks, all come out as I write the story itself. Then I’ll usually go back through and make sure they all have their own way of speaking as well.

    • I’m in Camp Howard. I do very, very little (if any) prewriting on the characters. But I have to intrinsically know who they are before I start writing. I see them in my head very specifically.
    • Once I have a good idea as to how the script is forming, which usually includes named characters, I do character biographies that will start with basics but will venture into detail to the point where they start to assume their own voice and identity based on questions that I literally ask the character. I’m amazed at some of the answers I end up getting. Probably not new to anyone here but it works for me.
    • I try to write back story for my main characters but… ugh… it means more writing. But I have to do it to flesh out their details. A backstory also helps with the choices my character’s make.

    • I think I tend to go the opposite way. The choices my character makes helps with the backstory.

    • I tried developing some detailed biographies in advance recently but I found that when I was writing the script I forgot some of the stuff or it wasn’t relevant or I wanted something different. I wasn’t too sure if developing biographies was helpful or necessary.

    • In the screenplay I just wrote, after I finished the first draft, I thought, I know, I’ll add a scene where the antagonist reveals he had a fling with the protagonist’s love interest. That idea had just occurred to me, when I wrote the script I didn’t think of them having a fling.

GETTING THE READER’S ATTENTION: Facebook discussion


What do you think is the single most important thing to get a reader’s attention in the first ten pages of a script?

    • Personally a strong opening or a rapid twist of events in the first 10 minutes.


    • I think the first ten pages should be a mini script within the script….really play out something great to dare the reader to put it down.

    • I think there’s got to be some kind of strong hook to entice the reader to keep going. But that hook depends on the type of story. Tim and Wilton have defined it well. The best I can do is describe it as a ‘moment’ when the reader might say to himself, ‘what the hell is that about?’ And that moment keeps the reader interested in finding out more.

    • Howard Casner Great characters. Readers will give the writer a great deal of leeway come plot and structure if the characters are so interesting or believable or realistic, that they want to find out what happens to them. People often won’t believe me, but characters are far more important than structure and plot to keep a reader reading in the first ten pages. I assert that no matter how strong the hook or rapid twist of events there are in the opening, if the characters aren’t there, it won’t matter. But if the characters are there, the reader will go along with openings that are hookless and don’t have a rapid twist of events. Sorry to disagree so strongly. That’s just been my experience.

    • I agree with Howard. Some scripts and movies have started out slow with more character focus only to ramp up with plot beyond that. I’ve used both approaches but still focus on a character that I hope will want people reading onward to see what happens to him/her.


    • Howard’s right about engaging characters, but they need a strong plot line as well. So in the first seven to ten pages, there needs to be what I call a first scene reversal.

      The script opens with the protagonist after a goal. But somewhere in those first pages there is an incident, occurance, or event that nudges or sometimes pushes the protagonist off the path of pursuing the original goal and onto a new path going after a new goal.

      IE: Mrs. Mulray walks in and asks Jake to find out who the blond haired woman is that her husband has been with. Clarise Starling is given an “interesting errand” to interview Hannibal Lecture. In my favorite film for this centruy Winter’s Bone, Ree learns that if she doesn’t locate her father and get him to trial, she will lose her house and she and her family will have no place to live.

      It doesn’t have to be a Indiana Jones or James Bond opening, but it must have enough of a reversal that we as readers and audience want to stay around to find out how what will happen next and how the new goal might be achieved.

    • Although I agree with what most of you have been saying about strong characters, I have to say that stating a solid theme, whether it be through characters or visually, will suck in a reader.
      Have a couple of cool characters chatting with some quick sharp dialogue and you’ll definitely get some attention. Take the same characters, or even less interesting ones, and throw in a solid theme and I bet every time a reader will prefer the latter.
      Take the opening to the movie Schindler’s List for instance.

    • ‎1) Killer opening scene; 2) A protag that A-listers will fight over; 3) proper formatting, structure, spelling and grammar or it goes no further.


    • ‎”I wonder what’s going to happen next”


    • A strong, innately dramatic character demonstrating a forceful personality factor in an intense situation. That creates a character to care about and makes the audience wonder what he/she is going to do next in this time and place. I have yet to see a really good movie or read a solid script that those two factors didn’t immediately bring to mind the story theme, Marty. Doesn’t matter if it’s comedy, drama or a juvenile cartoon. Gotta deliver the three-way punch up front.


    • “If you don’t show me the next page, I’m going to die!”

    • Sorry, I had to bail right in the middle of my last comment. My point was to raise a topic, a point, an argument- state an interesting theme that someone is dying to sink their teeth into, and you’ll have a reader “interested”. It’s not just a character that talks cool, but what the character is saying or doing. Or what you’re showing the audience.

      A shark attack, and a cop responding to the call. He’s not interesting yet, it’s too early in the story for us to know much about Brody (Jaws).

      Or a man getting dressed up and pinning a Nazi pin on his suit and going out to impress some Nazi brass, then Jews being rounded up and hearded off. We don’t know that Schindler is a great character yet that is going to have an epic character curve. But the theme comes right at us and compells us to continue readin/ watching.

      A hobbit, who wants nothing to do with “adventure”, but is drawn into one by some dwarves and a wizard. Sure, it’s interesting to hear about a hobbit, probably because we’ve never seen one in real life, but it’s when the hobbit is drawn in to doing something that up until then would be unspeakable that it really becomes interesting (The Hobbit).

      I have to say theme. It has to be there, with or without characters, to get a readers attention. Of course we all have different opinions, and that’s what helps us to improve on our craft.

    • For me it’s definitely that opening or dialogue that draws you in from the very beginning. I’m reading Blade by David S. Goyer — and it hooks you page 1.


    • I think that ties everything that everyone has mentioned into ‘one thing’… and I think that’s what it takes.

      now, I just wish I was capable of doing just that!

    • A combination of Tim and Howard’s point… Strong opening scenes is what builds your protag and characters. Through strong visuals you draw in the reader and help them to better understand and connect with your character. I also agree with Marty, some of the best movies I’ve seen reveal theme from the very beginning. I especially like how the Artist portrayed strong scenes, characters and theme without any dialog. Unless the dialog is superb, too much of it in the first ten minutes and no action, risks boring the audience. That’s just my opinion, we’re all different.


    • Good writing, no typos.

    • Memorable writing, strong characters and an interesting, original storyline that keeps you turning the page. Sex helps too.

    • Howard Casner–you need to see the movie Sullivan’s Travels.


    • Howard and all others: Everyone needs to see Sullivan’s Travels.

    • Howard Casner As the dialog goes: “But with a little bit of sex.” “Yes, with a little bit of sex. But I don’t want to overemphasize it”.

    • A gripping sequence that hurls you into disquiet.

    • A good story

The Road Ahead: 10 Tips for the Screenwriter


A nice list. However, No. 7 is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. However, I did like No. 4, especially “Because we have become so accustomed to thinking of cinema as “a visual art form” and to exalting directors over writers, we tend to downplay the importance of words in filmmaking.”

http://www.wordandfilm.com/2012/02/the-road-ahead-10-tips-for-the-screenwriter/

SCREENPLAY PRESENTATION: How to Submit a Hard Copy, Interesting Discussion on Facebook


Presentation. Someone of importance has asked you for your script, but they want a hard copy. What method of binding it do use, and what else do you be sure to do before handing it in?
    • Bind it with brads. Someone who wasn’t all that important casually said he would read my script, with no possibility he would have any role in getting it made, so I gave him a copy, and his main reaction was that it should have been bound with brads – and when he sent it back he even enclosed a brad to show me what one looked like.

    • Howard Casner I use the standard three whole punch, but only two brads (I usually have them copied at a copy shop who already know the routine). I also use heavy stock on the front and back. I haven’t, but I’m stupid for not–go through each copy and make sure there are no missing pages.

    • The three-hole punch with two brads is the only method I’ve ever heard recommended.

    • 20 pound bond paper; standard three hole punch, with 110 pound card stock–also standard three hole punched. Use same color card-stock on front and back. Take one and a quarter or one and a half inch brads with the large heads. Put one through the top hole front to back; one in the bottom hole front to back. Flatten prongs to the as much as possible in the back of the script on the covers.

      Of course make sure that when you open the script, you have the title page first: Title down about 17 lines from the top edge of the paper, centered; all in caps with smart quote marks on either side, then staying centered, triple space to the words Written by–with the letter W capped, then staying centered double space to your name or you and your partner’s name on one line and be sure to connect you and your partner’s name with an ampersand (&)–NOT the word and–between the two names. From there go down about three-quarters of the page from the top–not from the title block–and on the right side put your phone #–the one where they can most easily reach you–and your email. That’s it, no date, no draft #, no copyright or WGA notice.

      The next page is page one, with title and FADE IN:–though I’ve seen many a script without one or either–and the screenplay begins. There is no number on page one. Page 2 begins the numbering with the number 2 and it’s consecutively numbered from then on. Make sure it is consecutively numbered, that there are no blank pages or misplaced pages in the script and that THE END is not on a separate page.

      Hopefully, now your script is all dressed up with someplace nice to go!

    • Oh yeah, I hope it goes without saying–so I’ll say in anyway–white paper. And any color card stock but white.

    • my ritual before handing any of my babies off to ‘Someone’ (as opposed to ‘anyone else’) is:

      – get drunk
      – post on FB and all my other screenwriting haunts all about how awesome I am and how everyone else sucks (because I’m way drunk by this point…)
      – page 1 rewrite, while still very drunk, and on thru the next day, hangover day…
      – at some point, I’m gonna have to throw up; I’ll say it’s due to excitement and adrenaline, but most likely, it’s from the drunk… hopefully, I don’t puke on the new, fresh script pages… or the cat…
      – print, collate, same-colored card stock front and back cover sheets, 3 hole punch, 2 brass brads, shipping box, shipping labels, professionally packaged to perfection
      – send that sucker off!
      – a few more long lonely days of drinking… actually, it’s probably weeks, but, when you’re drunk, time doesn’t seem to matter or make sense any more, right?
      – at some point, I get a call or e-mail, maybe even a visit from some ‘important offical’ type person with some follow-up concerns and questions..

      the inquiry almost always has to do with why oh why did I send a dead, puke-covered cat to the rep or production company…

      oh, bother…

      write on!

    • One last item–I hope. Page # is four lines down from top edge of paper 7.2 inches from left edge of paper. In other words way to the right at the top of the page.

    • After that, then follow Rick Y’s MO. 🙂

    • ‎3 hole punch, two brads, cardstock covers, final draft takes care of the format. I make sure the title page has the right contact info. make sure the pages are all there. I have no problem including the WGA or copyright # on the cover. I know some believe that it’s unprofessional, but I really don’t see why.

    • ^ copyright # on the title page, rather than cover :]

    • No Copyright because–or so I’ve been told–you’re making subtext, text. By putting in Copyright and/or WGA, you’re saying to the folks you’re sending the screenplay to, “I don’t trust you.” Well, you don’t, but first we assume you’re a professional and have registered your copyright, and second, you don’t go broadcasting the fact you don’t trust them. It makes for bad feelings all the way around.

    • Yeah, I’ve heard the same thing. But I just feel like people who read into the posting of copyright on that deep a level – as a statement of mistrust – might be taking it way too personally… Competitions seem to require proof of copyright or registration these days, so I wonder if the unspoken rule of ‘don’t show the copyright’ is changing.

    • Copyrighting seems standard to me and not an announcement that you don’t trust someone.

    • Copyrighting is standard, which is another reason you don’t need to announce it.
    • Yes, but if you do, and people are offended by it, I agree with Diane they must be a little over-sensitive. Don’t writers have to scrape and grovel enough to potential readers without being afraid to even say their work is copyright, to assert ownership?

    • Don’t most people read all their scripts on a Kindle anymore? I haven’t been asked for anything other than in an e-mail in the last few years? I know most agencies and management companies put everything on their e-readers, and can even do notes on them (don’t ask me how that works…)

    • Never put THE END at the end.

    • I have access to a repro center, so I just print on normal (non-punched) 20 lb. stock, and then later I use a paper drill to make the holes. Then I bind with those “professional” alternate non-brad binders that spin shut, like a screw. Then I add in the index with all my drawings, concept art, character bios, diagrams, maps and the other stuff you’re supposed to include with every script.

      But when I say this, I mostly mean just for me – because in the five years I’ve been pursing this, only one company asked for a hardcopy.

      And I don’t include the copyright info/date, or the WGA registration number, for the reasons stated above. Just a note that says “DO NOT STEAL OR I WILL FIND YOU”, which I’m told is industry standard.

    • I haven’t used a smart quote yet. What do you think – something by Einstein or Newton?

    • ‎…and just before you send it. Re-read. Again. And…once again.

    • Yeah, you def. Register your script, to get copy written at the admin. Office and Never ever Hand in the original. Always have extra copies. And to the ppl out there who don’t know all about getting it reg. At the copywrite office, you can always just mail it to yourself, in a self addressed envelope, then when you receieve it, do not open it. Lol just. Store it in a good spot til you need it. 🙂 happy scriptwriting Friday, everyone!!

    • Howard Casner Sorry, Nicole, but I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying about mailing it to yourself at the copyright office. Are you suggesting that mailing it to yourself is sufficient? In theory it is (in theory, once you write it, it’s yours, period), but in actuality, I would never depend on that; it’s far too dangerous and you’ll probably never be able to get any monetary damages if someone steals your script and it’s a real dicey legal situation. Always register with the copyright office. Always. Even if you register with the WGA, register with the copyright office. Always.

    • I just got a script from a production company to evaluate and mark up. It came with plastic spiral binding. But that’s from a company. I have always sent hard-copies, three-hole punched with #6 brads and card-stock covers.

    • Howard Casner Sally, that’s happened to me. I’ve gotten them with butterfly clips. I think that’s probably how they got it and just sent it on to you as was.

    • Howard Casner But speaking of being asked for a hard copy of the script by a production company, etc., rather than a PDF, to be honest, warning bells do go off a bit in my head. I would send it, of course, but I would wonder why this guy was so out of the zeitgeist.

    • Howard: Maybe it’s my age, but hard copy is easier to read, catch errors, determine what is working and what isn’t. Of course, that’s for critiquing a script. For just reading to know if it’s good to produce, maybe it doesn’t matter so much if it’s on the computer or hard copy.

      And, yes, I realize all one has to do is print it, but that takes ink and paper and a bit of time, and from all I can figure out about agents and producers, they really don’t want to have to be bothered by all that.

      Or did I miss something somewhere?

    • I use plastic spiral with a clear cover from staples. Easy to read, durable, and I’ve never got a complaint or mention about it. I’ve also seen them with a spine and print on both pages.

    • And I have been asked for hard copies from producers and an agency. APA.

    • Agents and producers have interns to do their printing, or they can read it on their iPad. And if they want someone else to read a script they liked, it’s much easier to e-mail an electronic copy than copy a hard-copy or hand over the only copy.

    • I understand that, and I always assume I’ll be emailing it, but I have been asked. Bottom line; give them what they want and make it as easy and pleasant as possible for them to read. That includes content and grammar.

    • Yeah, what Marty said and watch those typos and spaces.

SCREENPLAY STORY DEVELOPMENT: Interesting Facebook Discussion


Post for the day- After you’ve come up with a story that works, and you have some really cool scenes and characters already in your head, how do you go about filling in the rest of the story with great scene after scene?
    • Great question, Marty! I first just right the screenplay the way I visualize it then I go back to see what worled and what didn’t. Look at the holes in the character arcs and make sure they not only make sense but are believable, convincing. Fill in the blanks, move things around, punch up traits and how they bounce off the traits of other characters, delete exess wording, look at unusual visual settings, etc. I guess that’s the norm…

    • I do a mind map with all the important turning points, catalyst, high peak, low peak, and so on. Then I work with the characters Then I do index cards for each scene. THEN I start writing. I never, ever write without a plan. It doesn’t work for me.

    • I do a 9 block story map that has the key beats and plot points and them start fleshing it out from there.

    • Character Profiles until all are alive demanding to be shown then the “What if” logic of the Plot Paradigm. Before investing my soul in the writing I make damn sure I feel a PASSION for the point the story will make. At that time I know what I have to research for authenticity. When those ducks are lined up, I start the actual writing and tell the world to go away.

    • Howard Casner I tend to sort of wing it. When I have it generally mapped out, then I start writing and things come to me. I take a walk and suddenly I’ll have an idea as to how to do this or that or make the scene stronger. I’ll have a problem and think about it until I have a solution. I’m a instinct writer, I write more based on taking it as it comes along rather than heavily planning things out (if I planned things out in any serious or deep detail, I’m one of those people who would never start writing). That’s what works best for me. However, it’s not until I finish it and have people read it and get feedback and reread it that I really start fixing the issues and finding out what scenes, characters, et. need work.

    • I’m more like Howard as far as letting the story unfold as I go. It’s exciting and you discover things that you might have missed if you stuck to a cookie cutter plan. A basic idea for the general story flow should be there, but after that, I like to let a little magic happen.

    • Howard Casner Thanks. I sometimes think of it like a creating a crossword puzzle. You set up the outline of it (which squares are dark, which aren’t; how many squares there are); you then fill in the major blocks that can’t be changed (the ones that contain the theme of the puzzle); and then you start filling in the other words–these can be changed and fiddled with, but in the end, have to fit together to make the puzzle work.

    • Are the seven major turning points in the three act structure clear? Does the contact point (opening) involve the characters as well as the Reader? Do I know what the protagonists original goal is? What is the protagonist’s new goal after the first 7 to 10 pages? What and who are blocking the protagonist from reaching that new goal? What about the three minor turning poiints near the end of Act II or into Act III? Are they clear and how do the characters get there? What are the changes outwardly and inwardly that the characters go through–especially the protagonist? What are the 3 subplots and how do they answer all the questions posed so far? What are my rhyming scenes and my connectives?

      This is not to say that everything is set. It shouldn’t be. You need to–as others have suggested–discover new plot lines, character traits and development, and unexpected reversals along the way. In other words, you need to let lagniappe happen. But you also need enough structure so you have a pretty good map, and in case you get a little lost–which is okay–you can always get back to the map to know where you wanted to go or maybe take the detour that’s necessary to find your way there.

    • I’m not sure if I’ve found my way yet as I seem to do it different each time and dabble in a lot of different things. I did one totally free hand. It was a mess. I did one with a beat sheet, into an outline, into index cards, and it came out sterile. Lately, I’ve tried doing beat sheets but I get hung up on one of the points later in the story and then get frustrated. So instead of writing it, it gets shelved. Now…I get the basic beats in my head and then write it out. If something isn’t working, I go back to a physical beat sheet and map it out again. See where it is falling apart. That seems to be the most comfortable method to me at this time. 🙂

    • If it works, stick with it. Each has their own way of getting there. Mine is posted. It’s not for everyone, but it sure has helped alot of my students.

    • Camp Casner/Blair. I take their “wing-it” correspondence course.

    • Save The Cat, 15 beats + 5-Point Finale, then expand those 20 beats into 40 ‘scene cards’

    • outline, outline, outline. I can’t start without it. I’ll even bullet point each scene and sketch some dialogue or ideas:

      Ray and Sydney in car.
      “You like her”. Ray denies. He drops her off at her apartment.

      I also use the document as a scratch pad where I just copy/paste any research notes I find from the internet, I’ll also write in my own ideas etc. The document is a mess of words, and notes and outlines. Ugly.

    • I won a copy of MovieOutline in a screenwriting contest and I find it very useful to do all the planning and keep my notes in one place. I also used it to write the script but then I found that it only converts to Final Draft 8 and not 7, which was a pain.

    • let’s not forget the “Fling It And See What Sticks” Masters…

    • As much as I like some of the stuff in “Cat,” I have no idea what 40 beats and 5 point finale means. If a written, author’s scene is between 3.5 and 7 pages–which I believe and see in most every movie that it is–with a beginning, middle, climax, and end, then there really can’t be more than about 22 to 25 scenes or scene cards.

      I can usually pinpoint when a scene begins and ends–even with some of the transition shots that tie scenes together–but pinpointing beats sounds like the definition of shots, which means there are many, many more in a screenplay than forty.

      But I would be happy to do a back and forth on this. Maybe I can learn some new things, which is always helpful.

    • I would love to be able to outline. I just have no patience for it. I’m also one of those people who just starts writing and whatever I feel at the time that makes sense, I put in. Then I go back, of course, and read it through and try to decipher what works and will stay in or do the “What the hell was I thinking?” bit and rewrite what is needed.

    • R, I’m no guru, I’m probably the last guy-who-calls-himself-a-screenwriter who should be involved in a back-and-forth as a teacher or guide or guru regarding any screenwriting-related topic, but, since you ask, in my humble amatuerish opinion, the STC method (15 beats + 5 Point Finale into 40 ‘scene cards’) is basically Blake Snyder’s take on the sequence method…

      you state the obvious mathematical and logical bit which dictates 22-25 scenes or cards (at 3-7 pages/minutes per card) = 75-120 page/minute screenplay/movie, and you’re not wrong. STC doesn’t go into too much detail regarding what goes into those magical mysterious ‘extra’ 15-20 beats/cards, so, what inevitably happens is those cards play out a sequence that could, techincally, be considered ‘one scene/sequence/card’…

      the 15 STC Beats (or 20, if you count the 5-Point Finale) ARE those same 22-25 scenes/sequences…

      it’s just that, rather than using one card to say:

      CARD # 4: ’20 minutes of set-piece action and mayhem occurs… no really, it’s going to be awesome! for realz!! believe me! whatever the production people can come up with to fill this section of my sci-fi action-adventure horror epic saga, it will be awesome and it occurs here in the story for the next 20 minutes…’

      you might take 4 or 5 cards in the Fun & Games ‘beat’ of the STC outline, to detail the Foot Race to the Car Chase to the Gunfight to the Bank Robbery to the Getaway Car Chase… or whatever…

      it’s still ‘one beat’ out of 15 STC beats, called the Fun&Games beat which takes up the first half of Act II, but it takes up 3, 4, 5 cards to outline the beat in however many sequences you choose, or according to whatever other set of rules or paradigm you wish to mix into the STC method…

      that’s what I get out of the STC method. As I say, I’m no master, nor master debater. Mileage may vary…

      write on!

    • If I started writing based on an idea, I’d spend hours and hours staring at the screen wondering what to write next.

      I like to do a “STC” outline first so that I have a general idea of what is going to take place in the story, then I beat it out. I used to use a big cork board and index cards, but now I use the “STC” software. Like it or not, structure is very important, and can mean the difference of you getting rewritten out of your own script by another writer or not.

      Once I have all my index cards filled in I can look at the story and see where it’s weak and strong and do my improvements there. By the time I’m finished with my beat board, I know the story so well that I barely have to look at it, and when I sit down to write, I can find my character’s voice and spend hours and hours doing a lot of really productive writing. It’s so productive that I really don’t have to rewrite it- just give it a polish or two. And, it only takes me a couple of weeks to finish a script.

      The problem? Coming up with stories that I deem worthy of taking the time to write, then fleshing out a whole story. The jury is still out on a lot of stories, so yeah, sometimes I don’t get to writing as quickly as I’d like, but I’m always writing, whether I’m going for a walk, reading a book, or day dreaming- I’m always conjuring up something.

SEX AND PROFANITY IN SPEC SCRIPTS: An interesting discussion from Screenwriters Network page


Sex and profanity in your script. Do you use either or both of them? Tell us your thoughts on the use, or avoidance of sex and profanity in a screenplay.
    • Used to be, a PG or G rating for a non-Disney film was the kiss of death, and screenwriters would drop in a few F-bombs or some nudity to ensure an R rating. Is that still the norm?


    • I believe those things are script-specific. Depending on the story, the characters and the audience you’re funneling your script towards, each script will bear it’s own weight. I tend to cuss like a drunken sailor on shore leave — well, until kids came into my life — and I love creative uses of curse words (The Last Detail). I will say I use it now far less than I used to in my writing. And as far as sex…I love a good romance but watching two people in a graphic sex scene on film…ugh. I can think of only a handful of times it’s been hot on screen (The Big Easy, Sea of Love…hello, Ellen Barkin, Postman Rings Twice Nicholson/Lange.) Unless you’re using it for comedy (one of the best scenes in Bridesmaids) once two characters fall into bed, time to let the imagination take over.


    • Bart’s kind of hit it. You’ve got to be true to the story & characters–including in all dialogue and action choices. A story about low-end prostitutes that had no sex or profanity would work in a surreal fantasy, but not in a gritty drama based in reality. Make your choices and be fearless!


    • Howard Casner Like Bart, it’s script specific. For most of mine, though, I’m very frank about sex and language. For others, I hold back. It’s part of parcel of the milieu I write about. Most of my films would be rated R or even NC 17, unless a very creative director came aboard (and since they are often gay oriented, they automatically will get a higher rating for types of scenes that in a non-gay oriented film would receive a lower rating). There are exceptions and I’ve written a Disney type family film that could be rated G and a sci-fi that would be rated PG probably. I would add one thing–you can be as frank as you want in dialog, but I strongly advise ever using vulgarities in the narrative (always say have sex or make love, not f*ck like rabbits). The reason for this is that the narrative is you speaking whereas the dialog is the character. Producers often have a very different reaction to vulgarities in the narrative than in the dialog. It’s the same reason for never using politically incorrect ethnic terms in narrative as opposed to dialog. In the end, though, I don’t expect most of my films to be of interest to the studios, but are aimed toward the indie market.


    • Agreed definitely script specific in both cases. And also, avoidance to gratuitary sex/violence etc is best IMO, I find it can overwhelm the story and detract from the storyline one is going for, watering down it’s arcs/intensity etc. The characters one is creating, should allow them to gauge how much of each is needed if at all. Just my opinion! :0) Hey there Marty, hope you’re well! Been a while, been out of the loop on here a bit.


    • I have used both sex and profanity in my scripts – but like everyone else, it’s script specific. I wrote a kids film – no profanity. There was a love interest, but that amounted to two neighbors dancing in silhouette beside a backlit window.

      But when I write about something like a satanic themed rock band, the profanity just seems natural. Or if it’s about a relationship between a high school senior and a wealthy, lonely cougar – well the sex is a big part of it, and it’s meant to make the audience uncomfortable. Of course, there are tasteful ways to imply things, and I do try to keep that in mind.


    • Yup, script specific and never gratuitous. And I allude to “making love” but leave the “choreography” and extent to the director and actors. A script is merely a blue print. AND I have simply gone to identifying Me-the-Writer as S. J. Walker because some of my scripts have gritty characters with grittier language that doesn’t quite “fit” with a “Sally.” I made a Navy Captain laugh when I said I couldn’t imagine a Navy SEAL or 3-tour Marine saying “Gosh darn, you are a terrible idiot!”


    • script-specific profanity, but there’s usually always the ‘sex@60’ Midpoint moment, when ‘something orgasmic’ happens to rock the story over the hump and into the downhill stretch toward the Finale…


    • It depends upon the genre. I write a lot of faith-based and family material and it would not be appropriate for the audience.


    • I agree– script/story specific.


    • It really depends on what audience you’re aiming for. I use it sparingly, otherwise it seems I walk the fine line of smut-quality. I think using it for effect to add tension in a work is great, but overdoing it can hinder a good quality piece of writing.


    • When I was younger, in my first attempts at writing, I ripped off Tarantino, who was huge at the time, and tried non-stop swear words. But soon after that, I tried the opposite and kind of stuck with it ever since. In most of my writing, I put in about two or three swear words, or none at all. And as for sex, haven’t written anything like that yet.


    • Try to make the sex scene poetical rather than graphical and the F words to a minimal so when it’s uttered, it carries meaning


    • Howard Casner But what if you don’t want your sex scenes to be poetical? And what if you don’t want your F words to carry meaning, but simply to reflect a certain reality?


    • I sometimes use profanity only because it can put emphasis on a character’s emotions. I don’t just add the F bomb for the hell of it! I have yet to write a script that has a sex scene. I think sex scenes in films are cheap unless it’s an important part of the overall story.


    • If there is a place for it.


    • It feels weird writing a sex scene. I feel like my Mom is looking over my shoulder. And, she passed years ago. Again, weird.


    • As always, I include what is important for the story. But I keep in mind that Natalie Portman had a role as a stripper and shows everything, without the audience seeing anything. So it is possible to write a lot without the need of showing anything.


    • Howard Casner But the decision for Portman not to show anything wasn’t the writer’s decision, but was probably made up of how much the director wanted to show; the rating they were trying to achieve; what Portman’s contract said; etc. Other directors might have shown everything.


    • Howard Casner why do you think sex scenes in films are cheap unless it’s an important part of the overall story? It’s a feeling many people have and I’ve never quite understood it, to be honest (it may partially be because I don’t know what “cheap” means exactly). Do you feel the same way about violence? It’s interesting how morals and mores vary from country to country and culture to culture. Some places are more open to sex, some more open to violence. I prefer sex.


    • @Howard, i.e. instead of “he clamps one hand on her breast and the other between her crotch”, I try to make it read less like blue and more like sparkle…and when telling one to F off, I inject a little more swagger in the creation. That is, a little more “ouch” in the wording. Note: the F word is fast losing its place on the stage of remarkable inventions 😉


    • ‎…and there is a reason the films that will stay in our hearts and minds long after our own dust to dust settles is because of the writer’s talent for creating the whirl of imagination in many a film goer without having to resort to the naked nipple and the F & C words. From Casablanca to When Harry Met Sally to Ben Hur to All About to Eve to Alien et al.


    • Howard Casner I have to be honest, I don’t think I understand what you are saying or how it responds to my response. I’ve already said that narrative should never be “blue”, but I’m not sure what sparkle means or why that would be poetical. I also am not sure what “swagger in the creation” means or what “the F word is fast losing its place on the stage of remarkable inventions” means. I also don’t know what “having to resort” means. If someone chooses realistic language or a realistic portrayal of sex, I don’t think that is “having to resort”, I think that is making a considered choice and I think as writers we should be more open than closed about each others decisions and encourage each other to find their own way. Joe Pesci told a story once about the shooting of Goodfellas or Raging Bull (I’m not sure which) where the producers suggested to Scorcese he reshoot some scenes and tone down the language so that when the movie was on TV they could replace the scenes; Pesci said to Scorcese, “I didn’t know you made movies for TV” and with that Scorcese got furious and didn’t reshoot any scenes. Different people have different philosophies about sex and violence in movies, but I’m not sure one is any better a philosophy than the other; like others have been saying, it’s script specific. I think All About Eve is one of the greatest movies ever made, but I’m not sure I want to return to those restrictive times when it comes to writing a screenplay.


    • Howard, yes, you are right, it is not the writer’s decision. I agree with you completely. What I meant was that there is really no need to worry about actual nudity. If I need a naked stripper for the story, then I can write that she is nude.

      Then of course I should consider what would happen if the director chooses to show everything I write and if it still would be a film I would have my name on.


    • I hope I’m not speaking out of turn, but your promotional posts don’t really address the prompt. Maybe they’re better suited for logline Wednesday.


    • Howard Casner I have read scripts where people detail sex scenes and I have to tell them, you know, this isn’t going to be your choice. So sorry for misunderstanding you, because you’re right. As for whether you would want to have your name on it, funny story: when Gore Vidal wrote Caligula, they weren’t going to put his name on it, and he fought to have it put there; then when he saw the film, he fought to have it taken off. In the end, what’s really odd (well, not really, there’s a reason for it) is that the WGA has the final say on whose name goes on as writer and even if you want to remove it, you might not be able to.


    • Less is more as far as the sex goes. You don’t have to get into detail, unless you’re writing porn. As for profanity, use it if you need it. It’s great for bringing a character to life. Real people swear. They also cheat on their partner, and showing a sex scene can really have an effect on how an audience feels about a character. Sure, you could show a couple leaving a cheap motel together and it would suggest the same thing as showing sex, but showing it can really turn a stomach, and that’s the business we’re in; making people feel things. So it’s up to you to figure out what the best way to tell the story is. In my opinion, getting into detail on a sex scene is pointless and a waste of space on the page. Be brief! When the script goes into production they’ll use their own vision of how the sex should be shown.


HOW TO PLEASE A SCREENWRITER: Know Your Job: Storyboarding Deux


It’s been a long time since I wrote an entry for my How to Please a Screenplay Reader. I got work and then I’ve started a new screenplay. But I need to start catching up here.

To continue with my topic of storyboarding, I will devote this entry to a basic set of no-no’s when it comes to narrative. Most, if not all, of these rules you should know already. If not, let’s just say that the following should almost never be done. And remember, you’ve been warned: I have a ruler and I’m not afraid to use it.

TRANSITION SHOTS

Do not indicate transitions shots. This means anything like “fade in”, “fade out”, “cut to”, “dissolve to”, “smash cut to”, “match cut to”, etc. The only exception is using “fade in” to begin the screenplay (it’s like saying “once upon a time”) and using “fade out” at the end of the screenplay (there is no need to say “the end”–fade out is the same thing).

Including “cut to” is something that is just not necessary anymore. It serves no real purpose these days and is implied. And eliminating them saves you two lines for every transition. (I’ve read scripts where a writer could cut the script by two to five pages alone by getting rid of these annoying, pesky, little creatures–and believe me, if you don‘t get rid of them early on, they start breeding like rabbits.)

You don’t use any of the others (“dissolve to”, “slow dissolve”,
“match cut to”, etc.) because those are a director/editor’s decision based on issues you don’t know yet (budget–some transitions can be more expensive than others; style–what effect the director is trying to communicate; what shots are available to connect one scene to another; what rhythm is the director trying to create, etc.). In addition, “smash cut” is no different than a cut. It’s not faster (it’s impossible for anything to be faster than a cut). Some people use it to imply that something jarring is happening. That makes it a variation on the match cut with all the no-no’s attributed to that (again, that’s up to the director and editor).

As an adjunct to this, a friend in a writing group separated two scenes with:

FADE IN
FADE OUT

Not on the transition side of the script, but in the narrative area. None of us knew what this meant. The writer explained that this was traditional shorthand to indicate a long period of time passing. I actually like this idea. But again, it’s not necessary. It’s one of those things that just isn’t done anymore and many readers will have no idea what this means (they’ll think you deleted a scene and forgot to delete the transition shots).

CAMERA ANGLES

Do not state camera angles. You know what I mean and I know you know what I mean and you know I know…whatever: POV, CU, WIDE SHOT, LONG SHOT, etc.

These are all a director’s decision (along with the editor, cinematographer, even the actor). And it’s a decision they often won’t or can’t even make until after the scene has been shot and the director/editor can see what shots are available and what camera angles work and don’t work and what is the best way to tell the story and communicate what is going on in the scene.

What a screenwriter does, if he wants, is imply shots. The one example I remember from a book is:

A cowboy rides up onto a hill. He is sweating heavily. He looks behind him to see if he’s being followed. He rides down the hill and off into the distance.

Translated means:

A cowboy rides up onto a hill (wide shot). He is sweating heavily (close up). He looks behind him to see if he’s being followed (medium shot followed by POV). He rides down the hill and off into the distance (wide shot).

However, the director may still want to shoot it differently. But again, that’s his job, not yours.

There are always exceptions. The one that comes to mind is a POV shot when you don’t want the audience to know who’s watching (Friday the 13th). I still wouldn’t say POV. I would imply it. “An UNSEEN PERSON watches as Character A does something”. But this is a bit tricky, I agree.

ADDITIONAL ISSUES

1. Please don’t use a Prelap or Postlap voice overs. These are voice overs that began at the end or beginning of a scene, but are said by someone in the next or previous scene.

JANE (V.O)
And now we homo erectus.

INT. COLLEGE CLASS ROOM-DAY

Jane points to a picture projected on a screen behind her.

First, this is just plain annoying to read.

Second, it causes a momentary disconnect as the reader has to stop and think a moment in order to figure out which scene this line belongs to.

Third, this is a director’s decision with all the yadda, yadda, yadda reasons already mentioned.

Fourth, I have yet to read an example where it was essential to the plot.

Fifth, it’s just plain annoying as hell to read.

2. INSERT is no longer required:

John looks at the clock.

INSERT: 12:00

The insert is implied and redundant. Just say: John looks at the clock which says “12:00”. This also saves space and streamlines the narrative.

3. PERONAL PRONOUNS: Don’t use “we”, “us” or other personal pronouns in the story. The main reason here is that it’s just not done and people tend to look down on writers who do (not rational, I know, but there it is). It’s also redundant. Saying “we see a boy running” is the same thing as “a boy runs” and the later is more succinct and stated in a more streamlined manner. It also is a way of sneakily suggesting camera angles, etc., which doesn’t fool anyone and is not the writer’s job.

NEXT: I FEEL A NEED FOR SPEED: HOW TO STREAMLINE YOUR SCREENPLAY

HOW TO PLEASE A SCREENPLAY READER: Know Your Job: Storyboard on your own time


KNOW YOUR JOB: Storyboard on your own time

The second type of overwriter are those who write from a director’s point of view, often what we call storyboarding a screenplay.

Their screenplay often reads something like this:

INT. KITCHEN DAY

A pair of hands clear the remainder of dishes from a table.

A cat rubs up against a pair of legs.

Two feet in worn slippers pad against the floor.

A set of fingers, one with a tarnished wedding band, change the channel on a radio.

An arm wipes sweat off a tired brow.

A figure covered in a sad blue dress starts swaying to the bosa nova beat coming from the radio.

The woman, now fully seen, is Elizabeth, 40’s. She loses herself in the lush music.

Let me say here and now, storyboarding is not your responsibility. Don’t do it. Don’t even think about doing it. Don’t even think about thinking about doing it. Cut off you right hand (or your left if you are so inclined) if it threatens to offend you by doing this.
It’s not your job.

Now that I got that off my chest:

For the scene above, all that is needed is

INT. KITCHEN DAY

Elizabeth, 40’s, careworn, clears a table and washes dishes.

She changes the station on the radio, then loses herself in the bosa nova music that comes over it.

It’s actually unclear to me why author’s even want to storyboard a screenplay. They often say it’s an attempt to get the director to film the image the way they see it (sneaky little devils).

I would accept this if the way the author was storyboarding the scene was essential to the meaning of the story, that the plot or character or character arc or whatever is driving the story would be meaningless if the scene was shot in any other way. But it would take a lot to convince me that the second way the scene was written (the way I wrote it) is significantly different, changes the plot or arc or whatever, in any way from how the scene was written in the first example.

I can just see the audience now. “I don’t understand that scene. It makes no sense. Wait, I know. If they had only had close ups of the hands first, then everything would be crystal clear”.

And in the end, the second example, the way I wrote it, is much easier to read and follow and brings more forward momentum to the story. The other is just a bit slog, bog heavy, unnecessarily slowing the scene down.

Storyboarding is the director’s job. They put long, hard hours into it. It’s one of their few creative outlets (we did write the screenplay and come up with the whole idea, characters, themes, mood–you know all the good stuff). So throw them a bone and let them add that something creative to the proceedings since it‘s all they have to offer.

The problem writer’s have with director’s is not that they do the storyboarding, it’s when they rewrite the script, which are two different issues–and writing the screenplay as if you were storyboarding it isn’t going to stop the director from rewriting it; it might even encourage him to do more of it.

In addition, storyboarding is often based on issues that you as a writer are not aware of yet: budget; scheduling; how many takes a director can take; how does he edit a scene out of the shots he made; the location and set design; how the actors want to do the scene and what they want to bring to it; etc., etc., etc.

What I often find interesting here is that more often than not, when a screenwriter begins their screenplay the way the example does above, it usually only lasts a couple of scenes. After that they tend to go back to writing in a more clear, concise manner (notice I said more clear and concise, not clear and concise).

Why, I don’t know. I mean, if the story or characters made no sense in the opening scenes without the storyboarding, then that should be true of the screenplay as a whole. My guess is that it’s much harder to write a screenplay by storyboarding it and the author quickly realizes they don’t need all this directory type stuff to communicate their intention. It’s an exhausting way to write a story and it doesn’t really do what the author thinks it does.

NEXT: STORYBOARDING DUEX