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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What's In A Visual? NCI Pt 2

Well, quite a lively debate kicked off in the comments section of my last article: for those of you who don't read the comments (and you really should, for moments like these if not the general threats, double entendres, paddies and frank admissions by various readers), the mysterious Dublin Dave proposed that all that was needed was engaging the Reader, not adherence to supposed rules like Thou Shalt Not Overuse Staring. He went on to post a link to an interesting example of where he thinks internal thought processes can aid the action, Ron Bass' My Best Friend's Wedding which prompted my grossly unfair prejudice against Julia Roberts (what has she done to me, after all?) and my speculation that perhaps being one of the highest paid screenwriters in the world allows Mr. Ron Bass to get away with such things whilst the rest of us are at the bottom of The Screenwriting Food Chain with those kids on Work Experience reading our stuff. Then the marvellous but likely stalkerish Jon Peacey (what?? ; ) waded into the fray, positing that perhaps economy of words means a writer's voice can be undersold, as well as other stuff including whether it's worth trying to game the market, what we're told at uni about the "rules" and if script tutors are any good and whether Readers "higher up" are more "open" than those right at the start of their career. Think that's all of it. Phew.

People email me all the time and say they're confused about my stance on the "rules". They say I say one moment it's a good idea to adhere to the "rules" and the next, I'm saying break them. The true answer then, once and for all?

Do both. Still confused? Let me explain.

The very fact that I included "" around the word "rules" indicates my *true* feelings on them. Rules or not, if your writing rocks, then who cares what it looks like or evn - shock horror - how exactly it plays out. I got a script through something outside Bang2write so ill-formatted, so wayward structured, so screwed up on character about eighteen months ago that if I had received it when I first started reading, it would have never made it past the ten page test. However, there was *something* about this script. As I carried on reading, despite the shocking format (which still did my head in by the way and made one of the worst and irritating uses of the word BEAT I have ever, ever seen), I actually did get into it. Come the end, I was amazed by the subject and this particular writer's voice - even though it was patently their first script and they had never read so much as a website page about screenwriting their entire life. Despite this however, they were going to go far.

But not now. Now, they were just gonna get rejected.

Why? Well, even as I passed it on for its second read, I had a heavy heart: the likelihood of two Readers understanding a script so badly structured, written and formatting was slim. And guess what? It not only got rejected but said second reader phoned me up and questioned whether I was out of my head for putting it through. Even in the face of my justifications, he thought I had. Lost. My. Mind. And maybe I had: after all, this is a business that demands its material is in some semblance of order; it's not always enough sometimes that a Reader LOVES somebody's voice. Hell, it's difficult enough to get through to the other side development-wise when your script IS well-presented, well-structured and well-characterised - when it's not? Good luck. As I've said before, it's like buying a house to some people: why buy one that's falling down when you can buy one that's structurally sound? There's so much competition out there, those producers etc can literally take their pick - even if their Readers would prefer to go for the hardcore renovation jobs.

But anyway, I'm getting way off topic: what I'm trying to say here is rules are rules and are therefore meant to be broken, but if you're gonna break them, you need to know what they are - or indeed what others' expectations of you might be - else aren't you fumbling in the dark (oo er)? Yeah, yeah shut it Lucy. Whatever, talk to the hand, face- bovvered? Etc etc.

I talked in my last article about those moments where staring can get in the way of "real" actions and though I recognise (and agree with!) DD's very good points that sometimes referencing internal thought processes can add to your narrative, as does sparing use of "stares", I'm still of the steadfast opinion that it's best to err on the side of caution when dealing with characters' thought processes in specs. Readers *can* be so touchy about scripts that use such things that have what they call "no clear image" or what I abbreviate as NCI. Moments in scene description like this:

1. Mary searches for a reason as to why her mother might have gone.
2. Pain explodes between his eyes.
3. Nick wills Aaron to understand.

And my absolute non-favourite:

4. S/he has an idea.

Again, it's not that Readers are thick or don't understand it when you reference stuff like this. "Searches for a reason" SOUNDS like an action after all, so what does it matter? With reference to number 2) When people are in pain, it's obvious - their faces contort, this particular character may even pinch the bridge of his nose and even say something like, "Argh! My head!" Nick's "willing" too can be construed as "obvious" as can "ideas" on the basis of facial expression, context, etc etc. What Readers object to, quite simply, is the fact that these can be re-written as something more apparent or even - shock, horror - cut out altogether. With visuals vs. NCI, it boils down to: do we NEED this information? What does it ADD to the story? After all, couldn't we have something like this instead of the above lines:

- 1. MARY: I can't understand it... Why has she gone?
- 3. NICK: Do you understand what I'm telling you? AARON: Of course I do!
- 4. PERSON: I've had a great idea. Why don't we...

I think some writers are so afraid of their dialogue becoming "on the nose", that they've actually forgotten the audience uses dialogue as an anchor to their understanding of how a scene is playing out. This means, if your script is full of NCI, if it was played out on a screen in front of you, I'd wager there's a good chance you'd get lost as to where the scene is going. Consider a franchise like CSI: in any of them, investigators present evidence to each other that in real life, another investigator would simply say, "Interesting, let's get to work, etc etc" whereas in the programme, because of the high science content, investigators EXPLAIN points to each other constantly which is not really dramatic, but we accept this because we are laypeople and need the CSIs to tell us that epithereals means skin or that mitochondrial DNA present means the two suspects are brothers or whatever it is. We don't really care at the end of the day, we're not scientists, we're wowed, Loreal-style instead: HERE'S THE SCIENCE BIT, BECAUSE WE'RE WORTH IT!

Now, let's not get bogged down in THIS IS RIGHT/WRONG etc, I fully concur with anyone who says a touch of NCI here and there adds to a screenplay - if used sparingly, it can have real impact and leaves behind its nitpicky NCI tag and becomes "lyrical prose" or any other name you want to give it: in other words, moments that can't *strictly* be seen, but perks up your prose and makes you seem like the wo/man writing-wise, rather than a writer making a mistake. When NCI becomes a problem then, it's the same issue as the staring - you're doing it too much. Then of course there are those pedants out there, like me, who hate particular phrases: "S/he has an idea" being one of them. It prompts them to write the one phrase that you never, ever want to have in a script report from an agent or a prodco:

HOW DO WE KNOW THIS?

The problem on this issue lies not so much with your writing, but in how it's going to be interpreted. In my experience, there are three types of Reader when it comes to this issue. With a bit of luck, you might get Reader Number One who doesn't give a damn about non-visual visuals and even better, actually LIKES the referencing of internal thought processes and actively celebrates them. Or, you may get Reader Number 2 who believes that NOTHING must be included that cannot be seen and rejects all scripts with any non-visual scene description out of hand. Or most likely of all (and it's still not a good one), you may get a Reader who recognises the importance of lyrical prose but concludes you've used just way too much by having some on every page. 2 out of 3 Script Readers recommend cutting back on your NCI, my friends.* Why take the risk?

*In my totally non-scientific opinion.

38 comments:

Jason Arnopp said...

What with Red Planet coming up, I've spent the last few weeks doing a load of Power Of Three action for other people. And I've asked, a fair few times, questions like, 'How would the viewer know that Sarah has been walking this path for an hour?' or 'How would the viewer know that Mike is feeling better?'.

I'm as gulilty as anyone else, of course, and perhaps those with prosey sidelines/pasts are most prone to this trap. We must convey the internal via the external. We must think visual. Even if people watching us won't *know* we're thinking visual...

Jason Arnopp said...

'Gulilty'? Clearly, I'm also gulilty of misspelling.

English Dave said...

I think a major problem is that some readers are incapable of reading a screenplay properly. Actually seeing how it will play rather than just what is on the page. Forgetting that actors act. One reason is a good number of readers have very little in the way of practical experience in terms of seeing their own work or anything they have read actually make it to the screen. That is not a criticism, it is just the way it is. The vast majority of scripts are never produced.

I'm not saying load up your screenplay with internal thought, that's just crazy. But don't be afraid to use prose to get across the meaning or impact of the scene if you think it helps. Actors and directors will thank you for it. As in all things, moderation is the key.

There is no excuse for bad formatting. But as far as writing is concerned I'm with Dublin Dave.

Rule number 1 - Don't be boring
Rule number 2 - See rule number 1

There are conventions in terms of structure. But no rules. Anyone who tells you your first act should always end around page 20 is delusional. Same with 'never use flashbacks or voice over' or 'Never use parentheticals' Or a host of other supposed rules.

Use them correctly and in moderation.

If you try to second guess a readers potential pet peeves you will most likely end up with a bland piece of work that lies flat on the page. It's your story and your voice that will sell.

Lucy said...

Another good point there Jase: reference characters' thought patterns too much in such a way and your Reader won't always know what is "supposed" to be happening. Something I ask a lot in coverage - why did so and so do this? Actions can by lost in a sea of description and you're not always sure as to their significance.

As for the misspelling, you need a good thrashing. Wait where you are, I'll be over in a sec.

Lucy said...

Ooooh, another comment while I was commenting, thanks English Dave.

Readers do get a bashing but often, fairly I think * Script Readers' Guild kicks Lucy out*. Sometimes they are so literal I want to eat my own head.

But absolutely, moderation is key here. Like the mad script I got, voice is so important. One day, when its writer gets more screenwriting experience, it will be a fantastic screenplay, total top notch. But because it's SO mad it will get rejected and Readers who can see its potential are derided.

However, I'm sure it will do the rounds again one day and even if it's not perfect and regardless of those "rules" that writer's voice will definitely carry them through.

Anya said...

I always thought scripts were like stage plays - and though what you see is what you get, I do think the odd bit of "lyrical prose" can work wonders. Like anything though, you can have too much of a good thing - which makes it dull and disengages the Reader I would imagine. After all, we're not writing novels.

Fun Joel said...

I concur, Lucy, and I'll say things ain't much different on this side of the pond. Sure, a little rule-breaking for color can go a long way when used selectively. But when your entire script breaks the rules, and for no better reason than "I didn't know," you're unlikely to find a producer who wants to make it.

I'll also throw another piece of empty filler in alongside the staring one. Smiling. I remember I once went through a first draft of a script I'd written and was shocked how many times I used a phrase like, "He smiles and..." or "She gives him a wicked smile." And I don't think I'm the only one. Just empty filler material.

Lastly, due to the length of this post, shall we assume that you've gotten settled in, in your new home town?

Lucy said...

Yes I did rather go on a bit didn't I FJ??! ; ) Smiling is a good one, let's add it to the list of what shall be known as FILLER MATERIAL, what a wicked name of it, nice one.

I'm settling in nicely, thanks. It's quite weird actually being back - feels like I haven't spent the last 4 years away! Unfortunately forgot all the crap that goes with renting again - there's a massive leak in the bathroom and the house is apparently MOVING hence the large cracks in the living room. Perhaps it's trying to get away from us?

Elinor said...

Interesting article, Lucy and I agree you've got to know the rules or conventions in order to break them. But I have a question: is it possible to have the odd bit of lyrical prose AND a clear image in the scene description?

Jon Peacey said...

"There are no rules in filmmaking, only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.” -Frank Capra.

I can’t ever recall putting in a ‘character thinks about their whatever moment’ yet. I suspect this could be linked to my art (rather than prose) background and training (where if it’s not implied in the visual, it doesn’t exist) and because I’ve watched a lot of silent films which, whilst having ham-acting and intertitles, had to communicate primarily through the image. Unfortunately, this has the knock-on of making me try to dictate the precise images: directing from the page (very, very naughty).

“Rules! We don’t need no steenking rules.” I haven’t much time for rules in scriptwriting but, from all I hear, there seem to be many fresh-faced readers who do. So, for the newbie like me, rules maybe should matter more just to get past the gate-keepers to whom they matter most.

I haven’t had much time for my stalking lately, what with posting lengthy screeds on blogs, oh, and writing a little bit for them there South West Screen and Red Planet things.

PS: If I read ‘pain explodes between his eyes’ in a script I would almost certainly take it over-literally. And sketch the event in the margin.

Anonymous said...

Power of Three, NCI, B&Q, FTP.

Sheesh, you guys have more TLAs than the military guys I know.

So this line: "Lanie at her desk alone on the phone. She's secretly in a panic." I'd be better finding some way to physically demonstrate this, right? Or does it just work as something you can give to the actor which they can then convey by their manner rather than contriving some physical action to give them?

DD

Jon Peacey said...

Personally, I'd remember back to when either I (or someone I saw) panicked then try and recall what activity actually happened. Then steal them. Having someone shake, hyperventilate, fiddle clumsily with objects, breathe hard, weep, sweat, get angry and slam things about, etc. is surely not a contrivance even if it's only the things that really happen?

Lucy said...

Whoa, leave this blog alone for five seconds...!

Elinor - lyrical prose is exactly what you make it as far I'm concerned... Like that "Points for Style" article by Terry Rossio says in Bang2write's list of wonder.

Jon - is this Digital Shorts you're talking about? 'Cos if it isn't, The SW Screen Dev Comp deadline was August 16th... >SCREAM< Unless of course you've heard something and in which case I'm screaming cos I HAVEN'T!

DD - Dunno about the acronyms, but yours makes me smile... There's a "Dastardly Dave" in my real life (tho not my husband!) that is referred to as DD in the family. But I'm sure you're much nicer! ; )
As far as your line goes, screenwriting is so SNAFU that I think we've established we all can do what we like... The only "rule" being don't do it too much. Story of my life *sigh*

English Dave said...

“Rules! We don’t need no steenking rules.” I haven’t much time for rules in scriptwriting but, from all I hear, there seem to be many fresh-faced readers who do. So, for the newbie like me, rules maybe should matter more just to get past the gate-keepers to whom they matter most.''

And there's the rub. It is an unfortunate fact of life that for the new writer especially your work is more likely to be critiqued by those least likely to know what they are talking about.

The result is that a wave of half truths, myths and misconceptions percolate like a virus from generation to generation of new writers.

I mean no offence to readers in general. Heck I was one myself. And by Christ did I come out with some crap just to fill in the required page numbers for the report.

When I talk about using prose I mean it is used in a way to enhance and entertain. I don't mean you can write 'Sarah has been walking this path for an hour' and have no filmable action or reference to back that up. That is a beginner mistake and should obviously be avoided. In fact writing a line as bland as 'Mary has been walking this path for an hour' should be avoided.

Mary has to rest and flops down at the side of the path. She takes off her mud stained shoes and massages her aching feet. Jesus, why did she ever start this?''

So you can't ''film'' the last sentence? I beg to differ. A good actress will give you that in one expression.

Whether a script is spec or commissioned makes no difference. They are both selling scripts. One selling you and your script to the producer. The other selling the project to the actor or director.

So forget the rubbish about ''it's okay for so and so to do this because they're A list.''

How do you think they got to be A list? Take a look at early Shane Black, Ron Bass, William Goldman, Scott Rosenberg.

Their action paras smack of talent just as much as their dialogue. It's not about 'florid prose' it's about relevent, carefully chosen prose that enhances the read and helps ''sell'' the script.

So the choice is, do you cater for the lowest common denominator of reader or do you trust your voice and your talent?

Anonymous said...

Okay, so I'm a very bad man. I picked a script off my shelf, an ep of The Shield, sent by a kindly American agent when I expressed an interest in speccing it. I flicked through and it took me all of, ooh, two seconds, to find that line
And yes, it was a cheap trick and I owe Jon an apology. But here's the thing, working writers don't obsess about this kind of stuff.

Of course no one's going to pay for a seminar where someone stands at the front, says 'do what works' and then leaves. If a reader gets upset because I stick in an internal thought, here's my response (cover your eyes those of you who don't like bad language) -








FUCK 'EM :)


Second guess your audience (whether that's the work experience girl, producer or Laura Mackie) and you've beaten yourself before you've started.

DD

will said...

Here's a bit of a bizarre question. (And slightly off topic, for which I do most sincerely apologise.) Planning to enter the Red Planet thing. Got all the stuff for submission ready, but the title of the script is strictly a working title. If, the FSM willing, I actually make it to the second round, the title of the finished script may not be the title I submit it under. So, do I 1) not mention it and submit the finished script under said working title or 2) mention siad working title situation in either a) the synopsis or b) in the covering email?

Jason Arnopp said...

English Dave, I can see sense in what you're saying. And that Mary example is way better than having her say to herself, "Jesus. Why did I ever start this?".

English Dave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
English Dave said...

Previous post removed because the letters have worn off my keyboard and as is my want I didn't spell check. lol

Jason - Show don't tell is an old chestnut that is often misunderstood. By using good prose, feelings can be commuicated and that is much better than doing it in dialogue, which is a sure sign of the rookie.

Will - Down the line, titles count for spit because they will be changed at the whim of the marketing department. For Red Planet, I wouldn't worry. It's the 10 pages that count.

Lucy said...

"Mary has to rest and flops down at the side of the path. She takes off her mud stained shoes and massages her aching feet. Jesus, why did she ever start this?"

That's exactly what I'm talking about as being the good stuff - it hints at the character BEYOND this screenplay, makes her more rounded, gives her a life story and as long as it's not overloaded, this can work really well. I saw a great one recently:

"Bill looks across the platform: the other train bulges with COMMUTERS. Fuck it, he'll get the next one."

This kind of thing adds to your story because it's almost tangible - who HASN'T felt like this?? It's like sharing a moment.

Whereas the stuff that gets dull to read - the fillers as Fun Joel says - are those things that COULD be cut, don't really add anything and relates solely to that specific moment, rather than the feel of the piece and/or character. And of course, those are the things that spoil the rest of it and feed into those daft "rules" that say DON'T USE VOICEOVER/MONTAGE/EXTRANEOUS INFO/INTERCUT/DREAM SEQUENCE and so on and on unto infinity and beyond which Readers *can* pick up and run with until the nth degree which of course feeds into another vicious cycle and so we go on. *ARGH*

So should we use our talent and voice to get us through? Absolutely, 100% defo. However, aren't there *little* things we can do to get round those daft yardsticks that inevitably come into place - not always set by Readers btw - because there is so much competition? For example, isn't there a thought that's there's "no excuse" for bad formatting because of the existence of software like Final Draft? I have lost count of the number of times I've heard it - and not just from Readers either. I think DD even said it in the comments section of the last post. Most people agree certain things, like not too much black on the page, not writing DULL prose etc... ; )

New writers are up against so much, sometimes bizarre little details. I think it's like A levels though: once you've broken through to the other side - just like those exams, which at the time it seem *dead* important, yet done, their importance fades away -they've got you where you want to be - in the same way, whether you write this or that or the other is unimportant.

And Will - I wouldn't worry about your title either ; )

P.S. Good grief - LONGEST. COMMENT. EVER?

Jon Peacey said...

Well, I walked, nay, plummeted into your trap, so I did. But, personally, I wouldn’t have been comfortable writing such an internal line and I’m sticking with that view. More often than not, emotional conditions manifest in physical activity, such as difficulties in doing a decent synopsis for Red Planet is making me read this blog instead. And no apology necessary: we learn by our mistakes and I’ve just learnt to never trust anybody ever again. ;-)

“But here's the thing, working writers don't obsess about this kind of stuff.” True, but they don’t need to, they’re working. Starters may have to because there are a lot of people who do obsess and you have to get past them: if you don’t you may not get to be a “working writer”.

“Fuck em” is great advice but doesn’t put food on a table or fund the profligate lifestyle I’d like to become accustomed to (mind you neither will writing, so I hear :-). With greatest respect, “fuck em” is easier said than done. I’d love to say “fuck em” and go my own way but I also want to start a career. As the Bard should have said ‘my lips may promise but my heart is a whore’.

Ideally, I’d like to trust my voice and talent. However, I’m realistic enough to know that a Die Hard actioner is going to do better box office than a three-hour black and white one acter about mute Icelandic yak-herders. And when starting out, I can’t help thinking that if presented with equally brilliant specs for both these a reader will probably lean towards the one which yells ‘yippee-kay-yay’. Hope that doesn’t sound too aggrieved! :-)

Lucy- SW Screen Development Comp did indeed close on the 16th, so, no I haven’t gotten any special insight. Indeed so little that I must ask: do you know what the deadline is for the latest Digital Shorts round?

Now I must away to a darkened cave to sulk at my foolishness.

I don’t know, you stick your head over the parapet and all they do is shoot at you......

Jon Peacey said...

You just had to bring up 'A' levels... Failed mine first time out. Rather spectacularly, I seem to recall. Halcyon days....

Lucy said...

I rmbr those days...did my A Levels as a skinny 18 yr old, 34 weeks' pregnant with a baby boy kicking me in the bladder throughout. NOT. GOOD. That'll teach me to be a naughty girl. Tut tut.

I don't know when the deadline is for Digital Shorts my friend, but it should be open for business beginning of Sept.

Jon Peacey said...

My first 'A' levels coincided with my first year of Hay Fever. Really bad Hay Fever. I had blood streaming from my nose for one paper and the adjudicater said I'd be disqualified if I left the room to clean up. They were fair but cruel... or something. ;-)

Lucy said...

Yikes, sounds rough. Though someone had to sit with me in case I went into labour. Didn't want me in with the others in case I distracted them!

Going back to dialogue (just one more thing lieutenant!), I'm finding a lot of scripts that have too much WHITE on the page - where it's told almost exclusively in dialogue. Could this be because of chat about too much black on the internet do you think? Certainly it seems to be increasing, or perhaps I'm just getting a run on them as a coincidence.

Having said that, I do think writers can be so afraid of being accused of "telling it", they can avoid dialogue too much at times, relying on scene description that might be significant in their own minds yet seemingly random to an outsider, who's detached from the script. A carefully placed bit of dialogue can be a real illumination in these cases... But again, we're back to another old chestnut: ALL THINGS IN MODERATION... ; )

English Dave said...

'' For example, isn't there a thought that's there's "no excuse" for bad formatting because of the existence of software like Final Draft? I have lost count of the number of times I've heard it -

The only excuse for bad formatting is that you have a raw talent on your hands. Did you ever get back to that writer whose script you loved but didn't think the formatting was appropriate, clue them in and say this is how you should present it, before sending it on to the second reader and dooming it and him to potential hell?

I understand why you might not have. Something that still haunts me from my reader days. Time and not appearing stupid.

English Dave said...

Jon, you want to know how to put bread on the table as a writer? Write good stuff.

You want to know why Die Hard worked? Emotional involvement through action. It was a damn good movie of its time.

You are missing the point arguing that working writers can do this and that and you can't. Working writers are working writers because they don't give a crap about the bullshit.

Jason Arnopp said...

Funnily enough, just received the Final Draft newsletter. It features former HBO development exec Bettina Moss giving her advice on this very topic. She uses three examples of what she sees as unnecessary telling...

He struggles to remain calm. ("This tells me virtually nothing. Is the struggle internal or external? How is it visualized?")

Richie and Bob think they've missed something. ("How does the reader know this?")

They mock him. ("What am I seeing as a reader/viewer? Is this a signal to the actor that it's okay to adlib?")

English Dave said...

''Former'' What does that tell you?

Okay that was cruel. Take everything with you hear about writing with a pinch of salt.

Believe in yourself. Hard for a writer. But that's what you have to do.

Jon Peacey said...

ED- That's not quite what I meant in general but was a counter to a statement which specifically mentioned 'working writers not obsessing about the rules'.

Writing good stuff alone should do the trick but I do not doubt there are possibly other factors that play a part: contacts; right place, right time with right project; catching the zeitgeist, etc.

When I was at Uni a number of tutors were professional readers as well and they were the ones that kicked the living shit out of me for not following the 'rules': the working writers were far more lenient. Unfortunately, I don't have to get past the working writers, I have to get past the script-readers.

Working writers can do what they like and so can I and if it's brilliant it's brilliant, but if I can't pass the gatekeeper because my brilliance isn't matching what 100% of the readers consider brilliant then I'm stuffed.

If I present a brilliant rule-breaking spec to the readers and they all turn it down because I've ignored the rules, it won't really matter how much I rail at the system, rail at readers or raise my fists to the skies: I will still be where I am and they will still be where they are. I can be brilliant all I like but if all of the readers turn me down all of time, I might have to be the one who changes, even it's just briefly, because I doubt they will.

It kind of reminds me of the architect sketch in Monty Python: the builders want a tower block, the architect presents an abbatoir. They all admit it's a very good abbatoir but it's not really what they're looking for.

I'll not give up and I'll believe in myself but, at the moment, I would rather follow a few rules for a brilliant script that gets me through the door and THEN I can blow them away with my brilliant rules-breaker.

(Isn't there an analogy about father and son bulls looking down at a field of cows...?)

*Apologies to Lucy for dragging this so far off topic*

Jon Peacey said...

I never thought generally agreeing with people would be so hard!

English Dave said...

Jon, it's not about about following ''rules''. It's about knowing and believing in your story.

That is the eternal dichotomy between screenwriting and commerce. And something you have to live with if this is the path you choose.

English Dave said...

Working writers can do what they like and so can I and if it's brilliant it's brilliant, but if I can't pass the gatekeeper because my brilliance isn't matching what 100% of the readers consider brilliant then I'm stuffed.

But realise that most readers are would be writers and most writers are crap That gives you a sense of perspective.

Readers read a lot of crap. Over time it has an effect on their outlook.

Jon Peacey said...

I can agree with that. Art versus commerce.

If I write blatantly uncommercially I doubt I'll get too far (even if it's brilliant) but if I'm totally cynical and write solely to 'the rules' my endeavours will most certainly show my cynicism and I'll not get far.

However, if I have a story I know and believe in and retain my own voice, at the moment I think I should conform to the main conventions (formatting, not directing from the page, etc.) so as not to get rejected immediately because, as you said, "it is an unfortunate fact of life that for the new writer especially your work is more likely to be critiqued by those least likely to know what they are talking about."

I hope that sounded like I agree with you. Which I do.

And I'll agree that most readers are would-be writers (all that I've ever met have been) and they may well be mainly crap. Still gotta get past them though.

English Dave said...

''Still gotta get past them though.''

Lose that attitude. Most gatekeepers don't know shit from shinola. Write what you believe. Fuck everything else. Unless it costs more than million to shoot the scene.

Writers write. The rest is economics. Useful but parasitical. lol

Jon Peacey said...

It's a screenwriting course that messed me up! All the conflicting voices screaming in my head!

Doesn't everything get reduced to economics these days? I blame John Nash and his 'fuck you buddy' theory.

I shall just concentrate on being brilliant from now on. :-)

Anonymous said...

"If I write blatantly uncommercially I doubt I'll get too far (even if it's brilliant) but if I'm totally cynical and write solely to 'the rules' my endeavours will most certainly show my cynicism and I'll not get far."

And therein lies the rub. Or rubs the lie. If you can sell/option something that's great. But more often than not what launches a career is a spec that's very different to the dozen vampire movies someone's just ploughed through.

Let me give you an example. A mate of mine broke in with a very Harmony Korrine New York indie type script set in Manchester. It got him his choice of agents and his first paying gig. A hot young producer has spent months begging his agent for a meeting so they can try and set it up. It's not what anyone would think is commercial in any way shape or form.

Here's another example. One of the guys who I took a producing class at film school was James Schamus. Now a major, major Hollywood player and easily the smartest person I've ever met in this business. His and Ang Lee's big breakout hit was the The Wedding Banquet. A gay Taiwanese rom-com shot for well under a million which took fifty times that in US box office alone. Ang and James went out and made the films they wanted to make. THAT gave them the chance to take on big budget Hollywood projects NOT the other way round.

Nothing comes off the page faster than someone writing what they think people want. It's a major turn off.

As to this notion that somehow working/professional/whatever you want to call them writers can follow a different set of rules, it's nonsense. If I send out a spec that's not properly formatted with vast tracts of black and two pages monologues written in Sanskrit people would think I'd lost my mind. Either that or I'm Mel Gibson :)

This idea that life is somehow radically different when you have an agent/a paid gig/WGGB or WGA membership is horseshit.

Lucy said...

Tell me about it... Getting an agent seems to be the big one of the moment - "you're going to make it now!" - but just 'cos you have an agent doesn't mean you don't have to do your own work, from coming up with your own ideas right through to marketing yourself.

And English Dave - as you say, time was a bitch unfortunately: I could do little for the writer at that very moment because it was for a course and therefore time did not allow me to let him fix it as you suggest in such a short window... I did however email the writer with my thoughts for "next time". I never heard back. Way it goes.

BTW, does no one go to bed round here???