Finding your descriptive voice in screenwriting
Screenplays aren’t Literature.
If there’s one core screenwriting truth you’re supposed to learn as soon as possible, that’s it. All the stuff that made your fiction writing awesome, all the flowery language, the detailed descriptions, and lengthy internal dialogues are anathema to the script. That two page treatise on your protagonists 1970’s wardrobe and its roots in a painful high school career fraught with bullying and inattentive parents? Fuggedaboudit. What got you gold stars in creative writing will get you tossed at page one by an intern at insertprodcohere.
In screenwriting, the industry tells us, your descriptive passages must remain simple, clear, minimalist. Describe ONLY what the viewer might see (with a few exceptions) and eschew Literary flourish (as well as directorial specifics – but that’s another discussion).
Play a little telephone
I often tell people: Imagine you’re watching an awesome movie (your movie is awesome, right?), and you’re on the phone with a friend. You’re describing to them what’s happening, while it happens. In fact, try it. Turn on the TV, call a friend, and see how it feels to really try to keep the story moving real time… 1 minute per page, 90 pages for 90 minutes.
Here’s what happens when you insist on being Literary on the phone:
(aka: Percy Jackson: The Story Thief)
“Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” – a review about mismanaging story
*** NOTE: Spoilers galore. ***
I am not one of those “the movie is never as good as the book” guys. Ever read Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (the source material for Blade Runner)? You couldn’t help but make a better movie than book, as the book is laughably bad. And Blade Runner is one of my all time favorite films.
And I’m not in love with Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief as a book. It’s engaging enough, and full of big ideas, but somewhat lacking in story structure.
So why am I so struck by the failure of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief the movie?
I think, the more I ruminate on it, it’s because the mistakes seem so rooted in fundamental story issues, and seem to favor the weaknesses of the book over its strengths.
IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE BOOK *** spoilers ***
Got an offer to option your screenplay? Here are eleven terms you should know when talking to your attorney.
[See PART I – 10 things to think about when optioning your screenplay]
Okay, so you’ve gotten an option offer, you’ve thought about the 10 things, and you still want to do it. Now it’s time to talk to your attorney, and make some decisions about the negotiation points. Your attorney is going to toss some notes back to you for consideration, and chances are these things are going to be included. (There’ll be lots more than this… from simple typos to wholesale rewrites. But these are the top contenders for “things I think you should know”.)
Ask your attorney to spend some time with you to explain what they mean in the context of your deal… but here’s my take, based on my experience.
DISCLAIMER: I shouldn’t have to say this, but: I Am Not A Lawyer, I am not offering legal advice, and none of the numbers used as examples here should be considered recommendations or as examples of my personal previous contracts (which are none of your beeswax 😉 ). They are provided as hypothetical examples only. Talk to your own attorney about your particular deal.
What does it mean to have your screenplay optioned?
A producer wants to option your script. Should you do it? What are the considerations? Here’s one guy’s opinion.
Part I of II [Click for Part II: Eleven More Things To Think About When Negotiating Your Screenplay Option]
Now that I’ve been through the option gauntlet a couple of times, I get asked about the experience and the process. It’s a little humbling, cuz I’m just a lucky guy with one indie sale and a few indie options, but I know how much I appreciate when I stumble across some good first-hand info, and figured it would be a good idea to share what I know. So I thought I’d gather my notes together here, in the hopes that it’ll prove useful to others. This is no substitute for having an attorney, mind you… more on that later. But I wish I’d had this list.
It’s official… Miss Julie Brown is attached to the Rocket Summer project in the role of Mercy!
Rocket Summer is great, I love it and would love to be in it!
– Julie Brown
Julie and I worked together a few years ago on the film Fat Rose and Squeaky (where I was Art Director), and I couldn’t be happier to have her involved with RS.
For those of you living under a rock:
A History of Violence screenwriter Josh Olson seems kinda pissed.
Apparently he gets asked to read a lot of scripts.
Apparently most of them are crap.
And apparently nobody really wants his honest feedback.
So he wrote a scathing essay over at The Village Voice, outlining just how much this all sucks.
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